More long-lasting than infant car seats, rear-facing convertible seats accommodate babies, toddlers and even preschoolers. These car seats start off rear-facing, but can “convert” to forward-facing once a child is big enough and old enough. Find everything you want to know about these seats below!
Rear-facing convertible car seats are designed for babies, toddlers, and even preschoolers, but not all will necessarily fit small (or large) children well. See our recommended car seats.
Rear-facing convertible car seats have a maximum height AND weight limit. Each seat is different — so check yours carefully, but typically:
When your child has reached ONE of these limits they’re too big for rear-facing in this seat and must do one of the following:
We strongly recommend waiting until one of these limits is reached before turning your child forward-facing, since sitting rear-facing is safer.
ALWAYS check your car seat’s instruction manual, look at the labels on the seat, or call the car seat’s manufacturer to find out your car seat’s weight and height maximums.
This video shows how to properly buckle your baby in the car seat straps. Properly snug straps will work to keep your baby safe in a crash, but also help babies breathe better in the car seat by preventing the baby from slumping over and by keeping the head better positioned. Watch this video to make sure you’re buckling your baby properly.
Proper Strap Position: Shoulder straps should be emerging from the back of the seat at or just below your child’s shoulders, as seen in this photo.
If you can see the slot where the straps are emerging from the car seat, the straps are too high and must be lowered.
Why do the straps need to be set this way? Properly set straps prevent a child from sliding up the seat in a crash, so they are very important. They also keep a child in the proper position in the car seat when outside the car, so that the child doesn’t slouch or slip into an unsafe position.
Note: A newborn baby may require an infant insert to reach the lowest slot. The insert would be included in the box with the car seat. (Do not use any inserts that were not sold with your car seat.) The infant insert sits underneath the baby’s bottom and raises them up so that their shoulders reach the lowest slot.
To see how to move the straps up and down, see adjusting straps for a growing child.
What is an infant insert? This is a removable pad that sits underneath and possibly behind a newborn or small infant.
Why do you need an infant insert? To safely use a rear-facing car seat, a child’s shoulders must come up at least to the lowest harness slot on the seat. As most newborns aren’t tall enough to reach this slot, car seats often come with a removable infant insert designed to rest under the baby’s bottom, making the baby sit higher in the seat, so that their shoulders reach at or above the lowest strap slot. Some infant inserts are mandatory at certain weights or heights and some are not, so check your car seat’s instruction manual to find out your seat’s requirements.
When can you stop using the infant insert? You may stop using the insert when your child’s shoulders are even with the lowest harness slot setting, or when your seat recommends discontinuing use of the insert. ALWAYS check your car seat’s instruction manual to make sure you are using the insert the right way.
Sometimes the infant insert can make the position of the baby worse, especially if the insert rests behind the baby’s head and pushes it forward, so note if the insert is causing your child an issue like this. Here’s a link to how your newborn’s head should be positioned in the car seat.
Padded head inserts: Infant inserts that just go behind the baby’s head may cause the head to fall into a potentially unsafe position. We recommend these inserts not be used unless specifically required by the manufacturer.
Strap covers: These typically get in the way of a tight fit, so if they are not mandatory (and most are not), we recommend removing them from the car seat.
Note: It is NEVER okay to add another infant insert to the car seat. If it did not come with your car seat, don’t use it!
How should your child’s head be positioned? If your baby has head control, you don’t need to worry about his head position in the car seat, provided he is strapped in properly. Here’s how to strap your child in properly.
Is it okay for a child’s head to slump down when he is asleep in the car? Yes, as long as your child has head control and is strapped in properly. We know it doesn’t look nice, but it’s safe and likely comfortable for your child if she is asleep. When you fall asleep in the car or in a chair, your head slumps forward too, but you are able to lift it up as needed if your airway becomes obstructed. Newborns cannot do this, but older children with head control can and will lift their heads in this situation.
What about a newborn? Newborns don’t have head control, so must be placed in a reclined position where their heads won’t fall onto their chests. We get this question all the time and created a whole page to clarify: Newborn and infant head position in a car seat
For older infants and toddlers with head control: Which crotch buckle position to use depends on your specific car seat manufacturer’s requirements. Use your seat’s instruction manual to find the correct position. Different seats have different requirements based on the child’s weight or size or age, so don’t assume you’re using the correct slot–check the manual!
For newborns: The closer the crotch buckle sits to the baby’s bottom, the less the baby can slouch. When baby slouches, her head can fall forward onto her chest, possibly causing breathing problems. If there’s a significant space between your baby’s bottom and the crotch buckle, take a tightly rolled up washcloth and AFTER tightening baby in the straps, place the washcloth along the baby’s inner thighs in a U-shape to fill the gap.
If you don’t know what LATCH is or aren’t sure about whether to use it, see here before attempting the installation.
Installation with Lower Anchors
1. Read your car seat’s instruction manual! (Hint: This is always the first step when doing anything with the car seat!) If you can’t find the physical manual check the car seat’s website as most manufacturers post a pdf of the manual online.
2. Prepare your workspace. Park the car in a well lit area, on level ground, and in a space where you will be comfortable working. Move the front seats up all the way to give yourself enough space to work. Remove belongings from the backseat and clear the floor area. It’s best to stand in the car directly in front of the car seat, between the back seat and the front seat, facing the back of the car.
3. Locate the lower anchors in the vehicle. Note that for most vehicles, you must install the car seat base on the side seat if you want to use the lower anchors–as most vehicles do not permit a lower anchor installation in the center seat. Your vehicle owners manual will clarify where you can install your car seat. Read it before assuming you can install the car seat in any seating position. See our Where are my Lower Anchors page for more info on finding the lower anchors.
4. Locate the lower anchor connectors on your car seat. They may be hooked onto the side of the seat, or snapped into storage slots, or folded up in a panel on the bottom. Use the car seat’s instruction manual to help you locate the connectors. If you are using flexible connectors, lengthen the strap it as long as it will go. If you cannot figure out how to lengthen the strap, check your car seat’s instruction manual for directions.
5. Attach the lower anchor connectors on the car seat to the lower anchors on the vehicle seat. If your vehicle has visible lower anchors this shouldn’t be too difficult. If the lower anchors are hidden between the vehicle seat upholstery this can be hard. Don’t give up! Feel around in the seat with your fingers until you find the anchors and then attach the connectors. It is much easier to do this when you are standing in the car as described in step 2.
Make sure you have attached the lower anchor connectors in an upright position.
6. Recline the seat to the appropriate angle. Each car seat has it’s own required recline setting, so check in your manual and adjust this before proceeding with the rest of the installation. You won’t be able to change the recline once the car seat is installed.
7. Tighten the strap. Stand in the car directly in behind the car seat, between the back seat and the front seat, facing the back of the car. Push down on the car seat using your body as you tighten the lower anchor connector strap. Use the inside outside trick to pull the strap from the inside of the car seat up towards your body as you push down and sway from side to side.
The seat should be installed so tightly that it moves less that one inch from side to side and front to back when you pull and push on it where the lower anchor strap is. If you are having trouble getting it tight enough, try the recline trick shown in this video:
8. Make other necessary adjustments: verify the seat is properly reclined, adjust the head rest, etc. These adjustments will all be described in your car seat instruction manual.
Some helpful videos:
We’ve included a written set of general instructions and Installation Videos at the end for specific car seats.
Tip: It may be helpful to watch the videos even if you have a different car seat as many of the techniques we use are universal in their application.
Note that this set of instructions relates to installation with the SEAT BELT. If you are confused about using the seat belt vs the lower anchors (LATCH) please see here. Your car seat is probably optimized for one of these methods although both are always possible.
1. Read your car seat’s instruction manual! (Hint: This is always the first step when doing anything with the car seat!) If you can’t find the physical manual check the car seat’s website — most manufacturers post a pdf of the manual online.
2. Prepare your workspace in the vehicle. Park the vehicle in a well lit area, on level ground, and in a space where you will be comfortable working. Leave the doors open if you have the space. Move the front seats up all the way to give yourself enough space to work. Remove belongings from the backseat and clear the floor area. It’s best to stand in the vehicle directly in front of the car seat, between the back seat and the front seat, facing the back of the vehicle.
3. Choose the seating position for your car seat. See our “where should I install my child’s car seat page.” to help determine where to install your car seat.
4. Locate the seat belt for that seating position. If you are installing the car seat in a center position and your seat belt comes out from the ceiling, that’s okay–see here how to properly operate this type of seat belt.
5. Locate the seat belt pathway on your car seat. This will be clearly pictured in the car seat’s instruction manual and often labeled in blue (or sometimes a different color) on the car seat itself.
6. Route the seat belt through the rear-facing seat belt pathway, through any built-in lockoffs (if present) and buckle the seat belt. Many convertible car seats come with built-in seat belt locking devices. Your car seat’s manual will describe how to use this device if your car seat features it. We find that these devices make installation with the seat belt MUCH EASIER. If your seat has a locking device, don’t forget to open it before starting to route the seat belt! Pro tip: It’s much easier to do this step when you are standing in the car as described in step 2.
7. Tighten and lock the seat belt. Stand in the car directly in front of the car seat, between the back seat and the front seat, facing the back of the car. Push down on the car seat using your body as you pull the shoulder part of the seat belt (the part on top) tight. Use the inside/outside trick show in the video below to pull the strap from the inside of the car seat, up towards your body, as you push down on the seat. Without letting go of the strap that you have pulled tight (keep it tight!), lock the seat belt in the preferred manner (this will be explained in the car seat’s instruction manual). The seat should be installed so tightly that it moves less that one inch from side to side and front to back when you pull and push on it where the seat belt is routed through.
8. Make other necessary adjustments: verify the seat is properly reclined, adjust the head rest, etc. These adjustments will all be described in your car seat instruction manual.
Installation videos for different car seats
All rear-facing car seats have a specified recline angle that must be achieved for the car seat to perform properly and in the case of newborns, to allow for an open airway.
The importance of the recline angle for newborns: Newborns and young babies don’t have head control. If they’re placed in an upright position, they can’t keep their heads up and will move into a chin-to-chest position. This position is dangerous because it can make breathing difficult. Older children and adults can (and will) simply move their heads out of this harmful position, but newborns and young babies can’t make this correction. Therefore, we must position their car seats at such an angle that this chin-to-chest position is unlikely to occur. At the same time, the car seat cannot be positioned too reclined, as this would negatively affect its performance in a crash.
The importance of the recline angle for toddlers: Older children with head control can tolerate a much more upright position than can newborns. Many convertible car seats feature a range of recline positions, with one being required for newborns and the rest allowed for older children who meet various weight or age criteria.
Which position should you use for a baby with head control? Older infants with head control often prefer sitting more upright and better tolerate car rides (read: less crying) when they are sitting up instead of laying back. It is okay for a toddler to sit fairly upright, as long as the car seat permits it. It is okay for a toddler’s head to fall or slump when they’re sleeping–this is a normal position for a toddler and also for an adult. When you fall asleep in the car (or on a plane) your head slumps too!
How to see if your seat is reclined appropriately: Every seat will have a level indicator of some sort–a line on a sticker on the side of the seat, a line molded into the seat, a bubble level, a dial, etc.
How to adjust the recline: Each seat has some sort of adjustment mechanism you can use to make the seat more or less reclined. Often you squeeze a handle under the seat or flip out or attach a “foot” to make the seat more reclined. See your car seat’s instruction manual to find out how to control your seat’s recline angle.
If your car seat is still too upright after reclining it all the way: Sometimes it is necessary to put a tightly rolled towel or pool noodle under the seat to make it more reclined, if the car seat’s own recline “foot” is not making the seat reclined enough. We recommend ALWAYS trying first with the car seat’s own recline adjuster before adding additional towels or noodles. Over the past years we have seen great improvements to car seats such that much fewer require a towel or noodle compared to seats made ten years ago. Of course always check with the car seat manufacturer to make sure they permit adding a towel or a noodle before using one–not all manufacturers permit this.
For more about this topic see our Rear-Facing Science section.
You’re flying somewhere with your kids. You’re already bringing a stroller, a portable crib, toys, a suitcase, a diaper bag, and one or more children. Many parents are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff a child requires, and the first item to get left at home is….you guessed it, the car seat! This shouldn’t be the case! Kids are vastly better protected if they use a car seat on the plane.
But you could save a lot of money by having your child be a lap baby! Why should you bother bringing the car seat, especially if it’s not legally required?
During take off, landing, and turbulence, all bags and objects on the plane must be stowed, because anything unsecured is able to fly around if a problem were to occur during these parts of the flight. Children in a car seat are securely attached to the airplane seat — just like everybody and everything else in the aircraft cabin. Doesn’t your child deserve the same protection as your — or your suitcase?
We have an entire section of our website devoted to airplane travel which goes into much more depth about why it’s so important to use a car seat on the plane and why it’s not legally mandated. We urge you to read this section, especially this page regarding the science behind our recommendations and the professional recommendations from the FAA, AAP, and NTSB, before booking your baby as a lap-child.
Installation Video: Now that you’re convinced, here’s how to install a RFO on an airplane
Airline Push Back: If you’re getting push back from flight attendants or other airline personnel about using your car seat, please see our Passengers Bill of Rights, which contains proof that you are legally allowed to use your approved car seat on flights on a US based carrier and on flights on any carrier that both originate and end in the US. You can show this Bill of Rights and the accompanying documentation to the airline personnel to help in your argument for using your car seat on board the aircraft.
Raising or lowering the straps: As your child grows you’ll need to raise the straps–otherwise they’ll be too low. Before raising the straps, check to see if your child is still using an infant insert. The insert should be removed (in most cases–check your seat’s instruction manual) before raising the straps to the next level. Removing the infant insert will lower the baby’s position in the car seat and may delay the need to raise the straps for a few more months.
When it’s time to raise the straps: First, make sure it’s actually time. The shoulder straps must be emerging from the back of the seat at or just below your child’s shoulders, as seen in this photo.
If you can see the slot where the straps are emerging from the car seat shell, the straps are too high and should be lowered.
If it’s REALLY time for the straps to go up: Your car seat allows for one of two methods of adjusting the car seat straps up or down, either the No-Rethread or the Rethread (Manual) system.
Infant inserts: These are often required to make newborns and small infants tall enough to fit in the car seat properly. To safely use a rear-facing car seat, including a RFO, a child’s shoulders must come up at least to the lowest harness slot on the seat. (PHOTO). As most newborns are not tall enough to reach this slot, most RFO car seats come with a removable infant insert designed to rest under the baby’s bottom, making the baby sit higher in the seat.
When should you remove the infant insert? After a few weeks or months the baby will have grown and the insert becomes unnecessary. You may stop using the insert when your child’s shoulders are even with the lowest harness slot setting, or when your seat recommends discontinuing use of the insert.
Inserts and head position: Sometimes the infant insert can make the position of the baby worse, especially if the insert goes behind the baby’s head and pushes it forward, so note if the insert is causing your child an issue like this. Here’s a link to how your newborn’s head should be positioned in the car seat.
Padded head inserts: Infant inserts that just go behind the baby’s head typically cause the head to fall into a potentially unsafe position. We recommend these inserts not be used unless specifically required by the manufacturer.
Note: It is NEVER okay to add another infant insert to the car seat. If it did not come with your car seat, do not use it!
Many RFO car seats have two positions for the crotch buckle. Read your car seat’s instruction manual to find out the proper crotch buckle position for your child.
We’re based in New York City where, regrettably, it’s fully legal to take a child in a taxi or uber without using a car seat. But just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s safe. You wouldn’t ever take your child in your own car without a car seat…..so why would you do it in a taxi or uber? The yellow paint or TLC license plate does not magically change the laws of physics!
An unrestrained child will be at great risk of injury or death in a crash regardless of the type of vehicle they’re riding in. Taxis and ubers do get into crashes!
What should you do? How can you take your kid in a taxi safely if they’ve outgrown their infant carrier?
Why make the straps tight?
First, tight straps help in a crash: The forces that your baby feels in a 30mph crash are akin to jumping out a 3rd story window and landing on the pavement. Jumping would be crazy, but if you had to do it, using a parachute would give you the slowest, gentlest stop.
In a crash, your child’s car seat performs just like that parachute. If your child’s straps are snug to their body AND the car seat is tightly installed in the vehicle, the car seat will act like a parachute, giving your child the slowest, gentlest stop in a crash. If the car seat straps are loose on your child’s body OR if the car seat is loosely installed in the vehicle, your child will come to a jolting, sudden stop, like if you were to jump out that 3rd story window and land on your feet.
This jolt is what causes injury. The jolt also allows the child to move farther forward within the vehicle, increasing the risk of the child hitting their head on a hard structure in the vehicle–like a door, window, or back of the front seat. Avoiding this jolt is key to avoiding injury.
When skydiving, people instinctively understand that their lives depend on their parachute harness. As such, they wear a thin jumpsuit under the harness, and not a puffy coat. People want the harness to be as tight as possible to their body. Do you think anyone ever says “Hey, my harness is too tight, let’s loosen it” before they jump out of a plane? Of course not! So too your child’s car seat is their harness that their life depends on. Make sure to make it very tight every time.
Second, straps help position baby: Snug straps help babies breathe better by preventing the baby from slumping over and by helping keep the head better positioned.
Snug straps make it less likely for the baby’s head to fall into a chin-to-chest position. Loose or unbuckled straps are an asphyxiation risk because the baby’s head can fall into an unsafe position for breathing. Loose or unbuckled straps are also a strangulation risk as the baby can roll over and get their neck caught in the straps.
Do not buckle just the chest clip – this is a significant risk for strangulation. The crotch buckle is there to prevent your child from slouching down in the seat. Without the crotch buckle, babies have strangled on the chest clip; babies like 9-month-old John Norris, 14-month-old Jaxon Lemerand, 17-month-old Major Maxie, and too many others.
What sort of extra padding are you talking about?
Wouldn’t more soft padding make the baby safer?
The short answer: No! These products are not tested with the car seat and therefore it is unknown how they may affect the car seat’s performance in a crash. Extra padding or materials in the car seat could:
We know extra padding can have these effects because during the car seat creation process, sometimes manufacturers have to redesign their own padding when said padding causes unintended negative performance in the many crash tests they perform before a seat comes to market. Sometimes the negative performance can be caused by something as small as where a stitching line is located!
The long answer: For a very full discussion of this topic, including in depth consideration of the science behind this prohibition, please see this page we made devoted entirely to Fluff in the Car Seat.
What about the pads that came with the car seat? It is safe to use products that came in the box with your car seat. Since all the infant positioners that come with the car seat have been extensively designed and redesigned based on their crash test performance in the manufacturer’s own tests, they are safe to use and often are required at some stage of the baby’s development. As always, check your car seats instruction manual to find out your seat’s requirements.
We’re big fans of babywearing and did it constantly with our own kids….but never in a taxi or uber (or any other car for that matter!) While your pediatrician, friend, or baby care instructor may have said it is okay, fabric carriers like the Baby Bjorn, Tula, Ergo, Lillebaby, Snugli, etc, will not protect a baby in a crash.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau created a video of a crash test where an adult dummy wore an infant dummy in a BabyBjorn. As you can see in the video, the BabyBjorn fails to hold the infant and he goes flying into the front of the test platform. We created a short video including the crash test explaining what happens technically and why it happens.
In a similar study, researchers Kathleen Weber and John Melvin of the Highway Safety Research Institute at the University of Michigan Medical School tested this same scenario using a 30 mph, front, dynamic crash test of the type required by the current U.S. federal safety standard for child car seats. Unfortunately we have no video of this crash test. In the test, an adult wore the baby in a soft, cloth front carrier like the Baby Bjorn and used a lap/shoulder belt. The researchers found that this infant was at a very high risk. The tested carrier shredded completely, ejecting the infant dummy into the dashboard. If the carrier had not shredded, they found that the infant would likely still not have survived. As the adult’s head traveled forward in the whiplash motion, the adult’s chin would have slammed down into the infant’s head right where the soft spot is.
If you find yourself in a taxi with just your infant and a Baby Bjorn or other carrier (hopefully you never will), there is NO way to protect your baby! However, you can still protect yourself by wearing your seatbelt. Putting the seatbelt over you and the baby will only make matters worse. It will not help the baby and will endanger you in the process.