Meghan Gunn | Health matters: New car seat guidelines

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The first step to that amazing end-of-summer vacation is getting there safely. And for anyone traveling with young children, car seats are a key part of a safety plan.

If you're among the car seat set, you should know that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently updated their recommendations for children in car seats. The new recommendations place the emphasis on a child's size and weight, rather than age, when determining which way the seat should face.

The AAP now recommends that infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat. In the case of most convertible seats, the new recommendation advises that children ride rear facing for 2 years or more.

While it's natural to look forward to transitioning your children from rear- to forward-facing car seats, safety must be the first priority. When secured in a rear-facing seat, a child's head, neck, and spine are all supported by the hard shell of the car seat. In the event of a crash, the car seat absorbs most of the impact and protects the most vulnerable parts of the body.

While the harness straps in a forward-facing seat holds a child's body securely in place in a crash, it does nothing to prevent the child's head from being thrown forward which can lead to injuries of the spine and/or head. In the case of infants and toddlers, whose heads are oversized for their bodies, the risk of injury is even greater.

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Once a child has sized up to a forward-facing seat, they should use a forward-facing car seat with a harness until they reach the height and weight limits for that seat.

When the child exceeds these limits, they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle's lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly — usually when they reach 4 feet 9 inches in height, somewhere around ages 8 to 12 years old.

Once children are large and old enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for the greatest amount of protection. In addition, the AAP recommends children ride in the rear seats of a vehicle until the age of 13.

Using the right car or booster seat lowers the risk of death or serious injury by more than 70 percent. But the key is using it properly. Be sure to check the instruction manual and labels on your child's car seat to find the manufacturer's weight and height limits. Buckle up, be safe, and have a great summer.

Meghan Gunn, MD, is a pediatrician at SVMC Pediatrics in Bennington. To establish pediatric care with the practice, call SVMC Pediatrics at 802-447-3930.


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