Unsplash / Minnie Zhou

Car seats are made for transportation. Using one as a crib is putting your baby in very serious danger.

Reasons people let their child sleep in a car seat

Have you ever watched a baby sleeping in a car seat? They look so calm and peaceful, usually thanks to the ride they just went on. The last thing you want to do is wake the precious cargo from its slumber. Many parents find it much easier to take the entire car seat from the car and let the baby continue sleeping, unwittingly putting their baby at risk.

The danger of car seat sleeping

It is often easy to brush off stories and advice like this, thinking that it is just paranoia or an old wives’ tale. Sadly, that is not the case here. It is actually dangerous to let your baby sleep in its car seat. If you have ever watched more than one episode of a crime show, you have probably heard the work asphyxia or asphyxiation. It is what occurs when someone’s air supply is cut off. Most often, it occurs due to strangulation or smothering.

There is another type of asphyxia, though, that happens mostly to babies. You have likely seen a baby’s head fall forward as they sleep in their car seat. When this happens, the air supply is being cut off, meaning that the baby is basically suffocating. This is called positional asphyxia as it is due to the position the baby is in.

Positional asphyxia can happen anywhere that the baby’s head can fall forward or sideways, such as car seats, swings, bouncers, and strollers. The truth is that babies are adorable yet squirmy little people who can easily get themselves into dangerous positions when you are not looking.

The facts

The following statistics were taken from a study that researched the 348 infant deaths that occurred from 2004 to 2014, specifically deaths involving sitting devices. These devices include the aforementioned car seats, chairs, swings, bouncers, and strollers.

-Of the 348 deaths, 63% occurred in car seats.

-More than 90% of those deaths happened in car seats that were not being used as directed. This means that either the baby or the seat was not strapped in correctly, or the car seats were being used outside of the car.

-Over ½ of deaths in car seats occurred inside of the child’s home- this includes healthy and well-cared for babies.

Why do so many more deaths occur at home? It is actually very simple. Car seats are designed to sit at very specific angles, and when set up correctly, the chances of positional asphyxiation are minimized tremendously. When car seats are taken out of the car and placed on another space, they are no longer positioned at the correct angle. The chance of the baby’s head falling forward multiplies.

Another study from 2015 found that:

-48% of car seat deaths in 2015 were caused by positional asphyxiation.

-The other 52% occurred because the babies were not strapped in correctly, slid down in the seat, and strangled on the straps.

These are very sad facts, especially considering most, if not all, of these deaths could have been prevented.

What parents can do instead

There is a very important fact to point out: more than half of the 348 car seat deaths happened in the child’s home- not while traveling. In fact, about 30% of these deaths occurred while the caregiver was asleep. Most of these deaths seemed to have occurred overnight while the baby slept in the car seat.

Every parent knows what it is like to have a newborn. If you could just sneak in five minutes while the little one naps, you could put away the laundry, wipe down your counters, or one hundred other to-do items that have graced your list for weeks. Leaving them in the car seat to sleep a little longer is a temptation faced by all. However, there is no task worth risking your baby’s safety.

When you arrive home, try to gently transport your little one to his crib or bassinet to lay him down. If he has not finished up his nap yet, he might go right back to sleep. On the other hand, you may have to rock him or sing him back to sleep. Either way, there is a chance of getting him back to sleep.

Car seat sleeping safety

It is inevitable that your baby is going to fall asleep in her car seat. While you are traveling, that is exactly where she needs to sleep as it is the safest place. It is important, though, that you keep an eye on her as you travel. This will be much easier if you are a passenger. If you are driving, it might be necessary to pull over and check her.

Also, be sure that the car seat has been installed at the correct angle. Many car seats have an indicator on the side that acts as a level. The location of the ball inside of the tube will inform you when it is at the correct angle. Be sure, too, that you buckle your baby in fully during each trip, no matter how short.

Never leave the baby in the car seat for longer than you need to. It is simply not worth the risk. When you arrive at your destination, take the baby from the seat and transfer her to a flat surface if she is still sleeping. You will be thankful you took these precautions as you watch your child grow and bring his own babies into the world for you to love.