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Is it Okay for Babies to Sleep in Car Seats?

Baby sleeping in an infant car seat

In the wake of the recall of inclined devices such as the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper, some parents have been wondering if it’s okay to let babies sleep in car seats.

Baby sleeping in an infant car seat

Recent recalls of products such as the Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play Sleeper and reports linking inclined sleep devices with 54 infant deaths have highlighted the danger of putting babies to sleep on an incline. The angled position can cause an infant’s head to tilt forward and compress the airway, increasing the risk of suffocation.

In fact, since Consumer Reports published their initial investigation into inclined sleepers, they’ve received several inquiries from parents who wonder whether it’s okay for babies to sleep in car seats, since they also position babies at an incline.

The answer is, yes, you can let your baby sleep for short stretches in a car seat, as long it’s used properly, says Emily A. Thomas, Ph.D., an automotive safety engineer at CR’s Auto Test Center who is also a specialist in pediatric injury biomechanics and a certified child passenger safety technician. Here’s what you need to know:

First, car seats are essential to keep children safe when traveling in vehicles. The angle of rear-facing car seats (the kind for infants) has been tested extensively and is necessary to protect a baby’s head and spine in a collision. “While the risks of sleeping on an incline are real and serious, they are vastly outweighed by the protection a well-designed and properly installed car seat offers during a crash,” Thomas says.

Second, car seats—even those that you can remove from a vehicle to lock into a stroller—are meant to be used only while you’re with your baby and observing him or her, not for extended or overnight sleep, as the Rock ‘n Play Sleeper and similar products were marketed to be used.

And last, infant car seats are designed to include a five-point harness system, which is key to maintaining proper and safe positioning. Infants don’t yet have the neck or torso strength to keep their heads up and prevent slouching. “Infant car seats have been designed and tested not only to protect your baby in a collision but also to ensure that if your baby does fall asleep in the seat, the risks of slumping down, chin to chest and blocking airflow, are low,” Thomas says. “Still, car seats aren’t appropriate for extended, unobserved sleep.”

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