Danger of Baby Napping in a Car Seat!

It’s a common practice, letting babies sleep in car seats, but it can have deadly consequences as a recent article highlights. Yet parents and caregivers have been doing it for years, and we hear the age-old comment, “Well, we did it when you were little and you survived—what is the big deal?” So let’s take a closer look at exactly why this IS a big deal.

Why is napping in car seats popular? Some studies approximate that about 50% of term babies in this country are born with immature intestinal systems and up to 90% of premature babies have the same issue. This often causes an over production of acid in the stomach and when you combine excess acid with a full tummy and an immature system, the contents of the stomach tend to back up into the esophagus, especially if baby is lying flat on his back for sleeping as is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. These stomach contents then can cause irritation and pain in the esophagus which is not designed for extended exposure to stomach acid. This pain can get quite bad and is often (mis)diagnosed as “colic” (but that is a whole other blog post!).

One common and recommended way to relieve that pain is for baby to sleep on an incline. All sorts of devices, some effective and many not-so-effective, are sold to help with this. But many parents, caregivers and even pediatricians who don’t know, recommend sleeping baby in a car seat in order to give them the elevation needed to keep the stomach contents down better and relieve pain. And it does help, so it is a super popular practice. Combine this with the fact that in the baby world, so many devices are outrageously expensive and you quickly have parents who appreciate not having to buy one more piece of baby gear.

What’s the problem with this? Babies sleep in the car all the time, right? Yes, babies do sleep often in the car. Even Hollywood showcases parents driving around and around with their baby in the car seat to get them to sleep because it is such a common practice. But when a car seat is installed in the car, if it is done right (it is estimated that 80% or more of car seats are not, but again, another blog post!), the angle of the car seat is carefully calibrated for both maximum safety in a car accident, but also so that the babies very heavy head does not tip forward and compromise the airway. Their head stays back, the airway stays open and the baby can continue to breathe unobstructed. But when the infant car seat carrier is removed from the base in the car and set on the ground, in a crib or pack and play, or elsewhere, the angle changes, often to a higher degree, and can allow the baby’s head to tip forward, causing obstruction of the airway and death. In fact, this is one of the leading causes of infant death from 1-12 months! 

What do you, as a parent or caregiver need to know? Here are the latest recommendations (and what we teach at Newborn Care Solutions!) on the proper sleep environment for keeping your baby safe.

If you have any questions about car seat safety, please visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/newborncaresolutions/ and post your questions there for our car seat experts. We have 3 car seat experts who are happy to answer any questions you may have.