Rearward-facing Baby Seats
Babies and infants need to be carried in rearward-facing baby seats. This reduces the risk of death or injury in a crash by 90% compared with being unrestrained.
Rearward-facing seats provide greater protection for the baby's head, neck and spine than forward-facing seats. So, it is best to keep your baby in a rearward-facing seat for as long as possible. Only move them to a forward-facing once they can sit up unaided and they have exceeded the maximum weight for the baby seat, or the top of their head is higher than the top of the seat. Or, you could consider using a larger (group 1 or group 2) rearward-facing seat.
Rearward-facing baby seats have an energy absorbing interior, and an integral five point harness (some have a three-point harness) to hold the baby in place snugly. Take time to get your baby comfortably strapped in and to make sure the harness is correctly adjusted. The top of the harness should be about 2cm below your baby's shoulder. It should be quite tight, so that only one or two fingers can fit between the baby's chest and the harness. The harness buckle should not rest over the child's tummy. Clothing can affect how snugly the harness fits, so check it every journey.
Rearward-facing seats can be used in the front or rear of the car, but it is safer to put them in the rear. DO NOT put them in the front passenger seat if there is an active passenger airbag.
Types of rearward-facing child seats:
Group 0 for babies up to 10 kg (22 lbs) roughly from birth to 6 months
Group 0 seats allow the baby to lie flat, and are particularly suitable for new born babies and premature or low birth weight babies. They are not very common because most people prefer to use rearward-facing Group 0+ seats, which will last a bit longer because they are suitable for children up to 13kg (roughly 12-15 months).
Group 0+ for babies up to 13kg (29lbs) roughly from birth to 12-15 months
Group 0+ seats provide greater protection for the baby's head, neck and spine, and side impact protection, than forward-facing seats.
Group 0+ & 1 for babies and toddlers up to 18 kg, roughly from birth to 4 years
Group 0+ & 1 seats allow you to keep your child rearward-facing until they are 18 kg in weight, which is roughly four years old. Some can be turned into forward-facing seats when the child has reached 13 kg in weight, or they can continue to be used rearward-facing.
These larger rearward-facing seats are relatively rare in the UK, but they are available. They offer more protection to the child in a crash because they are rearward-facing, but because they are larger, there may not be enough space to fit them in some vehicles, or they may mean fewer other passengers can be carried. They are also more difficult to fit, and need additional straps.
Fitting rearward-facing seats
As with all child car restraints, follow the manufacturer's recommendations on how to fit and use them.
Depending on the type of seat, it will be fitted with the car's seat belts or into Isofix fitting points built into the car, if it is an Isofix or i-size seat. The child seat may fit onto a base rather than directly onto the car's seat, in which case the base is fitted with the car's seat belts or into its Isofix points, and the child seat fits onto the base.
Seat fitted with the car's seat belts
Rearward-facing seats that are fitted with the car's seat belts have blue guides through which the seat belt must be threaded to secure the seat. On some seats, the handle is also used to help secure the seat, so it is important to position the handle as described in the instructions. The correct seat belt routes and the position of the handle will be shown on labels on the side of the seat.
Isofix rearward-facing seats
Rearward-facing Isofix seats do not use the car's seat belts. They have mounts built into them that slot into the Isofix anchorage points that are built into the car. They will also have either a support foot that needs to be extended to the floor of the car or a top tether that fixes to the top tether points behind the car seat.
Check whether your Isofix child seat is approved for your car by contacting your car manufacturer and/or the child seat manufacturer; many have a list on their website that shows which seats are approved for which cars.
i-size rearward-facing seats
Rearward-facing i-size seats do not use the car's seat belts. They fit into the Isofix anchorage points that are built into the car.
Check if the seat is approved for your car. Contact your car manufacturer and/or the child seat manufacturer; many have a list on their website that shows which seats are approved for which cars.
i-size seats will fit any i-size approved vehicle. However, there are few such cars currently available in the UK. Their numbers will increase over the coming years.
Rearward-facing seats with bases
Some seats have a separate base that is fitted with the car's seat belt and/or into the Isofix points, and the seat just clicks into the correct position on the base. The base can be left permanently in the car, which makes putting the seat in and taking it out of the car quicker and easier. If the base is fitted with the car's seat belts, thread the seat belt through the blue guides (not the red ones).
Seat Belt Wearing During Pregnancy
Pregnant women must wear seat belts by law when travelling in the front or rear seats of a car. Pregnancy does not automatically provide exemption from the requirement to wear a seat belt.
Mother and unborn child are both safer in a collision if the mother is wearing a lap and diagonal seat belt correctly.
The safest way for pregnant women to wear a seat belt is to:
- Place the diagonal strap between the breasts (over the breastbone) with the strap resting over the shoulder, not the neck
- Place the lap belt flat on the thighs, fitting comfortably beneath the enlarged abdomen, and over the pelvis not the bump
- Keep the belt as tight as possible
In this way, the forces involved in an impact can be absorbed by the body's frame.
Avoid using a lap-only seat belt as they may cause injuries to unborn children in a collision. Always wear a three-point seat belt.
Carrying Premature and Low Birth Weight Babies
The safest way for new born babies to travel in a car is in an approved rearward-facing baby seat that is suitable for the car and is properly fitted, preferably in the rear of the car.
However, research in the USA raised concerns that some premature and low-birth weight babies may be susceptible to breathing problems if they stay in a baby seat for long periods. They found that some new-born babies developed breathing problems after one hour in the baby seat and some premature babies stopped breathing for a short period.
The main concern was with babies who have apnea (stopping breathing), bradycardia (slow heart rate), or desaturation (low oxygen levels). These babies may be safer in a lie-flat baby seat (Group 0).
If you have a premature or low-birth weight baby:
- Ask the hospital to assess whether it is safe for the baby to travel in a baby seat before you are discharged (some hospitals routinely do this assessment).
- When the hospital says it is safe to take the baby home, make sure that you put the baby in an approved rearward-facing baby seat that is suitable for the car and is properly fitted.
- Do not keep the baby in the seat for longer than necessary.
- Recline the baby seat as much as possible when in the car (making sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions for fitting and using it).
- Never leave the child unattended in the seat. Try to have someone else do the driving, so you can sit next to the baby to keep an eye on him or her.
- Keep car travel to a minimum in the first few months.
- Only use the baby seat in the vehicle and not on an integrated travel system or for feeding or sleeping etc.
- If in any doubt, consult the hospital or your GP.
Photos courtesy of Britax and RECARO Child Safety Ltd