Sleeping in Car Seat: Why It’s Bad

When I was getting ready to become a parent things seemed clear to me: a stroller was to take the baby outside, a carrier was needed for when things weren’t accessible with a stroller or the baby wanted me around the house, and a car seat was needed for car rides.

I was pretty stunned when I started researching the best strollers and most manufacturers in the US recommended travel systems for newborns. Basically, until the baby was ready to hold their head and sit in a toddler chair of the stroller, the solution was to get car seat adapters and drive the baby around in a car seat on top of the stroller AKA travel system.

As someone who grew up in Europe and my first child was also born in Europe, the travel system for daily usage was unthinkable as in Europe everyone will use the bassinet on top of the stroller and a car seat for the in and out of the car.

In the US on the other hand, bassinets are almost never used and the trendiest car seat is Doona (or these days also Evenflo Dual Ride), which is basically a car seat with wheels and many people use it as their full-time stroller for their newborns.

It’s convenient to transition from car to stroller to home or daycare throughout the day without removing the baby from the car seat unless it’s for a diaper change or feeding. It’s naturally also convenient to just take the whole car seat out with the baby rather than transfer a baby to a bassinet, especially when they fall asleep, but it introduces unsafe sleeping practices for a few moments of peace…

Is It Fine to Let Baby Sleep in Car Seat?

NO! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies should sleep safely in a flat, and empty sleep space like a crib or bassinet. Your baby is in danger of suffocation due to positional asphyxia if they’re sleeping on an inclined surface like a swing, or a car seat.

Positional asphyxia occurs when the positioning of the child’s head and neck block the airway. You might not even notice as they simple snooze off and quietly suffocate.

It’s all due to the angle of the car seat that can cause cardiorespiratory issues in infants below 6 months if they’re in car seats for extended periods of time, so here’s one of many studies done by people much more knowledgeable than me. However, it also can cause issues with older children as well, particularly when the car seat is used not in the car.

I found so many reviews of Doona car seat saying “we just use it to roll the baby around the house because it’s convenient” – every sane pediatrician would cringe at this. It’s very unhealthy for infants under 4 months who should have limited time in the car seat. 

sleeping in car seat

How Long Can Baby Sleep in Car Seat?

Let’s be real: babies will fall asleep in their car seats in the car, there’s no way around it. If you’re driving with a baby it’s obviously not possible or safe to keep the baby out of the car seat, but outside of the car it’s absolutely possible to take the baby out!

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If for some reason you don’t want to buy a stroller with a bassinet (which I highly recommend also as babies overheat more in car seats than bassinets), you can get a car seat that reclines which can be used as a travel system on top of the stroller. That way your baby will be safe as they’ll be sleeping in a flat position when out of the car.

The official recommendation is 2 hours in the 24-hour cycle, but the less the better, and newborns under 4 weeks newborns should spend 30 minutes a day at a maximum in a car seat).

Transfer the baby to a safe sleeping place like a bassinet on top of the stroller, or their crib. Your baby might wake up obviously, but that’s the safest option and you can soothe the baby back to sleep. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

The bassinet is the best and safest place for an infant to be outside of the car

Can Baby Sleep in a Car Seat on the Plane?

I feel like it’s a controversial topic because most self-proclaimed car seat specialists in the US tell you to always bring a car seat on the plane. On the other hand, while FAA claims it’s safer to have a child in a car seat on the plane it’s not always the case, especially when it comes to smaller babies.

If your flight is an hour long and your baby likes the car seat, you might as well bring it if you can pay for the seat.

However, what if you fly overnight on flights that can be 8, 12, or even 15 hours long? Considering the fact that for years and years, there’s been only 1 death associated with a child traveling without a car seat on the plane, the chance of it is extremely small… especially when you are given special seatbelts for lap infants everywhere outside of the US.

Your child won’t be able to lie flat for hours if you bring a car seat, being forced to be sleeping in car seat and that’s a risk. On the other hand, you can safely secure the baby in an airplane bassinet where they can sleep safely, but if you bring a car seat you won’t have access to it (car seats aren’t allowed in bulkhead rows).

In fact, a bigger cause of injuries to children (than the lack of car seat) is burns from hot drinks cause 39% of injuries to children on planes, and this is why I always advise parents with lap infants to sit anywhere but the aisle seat, even though it seems convenient to get in and out.

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