Car seats are important for child safety while driving in the car. However, parents and caregivers are increasingly using car seats for purposes other than intended. Over the past 10 years, 350 deaths occurred while a child was restrained in a car seat. In 90% of these cases, the car seat was not being used as directed. Car seats are always the best place for babies when they are being transported in a vehicle, but that doesn’t mean they are the safest place when they’re sleeping outside of the car.
In 2019, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that out of 11,779 sleep-related deaths of infants over a decade, two-thirds of these deaths involved car seats. Of these, 90% were found to involve at least one “risk behavior” – mainly a child being in a car seat for too long, or not being in the car. More than half of car seat deaths took place within the child’s home.
Babies’ heads are heavy, and sleeping at an angle for too long can lead to suffocation from restricted airways due to their heads falling forward. Regular breaks, and only using a car seat for rides in the car, dramatically reduce this risk. Remember, the best place for baby to sleep is on his or her back, in a crib without blankets or pillows. Car seats may mean the difference in life or death if your child is riding in one during a wreck, but leaving a baby unattended in a car seat for long stretches of time is also a risk.
Remind your provider that car seats are not safe sleep environments
Briele was a happy and healthy toddler. When her parents needed child care, a co-worker recommended a provider who had cared for her child for 5 years. The provider seemed nice and told Briele’s parents that she didn’t need a license because she only cared for her two children and three others. They thought everything was good.
Then a nightmare happened. The provider buckled Briele into a car seat and left her unattended in an upstairs bedroom. The provider then left the home to attend an appointment. Upon her return, she found Briele unconscious. The autopsy lists strangulation as the cause of death.
When used for purposes other than intended, car seats pose a safety risk. When a child is restrained in a car seat, they are at risk of heatstroke or strangulation.
Car seat related deaths are preventable. Child Care Aware of Virginia recommends that parents and child care providers follow safe sleep practices and avoid leaving children in car seats for sleep time. Parents should be vigilant and aware of where their children spend the majority of their day while in child care. If your child is in a car seat when you arrive for pick up, chances are they’ve been in there for way too long. Child care providers should follow appropriate adult to child ratios to ensure that they are able to dedicate the time and attention needed to the children in their care.
Car Seats are not Safe Sleep Environments
Sometimes sleep on the move is inevitable, and most babies will need to fall asleep in a car seat from time to time. The important fact to remember is that car sears are the safest way for babies to travel, and almost all of the car seat related deaths occurred outside of a vehicle.
A few tips to remember:
- Never leave your baby alone in a car seat
- Make sure you choose the correct sized car seat for your child
- Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission website for active recalls on any car seats you might be using
- Once your baby falls asleep in a car seat (outside of the car), transfer him or her to a crib or bassinet.