When I first entered the online crunchy mom cybersphere (mothering.com, diaperswappers.com, car-seat.org, offbeatmama.com and many more), I didn’t know what a lot of these crazy acronyms meant. I would see them in people’s signatures: “I’m a CDing, EBFing, ERFing, BWing PT WAHM to DS1, DD1 and DD2.” (In normal speak, that’s “I’m a cloth diapering, extended breastfeeding, extended rear facing, babywearing part time work at home mom to my son and two daughters.”) Whew! That’s a lot to keep track of. I figured out most of the stuff pretty quickly, but ERF was something I had to look up.
ERF means extended rear facing — or keeping your child in a rear-facing car seat past one year old. Turns out, lotsa people don’t do this. They read on the box the car seat comes in that you can turn your kid around at one year old or twenty pounds (if he hasn’t reached twenty pounds by one year) and don’t really think further than that. Some even see forward-facing a child as a milestone — like standing up, crawling or uttering a first word. Whatever the decision may be — forward face or rear face — it is NOT milestone. A milestone is something your baby accomplishes; turning a car seat one way or another is completely controlled by YOU.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. A milestone it is not. But why is it a big deal? It’s legal in the US to face your kiddo forward at a year, and after all, our parents never thought this much about car seats anyway. (I for one don’t EVER remember being in one, and don’t really recall a time I had to sit in the back seat. Now kids are in seats or boosters until they are 70 or 80 pounds.) I actually recall seeing kids I babysat for (years ago) in car seats and thought how weird it was that they were 8 and 10 and still sitting in car seats. It seemed like, at the time, a weirdo parental I-want-to-totally-control-my-kids thing to me. But it’s not. It’s about safety, and updated safety standards, and many many studies showing the effectiveness and safety of car seats. Extended rear facing is one of the things that has been studied over the past several decades since I was of car seat age. And wow, it’s pretty important.
I posted this video on my blog’s FB page (like me if you haven’t already! I post tons of links there) a couple of days back. This is a good visual representation of why rear-facing your child past one year is a pretty darn good idea. There are also tons of studies that show the same (a 2007 study here, a British study from 2009 here and a 2007 study showing that leg injury occurs far more often in forward facing seats here, for example). As demonstrated in the video and in the second study listed above, the biggest concern is the spine — when a car crashes, the body of the infant or toddler is often thrust forward in a forward facing car seat, and tragically, the neck can break quite easily when this happens. From car-seat.org:
Infants and young toddlers have spines made of soft bone and cartilage that doesn’t begin to harden until around age 3. As a result, the spinal column can stretch up to 2 inches; however, the spinal cord will rupture after being stretched after only ¼ inch. This damage cannot be repaired.
I included the third study to show that lower extremities are not exempt from injury in forward facing seats, as one might imagine. In fact, it is far likelier that your child will be injured in any way while forward facing. It’s a simple, proven fact: rear facing well into the second year of a child’s life, if not the third, is far and away the safest thing to do. (Here’s a great guide to lots of different links about rear facing.)
Why doesn’t everyone do this? There are lots of reasons. As mentioned above, some believe it is a milestone to put your child in a forward facing position at one year. As parents, we’re all eager for the next thing. Another reason is that when babies get to be about eight to ten months, they enter a fussy phase where it gets hard to put them in any kind of car seat — and parents often just think it is easier to have them forward facing (and it IS easier; fitting a kid into a rear-facing toddler seat can be a total pain). Last, some kids have real problems with motion sickness when facing backwards. (See a fabulous article by a mama who weighed the risks, and made an informed decision to go forward-facing) And it also just seems like it would be uncomfortable for a kid to be rear-facing as they get taller and older (if you check it out, Youtube has lots of slideshow videos that show some happy, passed out, cheerful kids with their feet pressed up against the back seat).
Whatever your decision is, make sure that you inform yourself of the risks and benefits to each car seat position — and each car seat! Great options for extended rear-facing include: the Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL (RF to 45 pounds), the Sunshine Kids Radian 80 (RF to 45 pounds), the Britax Boulevard (RF to 40 pounds), the Graco My Ride 65 (RF to 40 pounds), the Evenflo Triumph Advance (RF to 35 pounds), and the highly cost effective Cosco Scenera (RF to 35 pounds). What did we decide on? A Britax Boulevard for my car and a Cosco Scenera for Eric’s little car. (As for an infant car seat, it should always face the back of the car unless there are major carsickness issues.)
And that’s what ERF means.
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I’m a liberal feminist that believes that liberal, feminist ideals should gel with embracing your gender and motherhood (if that’s what you feel like doing). I support all kinds of moms and dads and parents. Oh and, although I totally love that natural vibe and not harming the environment, I supplement my organic milk and fresh fruits and veggies with the occasional Twix, the frequent Oreo, and the daily Coke Zero. I’m opinionated, not easily offended, and a loudmouth in person and on the internet. I am what I am. Welcome.