Is it safe for infants to sleep in car seats?

Recent recalls of infant inclined sleep products have many parents wondering whether it's OK for babies to sleep in car seats.

Recent recalls of the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper and other infant inclined sleep products have highlighted the dangers of putting babies to sleep on an incline. Now many parents are wondering whether it's OK for babies to sleep in car seats.  

The angled position of the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper could cause an infant's head to tilt forward and compress the airway, increasing the risk of suffocation. At least 54 reported deaths have been linked to infant sleepers like these. 

But infants often fall asleep in car seats, which also position children at an inclined angle. Is that safe? 

"Yes, you can let your baby sleep for short stretches in a car seat, as long as it's used properly. While the risks of sleeping on an incline are serious, they're vastly outweighed by the protection that a properly installed car seat provides during a crash," said Consumer Reports' Rachel Rabkin Peachman.

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The angle of rear-facing car seats, including the kind for infants, has been extensively tested and is necessary to protect a child's head and spine in a collision. CR recommends checking the recline indicator on the seat to make sure your child's car seat has been installed with an appropriate recline angle for your child's age. 

Proper use of car seats is key. Even those you can remove from a vehicle to lock into a stroller are meant to be used only while you are with your baby or are able to observe him, not for extended or overnight sleep. 

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"Another difference (from inclined sleepers)  is that infant car seats have a five-point harness system, which is designed and tested to protect your baby in the event of a crash. And it lowers the risk of your baby slumping down and letting his head drop so that his chin falls to his chest, blocking airflow," Peachman said. 

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The safe sleep recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics say  babies should sleep alone, on their back, with no soft bedding or padding, and always on a firm, flat mattress. 

If you're on a long car trip, make sure you pull over occasionally to check on your baby. And CR warns that no car seat will fully protect your baby if it's not installed and used correctly. 

About the Author:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.