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.

Rear-facing until age 2


In the past, the AAP guideline on rear-facing vs. forward-facing car seats was that parents should keep children in rear-facing seats for “as long as possible” or until they reached age 1 and weighed 20 pounds. But most parents heeded only one parameter of this recommendation and turned their kids around when they turned 1 or hit 20 pounds. The AAP clarified their position by telling all parents to keep their kids rear-facing until they hit age 2.

Several studies have found that children are 75 percent less likely to be injured or die in a car crash if they were rear-facing vs. those who were forward-facing.

What about after age 2?

After age 2, toddlers and young children should stay in those forward-facing car seats until they have reached the height or weight limit issued by the seat manufacturer. After that, they should sit in a booster seat until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches in height 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


This is not a new rule but one that the AAP wanted to clarify. 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.