New research shows risks posed by leaving infants to sleep in car seats

The old adage, never wake a sleeping baby may seem like excellent advice, but in the case of babies and inclined surfaces, nothing could be further from the truth. Babies should always be put to sleep on a firm flat, safe sleep surface.

Dad taking baby out of car restraint

Research released in the US medical journal, Paediatrics in 2021, showed that allowing babies to sleep in child car seats and capsules in contexts other than usual travel exposes infants to an increased risk of sudden death.

Analysing 2004–2014 US National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention data, the researchers found that of 11,779 infant sleep-related deaths during this period, 348 occurred in sitting devices, and of those 348, 62.9 % occurred in a child car seat.

Further, more than half (51.6%) of the deaths that occurred in car safety restraints happened at the child’s home.

These concerning statistics confirm Red Nose’s advice that letting your baby sleep in a car seat, capsule, or other sitting device any longer than is necessary for travel is a potential risk to your baby’s safety.

So as the weather warms up and people start looking to plan their summer vacations, we want to remind families how important it is to take regular breaks when travelling in a car and to always remove your baby from a capsule or car seat when arriving at your destination, even if this means waking your little one.

That’s because leaving babies in a curved position for a long period of time, as is the case in a car restraint, means your baby’s neck is flexed forward, putting them in a ‘chin to chest’ position. This can block your baby’s airway and lead to an increased risk of SIDS.

It is also important to remember never to leave your baby asleep in a parked car due to how quickly temperatures can rise.

We do not recommend the use of portable capsules or car seats as sleeping devices when you arrive at your destination. Even if you are actively watching your child, the risk associated with sleeping in an inclined position makes these devices unsuitable for sleep. When you use a car seat outside of the car, there’s also a risk your child could fall out.

When your baby does need to spend a prolonged period of time in their car seat – for example, when travelling for long distances – we recommend taking frequent breaks where you take baby out of the car seat at regular intervals.

For Safe Sleeping and Safer Pregnancy information call 1300 998 698 (business hours) or visit our online advice hub.

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