My younger son has a larger than average head circumference. When I say larger than average, I mean that it is way off the charts, exceeding the top centile. He’s also a big boy, at the very top of the charts on length and weight, but he is definitely top heavy.
He’s 14 months old and is at the upper end of the weight limit for his baby car seat, which is for 0-18 months or up to 13kg. We’ve kept him in his baby seat for so long because we felt that his head and neck are far better supported in this reclined, rear-facing position than he would be in a traditional forward-facing toddler seat.
Indeed, I have trialled him in his brother’s forward-facing toddler seat a few times, and although he quite likes being able to see me driving, he does seem to struggle with keeping his head upright when the car brakes.
I often thought that it would be ideal to have a seat that was big enough for him to sit slightly more upright in, but be rear-facing like his baby seat in order to give his head more support. After doing some research, I discovered that there are alternatives to the traditional forward-facing toddler seats that we are all used to.
Indeed, some manufacturers make rear-facing toddler seats to accommodate children up to 4 years old. In Scandinavia, children up to 4-5 years old are in rear-facing car seats. This has resulted in a significantly lower incidence of fatalities or injuries in children in car accidents in comparison to other countries. Astonishing.
The reason for this lower incidence in injuries and fatalities is because of the stresses placed on the neck and spine in a road collision. The child is flung forward, but caught by their harness. Infants and young children have a much larger head to body size ratio, so it is the equivalent to us having a head several times bigger than they actually are.
There is a fantastic website called Rear Facing: the way forward and this quote from their website perfectly describes what is happening in the event of an accident:
“The neck is completely unprotected when the head is catapulted forward. Whether the child can withstand the force of impact has nothing to do with muscle power. It is the spine that has to keep the head in place. (Not even physically strong adults can keep their heads in place using muscle power in an accident, but adult’s skeletons are different to children’s, as we will see.) A child’s spine and skeleton is still growing. It has not solidified into bone yet, but is still very soft with lots of cartilage. This means that the neck is vulnerable to the great force it’s being subjected to in a car crash and in a worst case scenario the neck will stretch so much that the spine snaps. This is called internal decapitation and basically means that the child has been internally beheaded. In tests, the dummy’s neck has been stretched as much as 2 inches, but the spine can not be stretch more than a quarter of an inch before snapping.”
The term ‘internal decapitation’ fills me with horror. This tremendous site goes on to provide extensive information on the unarguable benefits of facing our children rearward in the car, as well as diagrams and video clips.
So why on earth are we not living in a society where these type of car seats dominate forward-facing seats? Well it appears that there are some points that have been made that oppose the rear-facing seat. Parents worry about the child not being able to interact with them in the car. Rear Facing point out that it is incredibly dangerous to turn around to interact with children whilst driving. Indeed, I don’t even bother turning round to see my younger son when it is just us in the car. I have also heard that British cars are too small for rear-facing seats, which doesn’t seem accurate. Rear Facing may be able to comment on this, but from my point of view, these seats must fit an average-sized car. People driving around in tiny cars are less likely to be ferrying children.
However, the biggest reasons why rear-facing seats aren’t common in the UK is because a) they’re simply not stocked over here and b) they’re significantly more expensive than forward-facing. Even more bonkers is the fact that the manufacturers who make the rear-facing seats for Scandinavian children are the same ones who make all of the traditional seats for the UK market (Britax, Graco…).
So with the knowledge that rear-facing seats are safer for children, why are we not having a drastic overhaul of our child-seat habits? It is going to be much safer to transition our younger son into a rear-facing toddler seat, but we have no idea where we are going to source one from. And with all of that information in mind, I feel that I would want to transition our elder son into one of these seats also.
Are rear-facing toddler seats something you have heard about, and are you as shocked as I am about the cavernous lack of them in the UK? Visit Rear Facing: the way forward for a wealth of information on this topic. I would love to hear your thoughts.