Infants Shouldn't Sleep in Car Seats, Study Says

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Don't let your infant sleep in the car seat. Credit: andycarvin, Flickr

Parents who think an infant car seat is a good place for their baby to nap at home should think again -- a new study shows that the devices can lower oxygen levels in 20 percent of newborns.

Car seats are required safety gear, and you can't leave the hospital with your newborn without one. But the seats require infants to be placed in an upright position, which can potentially cause breathing problems in sleeping babies. A new study in the journal Pediatrics shows that the seats can compress the chest wall and reduce the airway size, possibly resulting in lower oxygen levels in the blood.

"Car seats and car beds can result in mild respiratory compromise in about 20 percent of newborns," said lead researcher Dr. T. Bernard Kinane, the chief of pulmonary pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston, according to a story on CNN.

A car bed is a special car seat used for premature infants with breathing issues.

Any new parent can relate to the frantic desire for a moment of precious infant sleep, said Selena Silva, the program coordinator at the Child Passenger Safety Program at Children's Hospital, in Denver, Colo. However, Silva told CNN that parents should avoid using the car seat as a place to nap.

"In the early days of parenthood, new parents are desperate to find any comfortable place for an infant to sleep," she said. "But car seats are really meant to be used in cars."

The study placed 200 healthy newborns in a hospital crib for 30 minutes, and in a car bed or car seat for an hour. Infants who slept in a car seat or car bed had lower oxygen levels than when sleeping in the crib.

Based on the study, researchers are recommending possible design changes such as new buckles and a new back that would allow the baby's head to fall back to prevent chest compression. The incline of a car seat is also crucial, said Silva -- an infant car seat must be installed such that the baby sits at a 45-degree angle, which helps keep the airway open.

However, the study should not scare parents out of using a car seat for travel -- just don't let your baby sleep in one at home.

"These safety devices should only be used for protection during travel and not as a replacement for a crib," said Kinane.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.