COLUMBIA, S.C. — New parents are often told never to wake a sleeping baby. It is also common for parents to put children in a car seat then head out for a short ride to speed up nap time. But according to a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics that method could be dangerous.
Child abuse pediatrician at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital–Midlands, Doctor Susan Lamb, M.D., says one of the leading causes of death in children is unsafe sleep conditions and several hundred infants die each year. This report also showed surprising statistics, three percent of deaths occur in what is defined as sitting or playing devices, such as car seats, strollers, bouncer or swings.
“Three percent of deaths is a pretty significant number of deaths in children," stresses Lamb who is on South Carolina’s Child Fatality Advisory Committee.
While the researchers did not establish why the infants were in car seats when not traveling, they note that some parents may not be able to afford a crib or bassinet, or people may use the seats to hold the child while doing other tasks.
These devices are designed for specific purposes, such as transportation, feeding and playing. “Parents should not rely on them in place of a crib or a bassinet.” said Lamb.
She goes on to explain when a child is being transported in a car seat or swinging and bouncing in a chair, there is motion and movement that will keep the child awake and sleeping lightly. But if left motionless or unattended, babies can slip onto a soft surface and suffocate. Another risk, a situation where one of the device straps holding then child in place wraps around their airway while the child is sleeping deeply in a position they can die in that device.
Children can also fall from an elevated surface, such as a table or chair. “These are preventable tragedies,” said Lamb.
Safe Kids Midlands and Dr. Lamb press the importance of using these devices as intended. For transporting children or playing. If a child falls asleep and you are looking at them, it can be safe. But pick the baby up and place the child in a safe sleep environment like a bassinet or crib the minute you know everyday tasks including wanting to rest yourself, attending to other children and household chores could be distracting.
The researchers emphasize that their findings in no way call into question the safety of car seats when used as directed. Car seats are a “safe and effective way of transporting an infant and should always be used when transporting an infant in a motor vehicle, whether the infant is awake or asleep,” the researchers write.
The researchers have published their findings in the scientific journal Pediatrics.
According to the report, there are higher odds of sleep-related infant death in sitting devices when a child care provider or baby-sitter is the primary supervisor.
Doctor Lamb recommends that parents, grandparents, caregivers and anyone looking after a child, always follow the ABCs of safe sleep for babies:
- A – Always Alone,
- B – Always on their backs,
- C -Always in a crib, for a safe sleep, every sleep.
Tips to keep your sleeping baby safe:
- Children who fall asleep in a car seat while being driven should remain in the car seat until they are no longer traveling.
- If they are still asleep when the car ride is over, they should be placed in a crib or bassinet.
- When traveling, take along a portable crib or bassinet to use once you arrive at your destination.
- Infants should never sleep unsupervised in sitting devices like car seats, bouncers or strollers.
- Place infants into their empty cribs on their backs once asleep unless being held by an awake and alert adult.
- Never place your baby to sleep on a couch, sofa or armchair. This is an extremely dangerous place for your baby to sleep.
- Co-sleeping is not recommended for any babies.
Lamb and The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages allowing children to routinely sleep in such devices. And urges parents to educate grandparents, babysitters and child care providers about safe sleep. “Although it may seem convenient to let your sleeping baby stay in a sitting device instead of moving to a crib or bassinet, it is not safe,” said Lamb.