Can it be dangerous to allow your newborn to sleep in their car seat?

For the many decades since car seats for infants and toddlers have been introduced we have always been told we must use one when travelling with our little ones. To be clear, despite the title of this short blog article this has certainly not changed. When travelling by car or any vehicle with your baby, you absolutely must use a car seat of some description, in fact it’s the law in every state in the US. What I will talk about in this article is ensuring that you use your safety seat properly, especially when your baby is extremely young.

Some recent studies have been carried out in the United Kingdom and they have found that there could be some dangers to your child when they are newborns (under 2 months old), if you allow them to sleep in their car seat for long periods of time (over 30-40 mins). The reason for this is the fact their small necks have not yet fully matured and the muscles in and around this part of the body are not quite strong enough to support the head. What can happen is due to the positioning of most infant car seats on the market, your babies’ head can be pushed forward a little and while sleeping this can in fact reduce oxygen levels and even in some babies limit their breathing.

If you are a new parent (as I was a few months back) you will know your biggest worry during those few early weeks and months is your baby stopping breathing while they are sleeping. If you are like me you will have been checking constantly while they were sleeping to ensure they are OK. What this research is telling us as parents is that we need to be extra specially careful and attentive while our little ones are travelling in the car, but particularly while they are sleeping in their seat.

Dr Renu Arya, who works as a consulting pediatrician at the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, was the one who headed up the recent study in the UK stated: “Parents should not stop using car safety seats to transport their infants. Infants must be protected in moving vehicles, and UK law requires car seats be used whenever infants travel in cars.” This is a clear message that we, as parents, should absolutely not be put off using infant and toddler seats for our children but we should just be diligent when doing so. One key thing to remember when your child is sleeping in your vehicle is to have the seat reclined as much as the model enables. Remember, when you little ones normally sleep in their cot or other beds in your home they are horizontal and thus there is no concern about their heads being pushed forward and thus their air way should not be compromised, this is why we don’t use pillows for newborns. So, if your child is sleeping in the car seat, the closest you can get the seat to horizontal the better as this replicates their usual sleeping position at home. It is, however, critical that you do not go outside of the guidelines and positioning dictated by the manufacturer.

So, to sum up, although this research has not been carried out on a huge sample group it is definitely something as parents that we should be aware of and watch out for. If you can, I would suggest limiting your travel outdoors via vehicle as much as you can while your little one is under two months. If you have to travel by car just make sure your seat is in the correct reclined position as per your manufacturers handbook and don’t allow your baby to sleep for too long (suggest not over 30 minutes). If you follow these two guidelines and of course constantly check your child if they are sleeping in their seat then you should have no problems. Car seats are still and will remain to be the safest way to travel with your young ones, you just have to be extra careful and extra watchful when they are newborns.

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