There are few things in life more terrifying than strapping your newborn baby into a car seat for the journey home from the hospital. They are so small and fragile — not to mention squishy and limp. Add to that the confusion swirling around car seats in general — should they be rear-facing, forward-facing or convertible? — and it's easy to see why so many parents sweat this important decision.
Fortunately, the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) heard parents' cries for help and issued new guidelines that should make this part of parenthood a whole lot simpler. According to the AAP, using the right car seat or booster seat can help decrease the risk of death or serious injury by more than 70 percent.
Rear-facing 'as long as possible'
In the past, the AAP guideline on rear-facing vs. forward-facing car seats was that parents should keep children in rear-facing seats until they reached age 2. But the updated guidelines recommend that all infants and toddlers should ride in rear-facing seats as long as possible, until they reach the seat's maximum height and weight limit — even if they're older than 2.
What about older kids?
Once they are facing forward, older children should use a forward-facing car seat with a harness for as long as possible, until they reach the seat's maximum height and weight limit, says the AAP. Many seats can fit children up to 65 pounds or more. After that, they should move into a booster seat until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches and are 8 to 12 years old.
That means that yes, according to the AAP, your middle-schooler should be riding in a booster seat until they reach the recommended height and age.
Younger than 13? Stay in back
If kids are younger than 13, they should be in the back seat. Period. The air bags installed in most cars today can be lifesavers for adults and older kids. But they can be dangerous for younger kids. Babies in rear-facing car seats should never be up front for the same reason.
Editor's note: This story was originally published in July 2017 and has been updated with new information.