In 2015, Ali Dodd lost her 11-week-old son Shepherd when his daycare let him sleep in his car seat. The cause of death was positional asphyxiation, a condition where the child's position restricts their breathing or suffocates them.
While other asphyxiation risks—such as falling asleep on a sofa, a crib with padding or next to an adult—play a much bigger role in infant deaths (asphyxiation deaths are about five percent of all infant deaths), car seat and infant rockers account for an increasing percentage of these reports. After a thorough review, the Fetal Infant Mortality Review board found that more than five percent of Oklahoma City-area babies who died due to unsafe sleeping conditions passed away because they were allowed to sleep in a car seat, bouncer or infant rocker.
Below are some tips to help parents ensure that kids stay safe in their car seats:
Make Sure Your Child Is Buckled in Properly
The cause of death in baby Shepherd's case was determined to be that he was not buckled in properly, allowing him to slump down into his chest. Kids should, of course, never be placed in their car seat for sleep, but they do fall asleep in car seats no matter what you do. If your child has (as one clever mom describes it) "carcolepsy," then make sure that your child is buckled in properly with the buckle across the chest, which prevents excessive slumping. You may also want to buy a car seat mirror, so you can check in periodically and make sure it hasn't slipped down while you're driving.
Adjust the Positioning
When installing the car seat, make sure that it is tilted at an angle that allows your child's head to naturally fall back. Most car seats have levels installed, and if you need to get more of a tilt, you can use a pool noodle or folded piece of cardboard to further adjust the position.
If that wasn't scary enough, they can also compromise the function of the car seat during an accident...
Invest in a Monitor
In the comments on the original story, several mothers chimed in saying that their pediatricians advised them to allow kids to sleep in the car seat to mitigate conditions like severe reflux. Of course, there are also those of us who need to take the kid for a quick spin to fall asleep, lest we to lose your mind. And then, of course, there are those of us who need to be on the road, so sleeping in the car seat is inevitable. If you fall into these categories, consider getting a breathing monitor. The Snuza Hero or Snuza Go! Baby Movement Monitor (available on Amazon), for instance, clips onto your baby's diaper and will first vibrate to nudge the baby awake, and then sound an audible alarm if no response is detected.
Don't Dress Babies in Thick Clothes
Thick and padded clothes (think winter wear) increase the suffocation hazard by adding more material to obstruct the child's breathing. If your child won’t be dozing off, you still need to make sure that they are properly buckled in as padded clothing can compress during an accident.
Supervise Your Child
All the experts recommend against letting children sleep in car seats, but reality is, it happens. If you’re about and unable to take your child out and place them in a crib, make sure that you have an eye on them at all times and can ensure their breathing remains unobstructed. You’ll also want to make sure that if you’re outside of the car, you place the car seat somewhere safe where it can’t be knocked over.
Talk to Your Daycare
In the case of the Dodd family, the home daycare where their son passed away had been previously warned about allowing children to sleep in unsafe conditions. If your child is dropped off in a car seat, or if you are with a home or church daycare which aren't regulated as strictly as other schools, make sure that you understand their policies and make your own concerns clear.