Rear-facing Car Seats for Babies: Safety Tips

Car seat safety experts from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia provide tips to help you choose and install a car seat for your baby.


Rear-facing Car Seats for Babies: Safety Tips

Narrator: When you have a baby, a rear-facing car seat becomes one of the most important items in your life. A properly installed rear-facing car seat dramatically reduces the risk of injury in a crash. Infants’ and toddlers’ heads are the heaviest parts of their bodies. They can't withstand a crash facing forward. A rear-facing seat will support your child's head, neck and spine during a head on collision. The seat helps spread the force of the crash across the back.

This video was created by safety experts at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. We want to make sure you install the seat correctly and that you buckle your child in correctly every single time. Let's get started.

For babies, rear-facing only seats like these, are one option. Never use them in the forward facing position; it's not safe. Safety experts recommend that children ride in a rear-facing only car seat until they reach the maximum height or weight allowed by the seat. Find that information in your car seat manual now. Keep track of when you child outgrows the seat.

Some families choose convertible car seats like these. A convertible seat is used rear-facing at first and then it's turned forward when the child is older. For convertible seats, the manual will tell you at what height and weight to turn the seat around. Most children won't hit those limits until they're at least two.

Some states have laws requiring that children ride rear-facing until they are two or older. Google “Governors Highway Safety Association” and “child passenger safety” to find the law in your state.

Now that you have a car seat, where do you put it?  That's easy; in the back. Secure the seat wherever you get the tightest fit; if possible, use the center of the back seat. Don't use the front seat; it's not safe for a variety of reason, including frontal airbags which could injure or kill a child.

Let's move on to installing the car seat. You will need your vehicle owner’s manual and car seat manual.

First, make sure the seat is at the correct angle. Most seats have angle indicators. The car seat manual will tell you how to read your angle indicator. Many rear-facing seats also have an adjustable base to help set the angle. If your seat doesn't have an adjustable base, you may need to use a rolled up towel or a swimming pool noodle to get the angle right.

To strap the seat in, you can use the vehicle’s seat belt or the lower anchors of the latch system. Both methods are equally safe. Not every vehicle seating position has lower anchors. Check your vehicle owner’s manual for more information.

First, we're going to show you how to install the car seat using a seat belt. We're going to use a rear-facing only seat that has a lock off mechanism that locks the seat belt. Pull the seat belt out and carefully thread it through the belt path of the car seat. Buckle the seat belt and make sure that it doesn't have any twists. To ensure a tight fit, press down on the car seat; pull to tighten the seat belt and close the lock off. Make sure it is tight.

The car seat shouldn't move more than one inch in any direction at the belt path. Now we're going to show you seat belt installation using a convertible seat without a lock off.

Pull the seat belt out and carefully thread it through the rear-facing belt path. Buckle the seat belt and make sure it doesn't have any twists. Double check the car seat manual to make sure you're using the rear-facing belt path. Double check the vehicle owner’s manual on how to lock the seat belt.

In this car, you pull the seat belt slowly all the way out of the retractor. This switches it to a locked mode. The seat belt in your vehicle might be different. To ensure a tight fit, press down on the car seat and pull to tighten the seat belt. To test the fit, hold the car seat at the belt path and pull it from side to side, like this. The car seat shouldn't move more than one inch in any direction at the belt path. If it does, press down again on the car seat and pull the seat belt tight. Recheck the movement of the car seat until it moves no more than one inch.

A loosely installed seat is one of the most common mistakes parents make. Your child is not safe is a loosely installed seat.

If you choose lower anchors, check your vehicle owner’s manual to find the latch seating positions. Next, find the lower anchors. Most vehicles have a small plastic button or fabric tag to help. The anchors are usually directly below the button or tag. In some cars, there won't be anchors for the center seat. It's okay to install the car seat in one of the side seats if that's where you get the tightest fit. You could also use lower anchors for a convertible seat.

Attach each hook onto its own lower anchor. Tighten and adjust the straps according to the car seat instruction manual. Now, test the fit at the belt path. The seat should not move more than one inch in any direction.

Now, let's talk about strapping your child in. The harness straps should be threaded through the slots at or directly below your baby's shoulders. Now, buckle the harness. Next, buckle the harness retainer clip and position the clip at armpit level. This helps to keep the straps over the baby's shoulders.

Next, tighten the harness. If you can pinch a fold at the shoulders, the straps are too lose. The harness should lie in a straight line, with no slack. You can strap your baby in before you put the car seat into the base like we're doing here. Or you can carry your baby and strap them into the seat after it's clicked into the base. Make sure your child wears light clothing every time they are in the car seat. Puffy jackets aren't safe. They create too much space between the baby and the harness.

As your baby grows and you have a million things on your mind it's easy to forget how important it is that the harness fits correctly. Make this a habit; check the harness every time you strap your baby in and adjust as needed. You should also get in the habit of checking how tight the seat is, as it can loosen over time. 

We hope you found this video useful; here's a quick review.

Make sure the seat is installed at the correct angle. Place the seat in the back; never the front. The seat shouldn't move more than one inch at the belt path. The harness should be snug. No puffy jackets or sweaters. Keep your child rear-facing as long as possible.

Remember, there are lots of people who would be happy to help keep your child safe. Our hospital offers free car seat fittings in the Philadelphia area. We'd love to see you at one. For help in your area, Google “certified car seat technicians.”

Now, congratulations on that baby and we wish you the safest travels.

Related Centers and Programs: Car Seat Safety for Kids