Parents often worry that it is not safe to let infants sleep in their car seat. Sadly a recent tragedy in North Dakota has highlighted the issue as an 11 month old child passed away after sleeping in his car seat at daycare. The young boy fell asleep on the drive to day care same as lots of kids do, and upon arriving at daycare remained strapped into his car seat sleeping. Later that morning he was tragically found unresponsive. Our hearts break for his parents.
In the wake of this tragedy, parents are wondering if it is safe to let children sleep in their car seat. Car seats are the safest place for babies to sit in a vehicle and if installed correctly pose low to no risk to a sleeping baby. Problems arise when a car seat is taken out of a car and placed on the floor. In your vehicle, the car seat base properly positions the baby at an angle that protects the airway. When placed on the floor a car seat can sit too upright and cause the baby’s head to fall forward.
There is always risk involved with putting babies to sleep on an incline. The danger from angled sleeping positions is that the babies head can tilt forward and pinch the airway. That pinching cuts airflow to the lungs and increases the risk of suffocation. Infants have large heads and weak neck muscles. Recent recalls of inclined sleepers highlight the problem, including the nearly 5 million Rock ‘n Play Sleepers recalled by Fisher-Price in July 2019.
Safe sleep guidelines for infants require putting babies to sleep alone on their backs. They should sleep on a flat mattress that is firm and free from padded bedding. Infants should sleep free from pillows, crib bumpers, stuffed animals or soft bedding. The regulations aim to decrease the risk of strangulation and suffocation. Inclined sleepers have been tied to over thirty deaths since 2009.
All of these infant car seats are designed to keep your child safe while traveling in the car. While traveling the main concern is protecting the head and spine in the event of a car accident. The angle of car seats has been tested extensively to determine the safest place for your child in the car. If your baby falls asleep while traveling you can let them sleep. It is absolutely the safest place for them to be in the car whether awake or asleep. The recline indicator on the car seat helps ensure that you install it at a safe angle for your baby.
However, car seats are not substitutes for cribs or bassinets. A recent study in Pediatrics found that when infants are hurt sleeping in car seats it usually is not in the car but instead being used as a substitute for a crib. Don’t use the car seat for extended naps or overnight sleeping. Only use it when you are with your baby and able to observe them. If you arrive at your destination and the baby is still asleep you should transfer them to a safe sleeping surface.