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More Upright?

A more upright seat for an older baby/toddler helps keep the seat from over-reclining in a crash; however, it does reduce leg room for the child. Teach your child to cross her legs "criss-cross applesauce" or she can hang them over the edges if she chooses. Remember that kids are much more flexible than adults and what we think of as uncomfortable often isn't for them.

Achieving A Proper Recline Angle

Most rear-facing carseats today have recline angle indicators on them, whether in the form of a bubble indicator, a line on a sticker or stamped into the plastic on the side, or a color dial on the seat. If your carseat has an angle indicator, install it so that the recline falls within the zone the angle indicator suggests for your child. Carseat manufacturers recommend particular angles because that's how they crash test the seats. Your carseat instruction manual will guide you through installation and will tell you how to achieve the proper recline for the seat.

Rear-facing carseats should be reclined to between 30 and 45 degrees depending on the carseat manufacturer instructions, but be careful not to over-recline any seat past 45°. The entire back of a rear-facing carseat bears the majority of the forces in a crash, protecting the child. If the seat is over-reclined, those forces get transferred to the child's shoulders and neck instead of the carseat. The older the child, the more upright the carseat should be as long as the child is comfortable and the recline angle falls within manufacturer guidelines. However, a recline of 30° is too upright for a newborn and is more appropriate for a toddler. A newborn requires closer to a semi-reclined position to keep her airway open and her chin off her chest. If your carseat’s recommended recline is too upright for your newborn, contact the manufacturer for further instructions. You can also consult a certified child passenger safety technician for more help. Also, visit SafetyBeltSafe USA for more information on reclining a rear-facing seat.

What does a 45º angle look like?

Tips for Reclining a Rear-Facing Seat

  • Read the instruction manual for your carseat and vehicle. All infant seats have angle indicators that show angles between 35-40° and that is what is appropriate for those seats. If your baby needs more recline, you may need to tweak the installation so that it's more reclined, yet still falls within manufacturer guidelines, or use a different carseat. Evenflo infant seats require 1.5" of space between a rear-facing carseat and the front seats. Some vehicles don't allow a carseat to touch a front passenger seat. The only way you'll know that is if you read the instruction manual.
  • Use the carseat's recline feature before trying to install the seat.
  • The base of the carseat should be level with the ground (park on a flat surface). If your seat has a level indicator, it will give you a false reading if the base isn't level. If the base of the seat slopes down with the cushion of the back seat, you may use a tightly rolled towel or up to 3 foam pool noodles to level the base (see the gallery below).
  • In the past, Britax convertible seats were able to be tethered while rear-facing to achieve a 45 degree angle without other help from a noodle or tightly rolled towel. The manufacturer now specifies that the tether not be used to achieve a proper angle; rather the correct angle should be achieved first using noodles or a tightly rolled towel, then the tether should be snugged up to keep the seat from rebounding in a collision (see the gallery below). *Note: Only Britax, Diono (formerly Sunshine Kids) Radians, and the Combi Coccoro seats are tested and approved for use with a rear-facing tether. Attempting to tether a rear-facing carseat made by a different manufacturer may result in failure of the seat in a crash. Please don't use your child as a test dummy.