Is it safe to let my baby sleep in a car seat?

If you’ve been driving in the car with your baby and they’ve drifted off to sleep, when you get home the temptation to leave them sleep can be too much to resist. But is this safe to do so?

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Can I let my baby sleep in a car seat?

Car seats are specially designed to support baby’s head, neck and spine on car journeys. Whilst out on the road, if your baby falls asleep, don’t wake them. The car seat is designed for this kind of use and it is safe for baby to be sleeping in the seat.

All car seats are designed to be easily removed from a vehicle so mum or dad can safely transfer the sleeping baby to indoors. This way, baby can remain sleeping.

However, on bringing baby into the home it’s important to remove them from the car seat and into their cot or moses basket. Excessive time sleeping in a car seat can put pressure on the developing spine and harm the baby.

Long car journeys

If you are on a long road trip, stop every so often to take your baby out of the car seat for a few minutes. This can break up the journey and some fresh air will do them good.

Dangers

Even when reclined, newborns and very young babies don’t have the strength to hold their own head up allowing airways to become blocked. Studies in the past have found links between children sleeping in their car seats for excessive periods of time, such as overnight, and asphyxiation.

Experts suggest that no child should sleep in a car seat for any great length of time to avoid any breathing difficulties or drops in oxygen. If your child is sleeping in a car seat, transfer them to a moses basket or cot when possible.

Car seat challenge for premature babies

It is now common practice in UK neo-natal wards for the midwives to do a ‘car seat’ test if your baby was born premature. Recent research on pre-term babies recommends that babies are watched very carefully when they are discharged and placed back to their cot as soon as possible after the car journey ends.

If your baby was born early, ask your neo-natal ward about the car seat challenge. It is useful in identifying babies who may have problems when in an upright position, allowing treatment prior to discharge.

Further reading:

The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, Frequently Asked Questions about baby sleep – Is it safe for my baby to sleep in a car seat?, Accessed Aug 2011

Neo-natal Nursing, Car seat challenge, 2008

Photography: Chris Wiegand @Flickr

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