Most babies fall asleep in the car, it's that rocking motion that sends them into a peaceful slumber. And while these on-the-go naps allow them to get a little bit of shut-eye and give you 5 minutes of peace, it's not the safest place for your baby to sleep.
While snoozing in the car isn't a problem, you shouldn't let your baby sleep in their car seat for long periods of time or use it as a place for them to sleep regularly.
Is it safe for a baby to sleep in a car seat?
In short, no.
Car seats were designed to keep young babies safe while travelling and should only be used for transport. It's perfectly fine for your baby to fall asleep in their car seat while on a journey, but as soon as you reach your destination you should take them out.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the safest place for your baby to sleep is on their back on a firm, flat surface such as their bassinet or crib as this is the best way to prevent SIDS.
Sitting devices such as car seats, baby bouncers, swings, strollers and chairs aren't safe for your child to sleep in, especially for prolonged periods. When babies fall asleep in the sitting position, their head can fall forward into a chin-to-chest position and this can restrict their airways causing them to stop breathing.
This is known as positional asphyxiation, and a new study in the journal of paediatrics found that more than half of car seat deaths happened in car seats and the majority of these occurred within the child's home.
What if my baby falls asleep while we're on a long journey?
If you've noticed that your baby sleeping in their car seat, don't panic. As long as your journey can be broken up into chunks or if another passenger has an eye on your child, there is no need to worry.
However, as soon as you reach your destination you should move your child to a safe sleeping space as soon as possible.
If your child hasn't been napping well, the peace and quiet of your sleeping baby might be welcome, but you shouldn't let them nap for longer than needed. There have been no published guidelines for how long is too long to keep your child in a car seat. However many paediatrics recommend around 2 hours as a rule of thumb.
Is the risk high for young babies?
Premature and young babies don't have the muscles in their neck yet to support their heads upright, which is why being in a car seat for an extended period of time can do more harm than good for your little one's wellbeing.
How do I ensure that my baby is safe in their car seat?
There are many things you can do to ensure that your baby is safe in their car seat, including:
Make sure it is installed correctly
While it might go without saying, ensure that you follow your manufacturer's instructions when you are installing the seat in your car. Many car seats can be installed by the mechanics of your car with an ISOFIX base, or by a locked seat belt. If you are unsure, you can always bring your car seat to a registered technician who will help ensure it is installed correctly.
Keep it rear-facing as long as possible
You should keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible - until they reach the height or weight listed by the car seat manufacturer as this reduces the risk of death or injury by 90%.
Ensure your car seat meets safety requirements
There are a variety of car seats available on the market, all of which are required to meet basic safety standards.
The car seat you choose should:
- Conform to your country's regulations
- Be suitable for your child's weight and size
- Be correctly fitted as per the manufacturer's instructions
Don't use the car seat for naps
As tempting as it can sometimes be to put your baby down for a nap in their car seat, it shouldn't be done unless you are taking a journey somewhere.
Don't use car seat accessories
They might look nice, but car seat accessories that haven't been designed for your car seat, or by your manufacturer shouldn't be used. They haven't been tested for safety, and, believe it or not, they might hinder your child's safety in your car.
Don't dress your baby in bulky clothes
On a cold day, you might think that you're keeping your baby warm by dressing them in plenty of layers, however, you will be doing more harm than good if caught in a crash.
Too many layers or bulky layers like pram suits can compress in an accident and will cause the harness straps of the seat to come loose and could put your child at risk of serious injury.
Should parents ever let their children sleep in car seats?
We can't tell you to never let your child fall asleep in their car seat as it's inevitable that your child will do it, especially if you're travelling somewhere not in the immediate vicinity.
The best advice we can offer is if your infant does fall asleep in their car seat, to remove them and place them in their crib or bassinet as soon as you reach your destination as this is the safest option for their health.
For more information about safe sleep check out our comprehensive blog on this topic by clicking below.