Letting babies sleep too long in car seats ‘puts health at risk’

Parents are unknowingly putting newborn babies’ health at risk by leaving them in car seats for longer than they should, a report has warned.

Newborn sleeping in car seat.
Newborn sleeping in car seat.

Nearly 10 million parents – almost one in three – have left their babies sleeping in car seats rather than putting them in a cot, despite an association between using car seats as sleep aids and sudden infant death syndrome.

A 2016 study funded by the Lullaby Trust charity found newborn babies who sat at a 40-degree angle in a car seat for as little as 30 minutes can experience increased heart and breathing rates and lower blood oxygen level due to their “scrunched-up” position.

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Two thirds of all parents have driven with their baby in a car for more than the recommended 30 minutes, the study by Churchill Car Insurance found. Of this number, more than three quarters did so once a month or more and 9.7 million did so once a week or more.

Professor Peter Fleming, from the University of Bristol, who was part of the team that conducted the research funded by the Lullaby Trust, said: “Although it is very important for parents to always use an appropriate car seat for young babies on car journeys, the baby should always be taken out of the seat and placed in a suitable sleeping place such as a cot or Moses basket after the journey. Car seats are not designed for longer periods of infant sleep.”

Prof Fleming said in the first four to six weeks after birth, parents should try to avoid car journeys of more than 30 minutes for their baby, and whenever possible an adult should travel with the baby in the back seat of the car to keep a check on their position and wellbeing.

“If longer journeys are unavoidable, please take regular breaks,” he said.

Younger parents are much more aware of the potential risks of driving long distances, the study found.

Three fifths of parents aged 18 to 34 know that long periods in a car seat may lead to health problems such as breathing difficulties, while under two fifths of parents aged 35 to 54 are aware of this.

Despite being more aware of the safety advice, however, younger parents are more likely to have taken their children out for journeys of more than 30 minutes than parents from previous generations.