Wondering when to turn the car seat around? Here’s why I did it at 6 months

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When to turn car seat around
This is what car seats looked like in 1962. Photo by RichardBH, used by CC license.

Now that my son is 17 months old, I feel like I can confess my deepest, darkest parenting secret: we turned Jasper’s rear-facing seat around to face forward at 6 months. Before you jump all over me, understand that we had incredibly good reasons for doing so. And yes, I watched the YouTube videos about car accidents, I know the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation ages, and I read all about the risks we were taking by doing this.

The backstory on how we decided when to turn the car seat around

Jasper was born in Portland (Oregon) and spent the first two months of his life traveling by bus. In fact, we didn’t even buy a car seat, since we didn’t plan on buying a car, and our NICU actually let us walk out with him securely wrapped up in a sling for the bus ride home.

In hindsight, that’s kind of amazing, because from what I understand, it’s not exactly legal for them to do so. Also, as a side note, I recommend buying a child’s car seat even if you don’t drive — we ended up at the E.R. around Jasper’s second month birthday and the cab driver almost didn’t take us because we didn’t have one.

Anyway, when we moved to Alabama, we immediately had to get a car because it’s more or less impossible to get around efficiently by bus. A friend of mine with several children loaned us one of her rear-facing car seats. Jasper was fine for about two minutes, and then started screaming the entire car ride from the airport. At first, I attributed this to not being used to the seat, or just being tired from multiple plane rides.

However, the screaming persisted, and became increasingly violent in nature. It got to the point that every single time Jasper was in the car, he screamed. He didn’t start right away, and he didn’t scream in the car seat when it was just sitting in our house — it only happened after the car was in motion for a few minutes. After about ten minutes of driving he would be beet-red and gurgling on his own spit-up because he was that upset.

Family members and friends tried to convince us that it was because he was used to being held often, or maybe because we lived in Portland and he didn’t get used to a forward-facing car seat, but my husband Sean and I both had a feeling that something else was going on with our infant. We even thought that maybe he just needed more padding in his seat, and bought an Evenflo Triumph Advance convertible seat when he was five months — there’s plenty of cushion on that baby!

The research I did about when to turn the car seat around

We brought up the issue with our pediatrician (who we love), hoping she would shed some kind of light on the situation, but she just shrugged and noted that some kids just “don’t like car seats.” She suggested we try giving him medicine for gas, since he might feel queasy in the car. This wasn’t exactly the answer we were hoping for, but it did make a light bulb go off in my head — I get intense motion sickness, especially when going backward. Before that visit, it never occurred to me that Jasper might also be experiencing the same thing.

Of course, I did what most digital moms do nowadays — went home and started Googling. I looked at everything related to motion sickness in children (a few links: Pregnancy & Baby, Dr. Sears, About.com, Ehow) that I could find, and discovered that (surprise!) we weren’t the first parents who had wrestled with this demon. I read the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration policy on when to switch from a rear-facing position. I looked at policies from each car seat manufacturer, and looked at the manual that came with our convertible car seat.

One day we were driving out of town for a photo session, and got stuck in seriously backed-up traffic. Jasper was screaming and gurgling and choking, and I simply told Sean to pull over.

We decided right then and there that we knew when to turn the car seat around, and it was that moment.

It was like a brand-new baby landed in our car. He still protested (and does, to this day) being in the seat, but it was normal stuff — some grunts, some groans, but not the intense, purple-in-the-face screams we associated with traveling by car.

We spent the next six months not taking Jasper out too often, theoretically so as not to tempt fate, but mostly because we felt kind of (very) worried about our decision, Jasper’s safety, and also because we didn’t want to be judged by other parents who noticed (I even avoided putting photos of Jasper in his infant car seat on Facebook, for fear someone would realize and say something to me).

We believed in our decision, but also aren’t the type of people who handle confrontation very well. I’m not sure anyone ever did notice, and Jasper made it past the age limit, height limit, and weight limit mark fine. Now that he’s the size of most toddlers, I’ve stopped worrying as much about him being in a forward-facing seat.

Would I recommend turning your car seat around when your child is under a year old, and under the weight limit?

If you are in the same situation we’re in, I would at least tell you our story — but I would never recommend it. A decision like this needs to be made clearly and consciously, and based on what works for you and your family.

Comments on Wondering when to turn the car seat around? Here’s why I did it at 6 months

  1. We too switched our baby before he was a year old, my son just got too big for the rear facing car seat. He was 6 months old and we had to lift his feet up on the back of the seat because his legs were just too long. He started off a normal sized baby but that all changed when he left the intensive care NICU. I think his father has secretly been feeding him miracle grow! I never once felt bad about switching him. He was unsafe either way, may as well let him be comfortable. Now we are toying with the idea of going to the booster seat. He loves it so much more than the big box we strap him into.

  2. We turned the car seat around when Cash was about 8 months old – he was way (WAY) past the 20 lb limit and he’s legs were too long anyhow, so forward he went! I never got any flak for it (probably because most people just assumed he was older – he’s a big kid) but I was pretty confident that it was time. Good for you for making the choice that was right for YOUR baby! :]

  3. Car seats have all changed so much, too. I’m not sure what my car seat was as a baby, but I do know that, like Jasper, I got extremely motion sick even as a baby. It’s still a problem for me (even as a front-seat passenger). My mom told me once she quit taking me even to the grocery store for a while, because I would vomit on the way every single time. That can’t have been fun. I also know of a certain mother-in-law of mine who had her youngest strapped in a baby carrier but on the front floorboard of the car before they had the money to buy a minivan.

    Cars and drivers are definitely scary. Parenting is scary, turns out.

    • I think Sean’s mom even carried him home from the car in the front seat! I’m pretty sure she told me that story. I could be making it up, but the laws and car seats in general have definitely changed.

    • My sister (now 27) came home in a banana box that my dad picked up on the way to the hospital. The shop owner was a bit concerned but child services wasn’t called.

      I agree- the most unsafe place for our kids are in and around cars.

  4. It’s amazing how no matter what parents decide, they’re always going to get crap for it. We have been able to choose extended rear-facing for our daughter and we still get asked why we do it by people to whom we’ve told our reasons over and over again. It’s really bizarre to me why the combination of “She doesn’t get carsick” and “It’s safer” baffles them so much.

    Likewise, even though I’m a proponent of extended rear-facing, a child suffering from motion sickness that can be eased by a forward-facing carseat should absolutely be turned around before he or she is a year old. Not only does that ease the immediate trauma, but it will prevent the possible development of phobias and panic attacks regarding travel later in life. Kudos to you for doing the research and critical thinking necessary to determine what is right for your children.

  5. What is wrong with front facing car seats? I never knew this was “an issue”. If you get in an actual bad accident…baby will probably get hurt/die anyways…I don’t really see the problem.

    • I believe in the US it’s recommended that children remain rear-facing until they’re at least 1 AND 20 lbs. While you might be right in that if you’re in a super horrible accident your child is likely to be severely injured no matter what, if you’re in a small accident and your child’s neck muscles are developed, he or she can get severe whiplash, or, according to the videos I watched, they can actually be decapitated. I’m sure there are millions of other reasons why rear-facing is the best, and we planned on doing extended rear-facing until our reality challenged us to find alternatives, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who know all the reasons why it’s better.

    • Looks like my last comment was deleted. I’ll try some different wording.

      The chest clip should be level with the child’s armpits. You’re already aware that FF that young isn’t safe or legal so I’m not commenting on that but I don’t see why you wouldn’t properly (safely) use the chest clip unless you’re unaware of the difference it makes (which many people are). If the chest clip is positioned too low, such as over the child’s stomach, the shoulder straps of the harness can slip down from the child’s shoulders, leaving the child inadequately protected in a crash. It could mean the difference between your kid staying in his seat or flying through the windshield.

      • Much better!

        Technically, in Alabama at least, it’s not illegal for a child under 1 to be forward facing–it’s recommended that children under 1 are rear-facing, but the laws tend to vary by state (as far as I know). We looked that up, actually, before we made our decision, though it honestly wouldn’t have impacted our decision either way.

        As for the chest clip, we also figured that out. J is 17 months now, and these photos are from 9 and 11 months. Thanks for the info, though, and I’m sure people will appreciate it. I definitely appreciate the rewording! 🙂

        • While your state may not require them to RF until age one, there are no car seats on the market that allow RF before a minimum of 1 year and 20lbs, so it is still illegal.

          My oldest got carsick frequently. I still kept her rear facing till age 2, and you know what? Even forward facing, she still gets carsick.

          Be thankful you never got in an accident, but don’t tell other parents that it’s ok because it isn’t. It’s very dangerous.

          • “but don’t tell other parents that it’s ok because it isn’t. It’s very dangerous.”

            Stephanie very clearly DOES NOT tell other parents it’s ok. She shared her experience — she did not make a recommendation. This is what we do at Offbeat Mama: share people’s experiences, and encourage each parent to make their own decisions.

            I’m well aware that this is a highly controversial subject, which is part of what makes it an interesting story. That said, I think there’s a value in sharing the different perspectives on these challenging decisions that each of us as parents makes each day. Our lives are calculated risks. We’re each doing the best we can to gather information to make the best decisions for our families.

          • It safe for your kids so just because its convenient for you as a parent you shouldnt make such a dangerous decision for your child. Keep them rear facing until almost 2, there is no excuse. Id much rather hear my baby crying in the back seat then dead because i felt hed be better facing forward.

        • don’t at all mean to be rude by saying this, but I don’t think you did quite enough research… it is illegal to forward face before the age of 1 in all 50 states. A lot of states are actually changing their laws this year for it to be illegal to forward face before 2. Just wanted to clear that up for anyone reading, who may decide to forward face too soon after reading this

  6. THANK YOU for posting this. I have been wondering lately about what I’m going to do once my son turns one. He’s a tall boy. He sits rear facing with his legs all scrunched up because they’re so long and don’t have anywhere to go. It’s not too bad in my car, but in my husband’s car, the back seat is much smaller. I have been considering just turning the carseat to forward facing when he turns one in a few months. I’m glad to hear it’s worked for many of you.

  7. In Australia the laws tell us we can change to front facing at six months. We did as we thought it would be easier and Jude would enjoy it more but he is a very small baby so we changed it back. He’s 16 months now and pushing towards 12kg so we have to change him back to front facing. It’s actually illegal to have an extended rear facing seat in Australia. I think you did the right thing. A screaming baby is extremely stressfull and could easily cause an accident so I would have done the same thing. Thank you for writing about something mothers sometimes get very high and mighty about. I’d never thought about car sickness ( although my boyfriend suffers from it) and you’ve definitely opened my eyes.

  8. My story is similar to Ahyah’s. Our son, by 9 months old, was simply too tall for his carseat! His legs dangled long and he had them bent uncomfortably when rear facing… and his head was over the top of the seat. We got him a new seat and turned him around and he was so happy and content (being able to stretch, I think!)

    • They have bigger car seats for rear facing so they can still be safe rear facing, why is everyone rushing to turn the babies around after we have all been shown how dangerous it is to them? I would do whatever is safer for my child. Not convenient but safe!

  9. In the US it’s 1 , but in New Zealand (not known for markedly more car injuries/fatalities for little ones) it’s 6 months. My family thought I was insane (and had been brainwashed by US safety phobias) when I put my kid rear facing in my mother’s car in NZ at 7 months old. I promptly flipped her around to forward facing and haven’t thought about it since. It is amazing how cultural all this stuff is, including safety experiments and reports.

  10. My son is 3 & 1/2 months old and not quite 20 pounds. We’re going to have to buy another rear facing car seat in order to abide by the recommendation that he stay rear facing until one-year-old. If I had known he was going to be so big (he was 9 pounds, 9 ounces at birth but my measurements didn’t reveal this to the doc ahead of time!), I would have purchased the convertible seat so it would last longer. I’ve found ones on amazon that go up to 35 pounds (rear facing) and 40 pounds front-facing (same seat). For me, I feel better keeping him rear facing for as long as possible.

    • I’m in exactly the same situation! My daughter was 9lbs 6oz at birth and is now 19+ at 4 months but our car seat only goes up to 22lbs. I did my research ahead of time and assumed that 22lbs would be enough to make it to the 1 year minimum age required in my province but, unless she only gains under 3 lbs in the next 8 months I’m shit outta luck! I have also done research on forward facing vs rear facing and this is an issue that I don’t want to go against the recommendations. I’m not judging other mothers for their decisions but for me I need to know she’s as safe as possible so I’ll be buying another car seat soon.

    • You go mama! Finally someone who would rather there child be safe, great choice I did the same theres no reason why you should rush them into forward facing so little.

  11. I think the key here is to make sure that, regardless of the positioning of the seat, it is installed and the belts are used correctly. The theory is that forward-facing babies whose necks are underdeveloped will not be able to tolerate a frontal crash because their heads are so disproportionately heavy. The frontal crash in rear-facing pushes the baby into the seat rather than away from it.

    That said, not every baby grows / develops at the rate that the laws assume. The laws and guidelines are for the “typical” baby’s growth rates. Every parent needs to evaluate those guidelines in relation to their own child’s development.

    Having recently taken my oldest out of a booster seat altogether, I am grateful that the regulations for that are much more sensible than the regulations for earlier ages. To be out of a booster in my state, they have to be at least 60 lbs, the seat belt must rest in the middle of their shoulder (rather than against the neck), and their legs must be long enough so that they can bend their knees at the edge of the seat when their butts are all the way back.

  12. We switched when Georgia was about 10 months.
    She was 24 pounds, her legs were too long and had to be bent for her to fit, Plus, we drive a 2 door Toyota Corolla, which her rear facing seat didn’t fit into properly in the first place : if we positioned it in the middle, and left the carrying handle in the upright position, we could just barely get our seats to click into place. The handle is supposed to be down to provide shock absorbtion, so I figured since we were already doing it wrong, the forward facing couldn’t be much worse.

  13. I feel I have to say that while it is ultimately up to the individual to make the decision, putting your child in a forward facing seat before it is recommended is absolutely not safe. While the article doesn’t recommend it outright it does seem to make it seem okay. I’m glad that nothing happened to Jasper. While I’m sure that most parents drive much safer with an infant in the car, other drivers could care less. When my daughter was only 3 months old a car came over three lanes to slam into my car. Thankfully my daughter was okay. If I could write, I suppose my article would be about how if an idiot feels like talking on a cellphone and driving in the rain at 20 miles over the speed limit then they certainly will do just that. If that idiot crashes into a car with an infant that is too small to face forward, yet is anyway because they get car sick, that infant can die or be very seriously injured.
    My daughter doesn’t enjoy car rides either. The only suggestion I can offer that I feel is safer is to ride in the back with your baby whenever there is another driver present. Distract them with toys, talk to them, get them to associate car rides with play time. I also breast fed in the back seat whenever we were out somewhere. Eventually, my daughter got much better with car rides and I still ride in the back with her whenever I can. She is 13 months now and still in the rear facing seat because she is only about 18 pounds.
    If you feel there is no other way to combat the motion sickness then I would beg you to not take your baby driving except when you absolutely need to. While that might be inconvenient, I’m sure most parents realize that a baby’s well being trumps their own convenience.
    I hope that this won’t get flagged for being judgmental or ranty. As stated above, it is a controversial topic which does make it interesting. I guess that I’m just in the other camp on this issue.

    • -My goal was not to make this “seem ok”–it was to share our story. Which is what I did. If someone decides it’s ok for their family, that’s what THEY decide. We are all responsible for the results of our actions. I don’t think anyone will read this one article and make a decision this serious based on it alone.

      -It doesn’t matter if you’re driving safely or someone else isn’t–freak accidents happen all the time. Most people don’t care about other people on the road, period. Cars are incredibly unsafe places to be.

      -It was more than “not enjoying” car rides. He literally choked on vomit/spit up/regurgitated breast milk/WHATEVER in the car. We had to stop multiple times, no matter how short the trip, to get him out of the seat, calm him down, make sure he was able to breathe, only to have it repeat once he was back in the seat and the car was in motion. This is impossible to describe unless you have experienced it to this degree. Also, I tried to distraction, the talking, and I ALWAYS rode in the back with Jasper. I tried nursing him in the back seat. I tried all of these things.

      And we DID try to only take him when we really needed to. Most of the time, Jasper and I stayed at home.

      It’s fine for you to be in the other camp, but making assumptions about what we did or did not try before making this decision isn’t warranted–just ask next time. I’m more than happy to discuss this at great length. We made a decision for our family, and we made it with Jasper at the forefront. I realize that we’re lucky nothing terrible happened while he was small. I get that.

      • I absolutely did not make assumptions about what you did or did not try. I only gave my best suggestions for anyone else considering this.
        I know that whenever parents have different opinions it can seem like a direct attack on your own parenting method. It is almost impossible to look at it as just another opinion because it is so very personal. However, I can assure you that I was not attacking your parenting decisions. I was only stating my own.

        • Alright, cool! 🙂

          I didn’t take it as an attack, I just wanted it to be out there that we definitely attempted many, many things before arriving at this decision.

          • Woo! Confrontation makes me nervous too. I swear I turned all shades of red when I got your first reply. lol

        • I’ve done this, and it blows. We were driving home from St. Louis (it was about 6-7 hours at the time), two hours from home, and the child was simply miserable.

          The child calmed down, but that ache in my back lasted a while.

          • Both will fit comfortably in the back seat. Just don’t reilnce the driver seat as much. don’t get the bulky versions of car seats.As for putting one in the front seat – the back seat is the safest place for a child.

      • I’ve actually managed to pull this off. We’re leaving for a 10 hour trip after dinner tonight (cross your fingers for us), and I suspect I’ll be pulling this trick out a couple of times. It’s definitely more comfortable to do when it’s dark out, but I’ve had to grin and “bare” it during the day, too. Sadie doesn’t mind riding rear-facing, but sometimes when she’s had it, she’s had it. Because our middle seat has a shoulder belt, I can reasonably stay buckled myself when I pull out the ol’ boob and swing it her way. I don’t know that I could have done it when she was tiny…I think she was probably 9 months or so the first time I tried. Oh, and she pretty much never took a bottle, so that kind of increased the necessity of figuring out this trick.

        What’s crazy to believe is that our mother’s generation would just pull us right out of our car seats and nurse us while careening down the highway at 60mph. I took a six-hour drive with my father-in-law, and he was totally annoyed that I made him pull over every time Sadie wanted to nurse. Apparently things did NOT work that way when my husband was a baby!

      • I did not breast feed while the car was moving. On the 8 hours trips to her grandparent’s house we sometimes have to pull over just about every 10-20 minutes (or more!) so that I can nurse and comfort her. Eventually she adjusts or falls asleep.

    • i’m surprised ariel hasn’t flagged “car seat paranoia” as “fearmongering.”

      do those of you who cannot believe parents would let their children sit facing forward in a car seat drive THE BIGGEST suv/minivan on the market?

      because that may make just as big of a difference as the car seat! if a tractor trailer hits a small car, it ain’t gonna matter!

      (i’m bringing this up to provoke thought – my idea of baby seat is on a BICYCLE so i’m certainly not advocating buying the largest tank on the market…)

    • That is an interesting case for children 2 and older. I wish that he had been more specific about child weight in regards to his findings. It is a good argument against prolonged rear facing seats and booster seats.

  14. We turned Miles around the day before his 1st birthday, and even then there were people online who acted like I was trying to kill him. It was nuts. He was above the weight limit, and the rear-facing convertible seat we had (he was a fat, fat baby that outgrew his bucket seat at about 7 months) did not fit well in either of our cars.

    I’m glad that you were able to reason through to what the problem was! Miles was the kind of baby that fell asleep in the car, so long as the car remained above the speed of 30 MPH. Traffic lights were hell.

    Now he just gets mad that we’re restraining him.

  15. We turned Aspen around at a year old, halfway through a road-trip, and the difference was amazing!

    And I’ve heard from so many older (now grandparents) people about how they used to drive their baby to sleep. I realized on that trip, that they had front-facing babies.

  16. We did that, too:
    Our first child, Leonhard, sat in the next car seat with 10 month, our second child, Jonathan, sat in the next seat with 6 months (he is a really tall child). Before that, Jonathan always cried and screamed. After turning the seats, both love driving by car. Here in Germany you should do this with 1 year 🙂 . But both kids were so tall, we had no choise. And they love sitting this way.

  17. Wow, this post is raising some serious controversy and that’s why its cool. As a side-note, in France where I live (and probably all of the European Union), a child can be turned around at 20 pounds (9kg) regardless of his age.

    In my own conscience, rules are good but not if they become tyrannic. For example, I’ve sometimes carpooled for a friend and her baby that were in desperate need: she had him at a very young age with barely any ressources and certainely no car or carseat. I’d bring them to doctor appointments and such. I would have felt worse abandonning her in her tiny studio for weeks with a newborn than driving with her in the backseat and son in her arms.

    In highschool, I once drove a car full of drunk teens safely home before I even had my licence! It was one of those moments where you have to choose the lesser evil: I was the only sober person around and they were going to hit the road anyway.

    All in all, no mother here is underestimating the importance of road safety and we are probably all freaked out, but as Ariel put it, our whole lives are calculated risk and you have to make it work for you.

    • wow, I had no idea that in a few provinces kids are required to be in a car seat until they’re 4’9″ &/or 9 years old! That seems crazy big to still be in a car seat. How things do change 🙂

    • In many states, that’s the law, yes. (A law I’m guessing the car seat lobbyists had a lot to do with, but that’s another story.) I’d be curious to know if the law exists in a state like New York, since in New York City many people do not own cars.

      I have friends in Seattle who do not own a car, and while they do have a car seat for use in Zipcars and rentals, they read up on the laws and learned that (at least in Washington) you do NOT need to use a car seat in the back of a cab.

      • Do you have any idea where I can find info about not being required to use a car seat in a taxi? (I am in WA as well) A quick google didn’t do it. I was wondering about this because we “accidentally” took our daughter in a cab without a seat. We had intended to take the bus home, got a cab instead and the car seat issue didn’t even occur to me until I was buckling myself in. I was wearing her in a moby and was surprised the cab driver didn’t say anything.

      • How odd! The hospitals here (Ireland) only require a car seat if you’re actually going by car. The buses here don’t have seatbelts so there’d be nothing to attach a car seat to anyway!

  18. We had exactly the same problem with our daughter. I held out for months and months (until she was about 19 months old), with her screaming her head off the whole trip, every trip, feeling like I would be the worst mother in the world if I turned her around and upped her risk of spinal injury.

    In the end I couldn’t take it any more and it was obviously really upsetting for her. I turned her around and now have a much happier daughter who says “wheeee!” when we drive down a hill because she can see where we are going.

    What’s more, the ongoing screaming the entire time we were ever in the car was making me a very upset and distracted, therefore unsafe, driver.

  19. in NJ we have checkpoints ALL THE TIME and they actually have on for car seats and will ticket you for having a baby whos under a year forward facing….. i got stopped at one of these check points and was questioned about my son’s age and just said oh he’s a year…. mind you we flipped him forward @ like 4 months because of how big he was (he was actually over 20 lbs

  20. I switched my son to a front facing when he was 6 months old, he was just WAAAY too tall for rear facing. I had some people freak out, but I felt it was safer for him actually to fit into his carseat

  21. Does anyone else think its strange that when to turn the baby around is based on *age* instead of height/weight? Some 6 month olds are bigger than some 1 year olds so I dont see how age is the most important factor…Maybe its just me.

    • I find it strange. It seems it should be based on physical not age. I mean, especially the countries that say 6 months, what they seem to really be saying is that the child should be able to fully support their own head and (likely) be able to sit up. That usually has happened by 6. So it seems like weight/milestone but since that fluctuates so much from one child to the next, they go with age.

      I think I’m going to talk to the husband about this. The Bot has been squished into that car seat for too long. We have the next size up which could face backwards but we’d never be able to sit comfortably/safely in the car to drive with her rear-facing in that one.

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