Baby Talk

When to Switch to a Booster Seat: Car Seat Progression Guide

At Chicco, we don’t just provide products. Consider us a partner in parenting. It’s not a job we take lightly. With many years of experience and direct access to the experts, education is a large part of our mission, especially when it comes to car seat safety.

And rightfully so. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) estimates that children under sixteen years of age spend an average of forty-five to fifty minutes per day in a vehicle. Considering that your child should be in a car seat or booster for the first 8 to twelve years of life, that could translate to over thirty-six hundred hours spent in the car! Whether your child is on the high end of that average or the low end, choosing the right car seat before hitting the road will help make the difference in those split seconds when it matters most.

Rear-Facing vs. Forward-Facing Car Seats

You’ve probably seen car seats installed both ways, rear-facing and forward-facing, but how do you know which is correct for your little one? The AAP recommends that infants and toddlers ride rear-facing in their car seat for as long as possible because it’s the safest option for growing children whose skeletal systems are still developing. As shown in the graphic below, the rear-facing car seat is designed to provide crucial support for the neck and head in the event of an accident.

Front-Facing versus Rear-Facing Car Seat crash test

When rear-facing, a child's head, neck and spine are all supported by the car seat during an accident.

When Can a Baby's Car Seat Face Forward?

Exactly how long a child’s car seat should be rear facing is “as long as possible”. Unfortunately, there is no universal rule, but that’s because the AAP (and Chicco) recognizes that each child grows differently and at their own pace. To keep your child as safe as possible, you’ll need to consult the usage requirements for your specific infant or convertible car seat and keep them rear-facing until the maximum height and weight limits have been reached. According to the AAP, "this will include virtually all children under 2 years of age and most children up to age 4." Always refer to your product’s instruction manual for specifics on proper use and keep in mind that car seat laws vary from state to state, so be sure to stay informed on the most up-to-date requirements for your state.

While you may start to see your growing toddler getting a little cramped back there, don’t consider that your cue to switch to a forward-facing car seat. The developing joints of a young child are much more flexible than an adult’s, making that “crisscross applesauce” position a lot more comfortable than it may seem!

When to Switch to a Booster Seat

Congratulations! You survived the foggy newborn stage and even the defiant toddler stage! You appreciated the convenience of the rear-facing infant car seat and eventually witnessed your growing kiddo enjoying a world of new views in their forward-facing car seat. Now, your not-so-little one has reached the maximum height and weight limits for the convertible seat and may be ready to transition to a booster seat.

A harness + booster car seat such as the Chicco MyFit® provides the security of the 5-point harness in a roomier, big-kid style seat. It’s a forward-facing car seat with a maximum weight limit of sixty-five pounds in harness mode. You can then transition it to a belt-positioning booster for extended use up to a hundred pounds! The transition to the vehicle seat belt, however, is not just about height and weight; maturity matters too. Ensure that your big kid can sit relatively still during every trip to keep the seat belt in the proper position.

As your child becomes older and rushing from activity to activity is the norm, on-the-go convenience is more important than ever. That’s why the built-in carry handle on our GoFit® Backless Boosters is the perfect solution for busy families. Or, maybe you’d prefer the extended side impact protection of a KidFit® 2-in-1 Booster. Ten height positions provide head and shoulder protection for every stage, but you still have the option to go backless, giving you the best of both worlds.

When Can My Child Ride Without a Booster Seat?

Before you know it, you blink and your “little one” is now in the double digits and the end of their car seat journey is in sight. You’ll know if your big kid is ready to graduate from the booster to the vehicle seat when their back and bottom are pushed all the way against the backrest and:

As your child grows, they may become anxious to ride in the vehicle seat like their older sibling, but there is no need to rush. A well-fitted and properly installed car seat is the safest way to transport your precious cargo.

Visit our Car Seat Safety page for more tips and instructional videos and to find a car seat checkup event near you.