If your child has already turned one, it’s possible you have had to swap the baby carrier for a baby car seat. Rules vary depending on which country you live in, but in the U.S. it’s recommended that you keep your child in a rear-facing car seat/carrier until at least the age of four – after that, you can swap it for a forward-facing seat. Just because that is the norm, however, it doesn’t mean that the baby will be ready for this new phase as soon they celebrate their 4th birthday. It all depends on how the baby’s musculature is developing, especially their upper body and neck. Asking for your pediatrician to weigh in on the issue is the best way to know when to safely make that change.

Forward or rear-facing baby seat?

In the U.S., the American Pediatric Association recommends children be transported in a rear-facing baby seat, which means away from the driver – up until 2018, rear-facing baby seats were only recommended until the child turned two, but regulations have since changed based on height and weight instead of age markers. This is due to situations where drivers stop short or have to slam on the breaks. This way, the rear-facing position prevents the child’s head from abruptly snapping in a whiplash movement.

Therefore, for your peace of mind and in the baby’s best interest, you should keep the baby seat facing backwards. Yes, kids can get easily bored that way, having very little to look at, but that vastly outweighs the dangers of facing the seat forward and risking being badly injured in an accident. And don’t worry, folding the child’s legs a little bit won’t do them any harm.

What to keep an eye out for with baby seats

Another way to check if your baby carrier or baby seat aren’t suitable for your child anymore is to pay attention to how the head fits on the headrest. If, in the baby carrier, the top of the head extends above its height, it’s time to change, as it no longer protects the child properly. For the baby car seat, if the child’s eyes are at the height of the chair, you should substitute it for a larger one, even if the child still hasn’t turned four.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions in order to properly assemble the car seat and don’t leave the seat belt too loose: one inch of wiggle space is fine. And, it’s worth remembering: there’s no trip too short to justify not placing your baby in the carrier or baby seat. Studies show baby seats reduce the risk of death in a crash by 71%.

And after they turn four?

According to U.S. legislation, children should use appropriate seating equipment until the age of eight. When they turn four, the baby seat can be substituted for the booster seat. There are options with back support as well as backless options too, the choice depends on which one your child adapts to better or the one the parents feel more safe using – some resemble a small chair with armrests and could be a good way to transition from the baby seat and are accommodating in case the child wants to take a nap. The important part is that the chair be elevated in a way that allows for the seatbelt to cross over the child’s body in such a way that it will be able to support critical parts of the body during the impact of harsh breaking or a crash, which are the middle of the chest, shoulders and hips.

Due to safety concerns, experts advise the use of booster seats until the child turns 10 or when the child reaches 1,45m or taller. Evidently, parents should pay attention to the weight restrictions suggested by the manufacturer – usually, these go up to 36 kgs. In the U.S., kids can ride in the front passenger seat only after they’ve turned 13.