How long is it safe for a baby to sleep in a car seat?

This week the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study about the danger of babies sleeping in car seats.  The study looked at sleep-related infant deaths when babies were in a “sitting device” such as a stroller, bouncer, swing, inclined sleeper or car seat. A 10-year study of 11,779 infant sleep-related deaths showed that 348 (3%) babies died in sitting devices, in 62% of the cases while in car seats.  In more than 90% of the cases the car seat was not being used as directed.  This means either outside of the car or the belts not fastened properly.

Babies should not be placed on an incline to sleep. With the head elevated, an infant is in a position that could lead to asphyxia. The straps on sitting devices also can strangle infants. In addition, the AAP does not recommend any products for sleep that require restraining a baby, especially if the product also rocks.

The message coming out of this report is that car seats and other sitting devices should not be used as an alternative to a crib or bassinet and the only safe place for a baby to sleep is on a flat, firm surface. 

This, however, raises a question that has been asked by many concerned parents and caregivers:

If it’s not safe for a baby to sleep in a car seat outside of the car then how/why is it safe for a baby to sleep in a car seat while travelling?

Most car seat manufacturers and experts agree that when you are on a long car trip a baby should sleep no more than approximately 90 minutes without being taken out to stretch, even if that means waking him/her up. 

Additionally, even if your baby is asleep once you get home or where ever you’re going, you should take your baby out of his/her car seat.

Period.

End of story. 

We know it’s tempting to let a baby stay asleep in his/her car seat, especially when they have been cranky but it’s not safe. It’s also important to share this information with grandparents, babysitters and daycare providers.

You can learn more about creating a safe sleep environment for your baby here.