Please be seated

“Car seat” was on the list of things to investigate during our last visit to the Baby Show back in February. I had a vague idea that Group 0 got too small at around 9 months old and you were then supposed to move to a forward-facing seat, so although Pip was only 7 months it seemed like a good plan to see what was out there. As it happened, we were encouraged by two separate experts (at Maxi-Cosi and Britax) to use our current car seat (which as it turns out is actually Group 0+, so lasts a bit longer – till around 15 months) as long as we possibly could. The reasons for this seemed to be twofold:

  1. Rear-facing infant car seats are safer in general;
  2. New safety regulations are currently being phased in, so we should wait and buy one of the new, safer seats which are rear-facing until age 4.

As you do, we then forgot about the car seat thing for a while. We don’t really drive much and I have in fact only ever driven twice since having Pip; both of these were 10-minute hops to the garage down the road and one of them didn’t even involve him at all as my parents were coincidentally staying so babysat him. This hasn’t been a conscious decision (as in, “OMG now I am a mother I am incapable of getting behind a wheel”). It is more a combination of several things, such as our daily activities involving 90% walking and 10% public transport, and the fact that Mr Cath prefers to drive so unless we are going on a particularly long road trip, which we haven’t done since becoming parents, he does it all.

baby on board

For the purposes of a complete picture, it should be added that the one time I did put Pip in a car on my own was a disaster. We took the bus to the garage: no problem. Upon getting to our car, however, I was first defeated by the car seat (I couldn’t remember how to adjust the straps) and had to call Mr Cath to talk me through it. The second hurdle was folding the buggy. I’d just never had to do it before! Eventually a random man took pity on me and did it with what appeared to be a casual flick of his wrist. Embarrassing. At least the actual driving bit was fine!

Anyway, I was having a chat about car seats the other day and realised I wasn’t sure what to do next. I vaguely remembered something about new regulations and decided to investigate so that when the time comes we aren’t forced to panic buy whatever is available.

What are these new regulations then?

The new European standard is called i-Size and it was first introduced a year ago. The idea is that the child is kept rear-facing for longer (until at least 15 months old, but preferably until 4 years) and height is used rather than weight/age to judge when to move up to the next stage. Basically, when the baby’s head reaches the top of the seat this means it is time to get a bigger seat; it doesn’t matter if their legs are sticking out. In addition, all i-Size compliant car seats are Isofix and the safety tests include side-impact assessments. Here is the official i-Size legislation document for those interested in such things.

However, there is no need to trade in your existing car seat if it does not meet these standards; i-Size is running alongside the current European regulations (that’s ECE R44.04 to you and me) and while it will eventually replace them, that is going to happen at an unspecified point in the future. As long as you buy a car seat that complies with the current regulations you don’t have to worry, although it would make sense to upgrade to i-Size if you have the opportunity as it sounds safer…

So why is rear-facing safer?

Although your child might prefer to face forwards and see what is going on, it is much safer for them to be rear-facing. As on a train, impact is greatly reduced if you are facing the other way and for babies and young children in particular, who have large heads and smaller, weaker necks, it is even more important. As summed up by Babycentre:

If your car is in a head-on collision, a forward-facing car seat will not prevent your child’s body from being flung forwards. Your baby’s bone structure is not strong enough to support his body, so the impact puts pressure on his spine, neck and internal organs. However, if your baby is in a rear-facing car seat, he will be pushed into the seat, which will support his body. This will help to protect his delicate spine and neck.

In Scandinavia, children have to sit in rear-facing seats until around age 4 and I expect that eventually that will be the case in this country.

isize babys head

How do I get me one of these seats?

Maxi-Cosi helped develop the first i-Size seat in the UK, the 2Way Pearl. Although it has apparently been available since October 2013, it seems to be very tricky to actually get a hold of one. It is sold by Mothercare but “can only be purchased and picked up from a store direct which has had training.” John Lewis similarly says it is only available in shops and is out of stock on the website. Hardly any other retailers appear to stock it at all.

I’m sure we could get one if we really tried but a better bet seems to be the Britax Dualfix, which appears to provide exactly the same protection as the 2Way Pearl – i.e., it complies with i-Size – but is far more widely available. For example, you can order one from Mothercare for £340. As with the Maxi-Cosi seat, you can switch between forwards- and rear-facing (so if your three year old really wants to look out the window you can have that option), and it also reclines and does everything else a car seat is supposed to do.

There is a small number of other options available, including the Joie i-Anchor Combination which is much cheaper at £160 from Kiddicare. However, there isn’t much around currently because the regulations are so new.

What next?

I definitely want one of these new seats and love the idea of the increased safety aspect of extended rear-facing seats. If you can afford one and have ISOFIX points in your car, it seems a no-brainer.

However, I do find it difficult to get excited about car seats – this post was born of personal necessity and the hope it might be useful for others rather than an overwhelming passion. I’m going to leave the actual car seat decision to the main driver and general in the know person, my husband, and in the meantime stop worrying about upgrading too soon. At least there are definitely a couple of options available, and who knows, by the time we actually get around to buying one the 2Way Pearl might be a bit more easy to get and I must admit I have my eye on this stripy design:


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