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Rules to Follow If Your Baby Sleeps in the Car Seat


Newborns need a lot of sleep, and it’s not always possible to stay at home all day to ensure every nap is happening in a crib or bassinet - as the experts recommend. 

Trips to the grocery store, the school runs and play-dates force you into the car where the soothing lull of the car ride is often enough to send even the most alert baby into dreamland. There are plenty of horror stories about infants falling asleep in car seats to strike fear into new parents, but the question is how safe is it to let your baby sleep this way - and for how long.

What do the studies say?

If you are looking at studies done on the safety of infants and car seats, they will do little to ease your fears.  A US study published last year by the Journal of Pediatrics found that car seats, swings, bouncers, and other “seats” can lead to injury and even death if babies are allowed to sleep in them. Thirty one children under the age of two died in their car seats between 2004 and 2008 - fifteen of those died from suffocation and the remainder were strangled by the seat’s straps. 

A baby’s airway is tiny and still developing, which puts them at risk of suffocation when their bodies become scrunched up. The Lullaby Trust, which is dedicated to preventing sudden infant death, would like to see further research carried out on this study. This organization recognizes the importance of car seats when transporting a baby safely from A to B but they emphasize car seats should not be used for extended periods of time or as a place for your baby to nap in when outside of the car. Small babies do not have the ability to support their heads which makes being upright in a seat, a risky position for a long period of time.

Is it ok for baby to sleep in their car seat at all?

Don’t panic if your baby falls asleep in the car. You can’t avoid or neglect all car trips, and since a baby sleeps so much of the day, it’s impossible to ensure that they never sleep anywhere but a crib. As long as your baby is otherwise healthy, a short nap in the car seat should not be a cause for concern.

How long can they nap in the car seat? 

It’s recommended that you keep baby’s time in the car seat as short as possible with a maximum of two hours. The two-hour guideline applies to “younger” babies who aren’t yet sitting unsupported. It’s easy for new babies to “slump" in the car seat and research shows that this poor posture can mean that their lungs are not expanding fully, reducing the amount of oxygen in their blood. There are also concerns about a baby’s spine. Your car seats manufacturer will have guidelines for safe travel, so be sure to check into those. 

What safety guidelines do you need to be aware of?

  • Sometimes you will have a longer car ride you need to take. In general, avoid long journeys, where possible. If you need to undertake a longer trip, make frequent stops to give your little one a break- feed them and cuddle them. You’ll enjoy a break after a few hours of driving anyway.
  • Purchase a safe and quality car seat. Many products are marketed to new parents and end up being completely unnecessary, but a quality car seat is not something to go cheap on. You can find a “lie-flat” model which may be important if you need to travel frequently. 
  • Only use the car seat in the car. When baby falls asleep right before you arrive home, it can be tempting to leave your baby in the car seat so they can get a full nap, but it’s safer to take them out of the car seat and place them in the crib when you arrive home.  
  • The temperature of the car is important to keep an eye on as well. Make sure it’s not too hot or cold for baby, and be careful not to overdress them. They shouldn’t wear heavy coats in the car.  
  • Keep an eye on the baby. Either have a passenger with you that can keep an eye on your baby or purchase a mirror that you can attach to your car. 
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