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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Maxi Cosi Opal Goes Forward Facing!

When The Boy was nine months old he became too tall to safely continue using the Maxi Cosi CabrioFix carseat. They recommend the harness is no more than an inch below the height of the shoulders, and after a growth spurt one day it was definitely more than an inch for The Boy. I was faced with a dilemma – at nine months old, and not even 10kg, I didn’t want to even consider a Group 1 carseat; He was far too young for that. However, I also knew that any other Group 0+ carseat would suffer the same problem as we’d found with the CabrioFix – it simply wouldn’t be long enough to accommodate him safely. I did some research and discovered that Maxi Cosi had launched a combination carseat Group 0+ and Group 1 called the Opal (Review Here). This meant the seat was suitable to use from newborn right up until the child reached a maximum weight of 18kg and required a Group 2/3 High Back Booster seat instead of a carseat with an integral harness. The combination of groups meant that the Opal answered my needs; the seat was designed to be suitable for a child of up to 18kg, which is around three and a half years old, so it is a fair size seat, chunky and tall so the child can easily see out the windows. As it is also designed to be used from newborn, though, you have an adjuster on the front of the seat, allowing you to widen and narrow the wings down the sides of the seat, enabling you to ensure the seat fits snugly against your child for optimum protection. The Opal can be used as a rear facing carseat from birth to maximum weight of 13kg, and then used as a forward facing carseat from 13 to 18kg. This combination of the size of seat and the crossover of Group allowed me to keep The Boy rear facing in the Opal until he reached 13kg – which considering he was too long for the CabrioFix by nine months old I am very proud to say he continued to travel in the car rear facing until he reached eighteen months old.

I am a fan of ERF, by the way – I think it’s far safer to keep children rear facing for as long as possible. Unfortunately my car is not suitable for a standard Group 1 ERF seat – I have had every one physically fitted (by members of staff and by myself, as I am carseat fitter trained) and not one ERF seat is suitable for use in my car that is currently available for sale in the UK. I kept The Boy rear facing for as long as I possibly could in my car, and I’m proud of how old he was before we made the switch to forward facing.

You have to remove the Opal carseat and change it from rear to forward facing and re-fit it, so it seemed like a bit of a momentous moment when it happened. The Hubby took advantage of our removing the carseat and cleaned the car inside and out. He commented about the marks on the rear seat and the seatbelt from the carseats, but it isn’t something that concerns me; I would rather ensure my child is as safe as possible in a carseat fitted as tightly as it can be with a three point seatbelt than worry about marks being left. A car is a car and my child’s life is far more important! Anyway once he’d cleaned it and hovered it all the marks on the seat were hardly visible. I took the opportunity to wash the carseat fabrics and was again amazed at how well they come out of the machine (handwash cycle, 30 degrees, Fairy Non Bio, they’re the Intense Red colour and they come out as good as new) the fabrics dry really quickly too – they remain in a carseat shape which is odd, so I stand them up on an airer in front of a radiator and within a couple of hours they’re good to go again. I left them overnight to ensure they were properly dry, then put them back on the seat. I set up the seat in the forward facing option and went out to the car.

As I hadn’t fitted the seat forward facing since my training I thought it would be awkward to do but it’s very easy and bearing in mind how fussy I am it was so quick to fit the first time I did it that I couldn’t believe I’d done it properly, so I took it all out and started over again! I still love how you can hide the seatbelt under the fabric popper section on the back and it feels good and sturdy when it’s in place properly.

Now forward facing, there are recline options available. As I know it’s safer for The Boy to be as reclined as possible in the event of an impact now he’s sitting facing forwards to protect his neck and back as much as possible, I have kept the seat in the furthest reclined position – it doesn’t look that reclined, until you sit it upright and you realise it is quite reclined. The Boy looks chilled out, laid back and relaxed in this position. I did notice though that despite it being reclined, when he falls asleep his head does roll forward and he ends up with his chin on his chest. I know he’d wake up if he was immediately in pain or having difficulties breathing, but my concern is if we go on a long journey and he sleeps like that for a long time, it’ll be sore when he wakes up and that’s not going to be fun, so I have brought him a Safety 1st Nap & Go carseat pillow which was recommended by a friend.

In addition to this, I find it much more difficult to get him in and out of the seat now it is forward facing. It’s too high to allow him to climb in himself – he simply can’t reach that far – but at the same time the ‘wings’ at the side are very deep, and that makes it very difficult to get him in now because you have to try and reach around the wings and slot him into the seat. Maybe it’s because I still use it on the narrowest setting, as he is so tall and slender, and if it was on a wider setting this could be less of a problem as the wings wouldn’t be so upright. Between the height of the door opening on my car, the plastic hanging/grip bar above the door and the angle I have to try and get him into the carseat it’s a bit awkward. There's also the fact that now he is forward facing he slides down the fabric slightly as we're getting him in, which leads to the fabric rucking around his lower lumbar region, which he fusses with and moans about unless you deal with it right away, which is a pain!

On the up-side, now forward facing it is much easier to get the harness properly tightened up first try. I don’t know whether it was just the wrong angle when rear facing, but it seemed to stick every now and then and would take two or three goes to get it properly tensioned and tight enough. Now I do it once, it slides through smoothly and it’s properly tensioned and we’re ready to go.

I still wouldn’t recommend this seat for someone to use with a newborn baby simply for how awkward it would be to get a newborn baby into any seat already fixed into the car – that’s the whole point of infant carrier carseats! I loved this carseat for keeping The Boy rear facing from nine to eighteen months old, but I must admit now we’re using it forward facing I am loosing a little bit of love for it.

A good friend of mine has the Axiss and absolutely loves it; my sister in law has already purchased an Axiss for when her son requires a Group 1 carseat; I was in Sainsburys supermarket the other day and the lady parked in the parent and child bay directly in front of me came out of the store, popped her toddler son into the Axiss and had him ready to go in no time. It’s a brilliant idea, because it must be so much easier to get them into a seat facing you directly than trying to slot them in at a sideways angle; having them facing you to get them into the seat also means you can be confident the harness is done properly as you haven’t got to feel around the side that you can’t see like you do with a regular carseat at a sideways angle to how you’re standing beside the car. I really like the Axiss, but I’m determined to see whether I can overcome my problems with the Opal first, as I really do like the look of this carseat and the quality feel of it. It’s a chunky seat, heavyweight and it sits firmly in position, whereas the Axiss appears taller and slimmer (though potentially that would make it more suitable for The Boy). I will continue with the Opal for now, but I am already thinking of donating it to my mother in law as it’s a combination seat it would be useful for her as it would mean she can use for The Boy as well as The Nephew, and the number of times she is likely to use it means that it doesn’t have to be the easiest or quickest thing in the world to do because it would also be one of the rarest!

On the whole I think the Opal covers a very good market – I would have had to put The Boy in a Group 1 carseat at just nine months old without a crossover Group 0+ and Group 1 carseat like this to fill the gap. However, as a forward facing carseat I don’t feel it meets the standards set by the others available. It was brilliant to be able to keep The Boy rear facing for as long as I did, but I don’t think my Opal love affair will continue as long as it should. This carseat is suitable until The Boy reaches 18kg (approx 3.5yrs old) I’m not convinced I can live with it for that long!

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