Is It Safe for My Baby to Sleep in a Car Seat?

Understand the risks involved in letting a baby sleep in the car seat from the experts point of view.

Should Babies Sleep in Car Seats

Should Babies Sleep in Car Seats?

Usually, new-borns are the ones that need a lot of sleep to have healthy growth so when you see them sleeping soundly in the car seat, it makes you wonder if it’s okay to let them sleep on that sitting surface for a longer time. Sometimes, babies fall fast asleep on a car seat and that leaves you contemplating whether to take your sleeping baby along with the car seat inside your home and let him/her continue to sleep in them.

However, if your child is not yet 2 years old then it is advisable not to let your baby sleep in a car seat. This is issued by Helen Arbogast who works at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles as an injury prevention manager. The primary reasons are the health risks and the design of the car seat. It is not produced in a way that is good for the babies. 

You need to put your baby in a safe sleeping environment and unfortunately, a car seat, though extremely comfortable, is not a safe sleeping place for your little ones. With the new law of the Safe Sleep for Babies Act, the utmost concern in a parent’s mind right now is their infant’s safety in a car seat.

Should Babies Sleep in Car Seats?
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    Why Is it Unsafe for a baby to sleep in a car seat?

    Tony Cardenas of D Panorama City has sponsored the new bill which has prohibited the use of Incline Sleepers and crib bumpers. Incline Sleepers claims to be appropriate for children within the age range of 0 – 1 years and possess an inclined surface that is higher than 10 degrees. Doctors who have years of experience in this field have declared that this higher degree of inclination can be a health risk if the head of the baby slumps causing it to block the airway. 

    There was a survey related to infant sleep safety and sleep-related deaths. The study revealed that almost 63 % of the deaths had occurred in car seats. Surfaces like strollers, bouncers, chairs, and swings are also not safe and can be held responsible for some sleep-related deaths among infants. There are some factors like not using an appropriately sized car seat and the shocking part is that most deaths had happened at home and the babies were perfectly healthy before. So along with premature babies, healthy ones were also not an exception to this case. 

    Car seats are only made for transportation and though the need to soothe your baby in the car ride is unavoidable, it might be okay if the car ride is short. Adults have the option to make themselves comfortable in a car ride but babies don’t. Their heads and necks stay in an uncomfortable position since the proportion of their heads are larger while the necks are smaller and weaker. 

    While being in the car seat their heads are likely to flop forward resulting in their airways getting blocked. Arbogast has stated that any longer than 2 hours in a car seat can be harmful to your little one. With time you will learn how to ease your baby out of the car seat without waking them up. For alternative methods, you may try strapping your kid to a stroller and pushing it around your home.

    What is Considered a Safe Sleeping Environment?

    It is just how it sounds, you provide for your baby an environment to sleep in that is free from any danger. According to Arbogast a firm, flatten, minimal to the bare surface is ideal for a baby to sleep in. if you do not own a crib or a bassinet then you need to designate an area that will remain just for your baby’s sleeping purposes. Choose a flat and firm surface, put a blanket on top of that surface and get a tight fitting so that when your baby squirms around it doesn’t get bundled up. 

    Do not put any toys or extra layers of blankets, try to follow the sleep safety rules issued by the AAP. That will provide you with information about what you can surround your baby’s sleeping environment with. AAP or the American Academy of Paediatrics has strictly forbidden the use of pillows, blankets, crib bumpers, toys or plushies.

    Car Seat Safety Tips

    When travelling with your baby, you should put them in the rear-facing car seat. This is also recommended by Paediatricians as well. California Law dictates that kids who are 2 years old yet are required to sit only on the rear-facing car seat. The exceptions can only apply to babies who are more than 40 inches tall and weigh 40 pounds. 

    The seat should be installed properly and have the right reclining angle. Most car seats have an indicator. You can find the indicator as a level bubble situated on the carrier/carrier base or even a level line. It is necessary to go through the manufacturer’s instructions and follow it exactly how it’s written. You need to harness your baby to the seat properly so they can be buckled up perfectly. 

    You should strap your baby in no matter if it’s a car seat or a stroller. The crotch buckle also needs to be strapped, the chest chip should be closed sling with the harness straps fit into place to provide extra support. Since babies squirm and wiggle around a lot you need to minimise their movements as much as you can when you can put them in a car seat. 

    Here are a few restraining safety Tips to follow recommended by the location and maternity education supervisor Caroline Armstrong who works at UCLA Health.

    • The harness strap should be located below the shoulders while adjusted to the height of the child. 
    • The harness cannot be loose, twisted or fitted unevenly. 
    • Make sure that the chest clip stays at the armpit level and the fit should be snuggly. 
    • Ensure that the car seat doesn’t shift side to side more than 1 inch.

    Is it Safe to Let My Baby Sleep in a Car Seat?

    Any surface that has an inclined surface is not safe for your baby to sleep on for a long time. So, no stroller, bouncer, inclined sleeper and definitely no car seat. If your baby is in a sleeping position where they are sitting upright or semi-upright then they have a chance of them slumping down which makes them be in a chin-to-chest position. This can lead to the suffocation of your little one. 

    For a short ride such as picking up groceries from a nearby locale or returning from a nearby park if your baby falls asleep then it’s not that harmful since the time is short. However, you do need to check in between and keep an eye on your baby so you don’t have to wake him/her up before reaching your destination. Make sure that along the ride your baby doesn’t fall into a chin-to-chest position. Also, remember to ensure that their noses or mouth are not covered. 

    According to the AAP, after you reach home you need to immediately shift your son or daughter to a crib or a bassinet. Even though you might want your baby to get rest on the driveway, it is recommended that you wake him/her up when they start to doze off. It is strictly forbidden to use a car seat as a place to make your baby fall asleep. For long trips, you can stop every 2 hours to let your little one stretch their arms and legs out. 

    It will be better if another adult goes with you so they can supervise when you’re driving or vice-versa. The AAP recommended that the safest place for a baby to sleep is on a surface which is flat and firm. You can get a crib, Playard, portable bassinet or a typical bassinet because they are specially made for babies. Make sure you are putting your baby to sleep on her or his back and never on their tummy. 

    You should abstain from putting any pillows, blankets or toys around your kid while they are sleeping since they can cause health accidents. If you keep these things in mind then there will be lesser chances of your baby being affected by SIDS or the sudden infant death syndrome.

    Ways to make sure the safety of your child in their car seat

    Not letting your baby snooze off for a few minutes is not the only action to be done to guarantee your little one’s safety. There are some other things to keep in mind for your baby to have a safe car ride and those are:-

    Ensure Proper Installation of the Car Seat

    The instructions should be clear when you follow what is given by the manufacturer of the product. You can also get help from a car seat technician to ensure that you have a proper installation. Get at least the LATCH system or if you can, get the locked belt system. Other than car seat technicians, CPST or Certified Passenger Safety Technicians are a big help when it comes to car seat installation. They can also supervise you virtually or in person while you install the car seat properly. 

    The car seat should be placed in the back where it can face the rear-view mirror

    Make sure that the car seat is installed at the back seat. Never place the seat in the front. Your child should be located in a rear-facing position in the back seat until he or she has gained the appropriate height or weight recommended by the manufacturer of the product or as stated by the AAP. 

    The Seat should be approved of all the safety requirements

    There is a basic safety standard that every car seat manufacturer has to get approved for before they release their product out on the market. So, when purchasing a new car seat check the basic things like the expiration date of the car seat which is mostly printed on the seat itself, the manufacturer’s instruction is also very important. If you are using a second-hand car seat then also you need to check the expiration date to confirm whether it can still be used or not. 

    Check for the recall information and if it was enlisted on the NHTSA. There shouldn’t be any missing parts or cracks on that seat and do not use it if you are unsure of the history of the car seat. Seats that have been involved in a car crash shouldn’t be reused. 

    Taking breaks

     if the trip is a long one then you need to stop the car every 2 hours to let your baby stretch out his/her arms and legs. You can also change their diaper while taking a break. 

    Do not give your baby any food or drink while the car is moving

     it is extremely dangerous because there is a choking hazard so the snacks and drinks should stay in your bag until you’ve reached your destination, or you may feed them when you are taking a break. 

    The car seat shouldn’t be used outside of the car

    as I’ve warned you previously, a car seat shouldn’t fulfil the purpose of a crib or a bassinet. Even though babies tend to fall asleep faster in a car seat, for their health’s sake, you need to move them to a flat and firm surface immediately. Do not use the car seat as a carrier and also you shouldn’t put your baby in the shopping cart at the store. There is a chance that the cart trips over so it is recommended by the AAP to put your little one in a sling, stroller or a proper carrier.

    Don’t use the car seat accessories of the aftermarket

    Car seat accessories include seat belt adjusters, harness covers and support inserts. Other than these shoulder pads and headrests are also considered car seat accessories. These accessories do not come with the car seat and some parents separately purchase them. The third party that provides you with these items might not get them tested so it raises health concerns for your baby which is why it makes your child’s car seat less safe. 

    The AAP also stands against these products. If a baby seems to always slouch on the car seat then a receiving blanket rolled tightly can be put on both sides of the baby. You can also put a diaper/cloth (after rolling them tightly) between the crotch strap and your baby. However, you do need to confirm from the manufacturer instructions if the specific seat is safe to apply these methods on. 

    Avoid putting bulky clothes on your child

    it is safer to make your baby wear thin layers of clothing that are very light in weight. If you are worried your baby will get cold you can put a blanket over the buckled harness straps. Bulky clothes are likely to get compressed in a car crash with makes the straps lose which is riskier for your babies’ health as they become more susceptible to injuries. 

    What Should Parents Do?

    The first thing to be done is to limit the time that your baby is spending in a car seat. If you are travelling, avoid going for a long trip in a car. Short trips while being less dangerous still holds some risk factors so keeping an eye out is very significant in these cases. There is no recommended time for which you are allowed to keep your baby in a car seat which is why it is crucial to avoid being in a situation where your baby sleeps in a car seat. 

    Premature children, since they are more vulnerable, should be taken out of their seats quite frequently. If your destination has arrived and you notice your baby about to shut their eyes in a minute or so, according to Colvin, it’s permissible only if you follow certain rules. Under direct supervision from a parent while being snuggly strapped in a car seat is stated as reasonable for only a short amount of time. However, the exact time which is considered to be safe by the professionals has not been declared. 

    In other cases where you need to do the chores or run errands, you need to be as gentle and quick as possible to get your baby out of the car seat and transfer them to their crib. If you’re lucky, your baby will remain asleep; if not, you can soothe them in your arms until they fall asleep and then put them in their crib. I can understand if your top concern is to keep your baby sleeping but if that doesn’t work out you can opt for the daily naptime schedule to put your little one back to sleep.


    Some babies easily drift off to sleep even if they wake up when you are in the middle of transferring them into their crib but some wake up completely as they had a good nap on their way. Then, you also need to go through with the naptime schedule such as singing lullabies or nursing.

    Now that you’ve read about the dangers and the solutions of your baby sleeping in a car seat I hope it helps you make better decisions in future for the sake of your baby. From one parent to another, I feel your struggles and yes I know how demanding these duties can be but I can assure you that one day this care and love will be worth it if it already isn’t yet.

    FAQ: By Moms & Dads

    Is there any expiration date for a car seat?

    Yes, you can use a car seat for 6 years only. According to Arbogast, this is the standard rule but you should check your product for the exact expiration date. 

    Can I use a second-hand car seat?

    Since parents have to pay other expenses for necessary things such as groceries, gas and other products, sometimes they tend to go for a second-hand car seat given to them by their neighbours, friends or family. You need to make sure you know where the car seat has been. You also need to know how long has the car seat been used and if it had been involved in a car crash. Because then its job like an airbag will already be done so there will be no use for it. 

    How to choose the perfect car seat for your baby?

    Details about car seat types for babies and what are the things to consider to find the right car seat can be found on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You will also be provided with a tool that will help you in your research of finding the right car seat for your baby while providing you with good quality brand options. 

    How to ensure the proper installation of car seats?

    if you are unsure of your installation then you can get it double-checked by car seat technicians or they can help you altogether in the installation process. If you have doubts and questions about it, they would give you answers as well. 

    You can find a car seat technician on NHTSA who can find you a certified car seat technician. All you need to do is enter the ZIP code of your state and city to get a list of car seat technicians who are certified. Other than that, you can also get a virtual class on the car seat installation process for 2 hours offered by Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. They also provide virtual or in-person inspections. You can contact them here: Call (323) 203-7688, email: (to talk in English), (to talk in Spanish and English) and (to talk in Vietnamese and English) 

    Other than these, you can get the basic information and resources on how to install car seats properly from the California Department of Public Health. 

    How to learn about recalls?

    While purchasing your preferred car seat you need to register that particular seat with the manufacturer so that you receive safety notices as well as calls about the product directly. You can either go to the manufacturer’s website or fill out a form that comes attached to the product. 


    NHTSA lets you register your product so if you’re interested you can know more about their process on their website. A non-profit organization SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A assists families and the experts there provide information about car seat safety. This includes queries related to recall. You can get in touch with them on their English and Spanish Hotline: Call (800) 745-7233 (English) and (800) 747-7266 (Spanish).

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