Car seats are indispensable bits of baby gear when it comes to safety, but when used incorrectly, or for the wrong reasons, they can quickly become a danger.
According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Paediatrics, a total of 31 children under the age of 2 died due to suffocation or strangulation whilst strapped into a car seat for prolonged periods of time between 2004 and 2008.
Now a new UK-based study, funded by the Lullaby Trust and conducted by an NHS Foundation Trust and University of Southampton, has recommended parents do not keep infants or babies in car seats in excess of two hours’ travel time.
Because young babies tend to fall asleep in moving cars, their relaxed bodies quickly adopt a scrunched position — further exacerbated by the vibrations of the car in motion.
Using a motion simulator (and 40 babies in the car seats) researchers replicated a 30mph car journey to reproduce this type of vertical vibration, and found that, in babies, this movement and the typical car seat positioning of 40 degrees significantly increased heart and respiratory rates, and decreased oxygen saturation, leading to an “increase in potentially clinically significant oxygen desaturations.”
The findings obviously do not mean parents should do away with car seats when on the road, but they should not be used as a routine sleep environment – and long haul trips must be broken up by regular pit stops to remove baby from the seat and readjust their positioning (even if you happen to have that unicorn baby who actually likes being stuck in the car seat).
“Car seats are desperately important to save lives from car accidents. However, families should not leave babies in car seats for long periods or once they are removed from the car,” explains Justin Daniels from the Lullaby Trust.
“Small babies do not have the ability to support their heads and this study shows being upright in a seat is a risky position for a long period of time.”
So what should you do to ensure the safety of your child?
The ‘2 hour rule’ is the recommendation endorsed by all manufacturers that you shouldn’t have a child sitting in a car seat – in transit or out of a vehicle – for more than 2 hours at a time.
And the safest way for babies to sleep remains on their backs; if using a travel system for longer than those recommended two hours is unavoidable, use a lie-flat seat instead of the car seat.