Should I keep my 12 month old in a rear facing car seat if her feet are touching the back of the car’s seat

That’s a question we recently received from a mom of a toddler, and as I told this mom, it is a very common question.

Parents worry that their little ones might be uncomfortable, or that the seat might not be safe anymore once legs are long enough that they can’t fit without bending at the knees.

To be doubly sure that our advice is current and sound, I asked my colleague, Petra Vybiralova, for her guidance. Petra is the Safe Kids Supervisor for All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Here’s what Petra had to say:

Yes, you should keep the child rear-facing.  Having the feet touch the back seat is not a safety hazard. In fact, injuries to the legs typically happen in forward facing position because the legs and feet come up and hit the vehicle seat in from of them.

The rear facing position is the safest because it protects children’s heads and necks by absorbing the force of a crash. At this age children’s heads are very large in proportion to their bodies and in a forward facing car seat they are more likely to sustain spinal and/or brain injuries.   

Children should remain rear-facing until the age of 2, or until they outgrow their rear-facing car seats by weight or height. Some infant seats are only rated for up to 22 pounds and 29 inches.  In these cases, you’ll need to get a convertible seat so your child may stay rear facing.