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Car Seats a Risk?

Car SeatsNow there’s one more reason to hold your newborn baby in your arms as much as possible and save the car seat for the car.

A new study, published in Pediatrics magazine, showed that healthy two-day-old infants placed in car seats for an hour had lower average blood oxygen levels than those lying on their backs in cribs. The upright position of a car seat compresses a baby’s chest cavity, creating airway obstructions that can lower an infant’s blood oxygen saturation level.

You Still Need a Car Seat

While car seats are crucial for protection and safety within moving motor vehicles, infants should not be left in carrier/car seats for extended periods of time when not traveling, according to the findings of the study.

An article published on WebMD.com quotes the study, completed by Lilijana Kornhauser Cerar, MD, of University Medical Centre in Ljubjana, Slovenia, and her colleagues: “The use of [car seats and car beds] should, therefore, be restricted to protection from injury and death in traffic accidents, and they should never serve as a replacement for a crib.”

Previous studies had looked at the blood oxygen levels of pre-term babies in car seats and car beds, but this study shows that even in healthy infants, leaving a baby in a car seat for extended periods of time can cause respiratory issues.

The researchers, based in Slovenia and Boston, studied 200 infants, testing their oxygen saturation level after 30 minutes in a crib and after 60 minutes in a car bed or car seat. After lying in the crib, the average saturation level was 97.9 %. It was 96.3 % in the car bed and 95.7 % in the car seat.

While this drop in blood oxygen levels may not sound consequential, the researchers noted that even mild airway obstruction in infants has been linked to behavioral problems and lower IQ. Additionally, babies in the car seats and beds spent more time with oxygen levels below 95 % than did babies in the hospital cribs.

Perhaps most significantly, many parents let their babies sleep in their car seat if they have a cold. The upright position, ironically, seems to make it easier for a congested newborn to breathe. This is, perhaps, the scariest aspect of the study: parents who think they’re doing the right thing in infants with temporary respiratory problems may be causing the very problems they hope to prevent.

In an article published on Healthfinder.gov, Dr. Iley Browning, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, says, “…dropping oxygen levels are going to get worse when children have colds so you’re making your child worse by putting them in a car seat when they’re sick.”

Cause for Worry?

Do the findings of this new research really present a cause for concern, or is this new study just another “alarmist” theory that gives brand new parents something else to worry about?

I confess to leaving my daughter, as an infant, in her “bucket” in restaurants or stores if she fell asleep in the car seat while I was driving. I also let her sleep in there for up to an hour if she fell asleep in the car and I didn’t want to wake her upon returning home. I am also guilty of letting her sleep in her car seat or infant swing when she had a cold.

Would I do the same thing in light of this new research? Probably not. But I also recently discarded a batch of sippy cups and bottles once new, BPA-free alternatives became available. I don’t make myself crazy with worry, but I follow my intuition.

Other Good Reasons to Hold Your Baby…

While the risk of dangerously-low blood oxygen levels from spending too much time in a car seat is relatively low, (several physicians in several online sources note there is really no risk, at all) there are plenty of other good reasons to keep your newborn out of the “bucket” as often as possible.

Holding your baby (in a sling or in your arms):

  • Builds a strong bond between parent and baby (yes, Daddy should hold baby as much as he can, too!)
  • Helps regulate a newborn’s heartbeat and body temperature
  • Makes an infant feel secure

Additionally, babies held frequently spend more time in a state of “quiet alertness,” which is the time during which they learn the most. Besides, holding a baby can be calming and relaxing for the mother, too.

As the mother of a 10-month-old prepping for a first birthday party, I can tell you that our little ones grow up way too quickly. Treasure every moment and hold them now, while they still let you! It’s important to reiterate that a car seat should always be used in a moving vehicle.


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  1. New Studies on Appropriate Car Seat Use | News | Babies Online The Blog
  2. My Top 10 Blog Posts on Pregnancy and Parenting (August ’09) | ExpectingWords.com

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