When used properly, car seats are the safest way to travel with your baby in tow. But if you’re letting your infant sleep in their seat even after you get out of the car, you could be putting them at risk, according to a study published on Monday in the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) journal.
Researchers analyzed 11,779 sleep-related deaths of babies under the age of one between 2004 and 2014, using data from the National Center for Fatality Review and Prevention. They found that of the 348 infants who died while slumbering in sitting devices, 63 percent occurred in car seats.
“It really appeared that the deaths in these car seats occurred in the context where the car seat wasn’t being used for its purpose in transporting a child, but instead it was being used as a substitute for a crib or bassinet,” Dr. James Colvin, lead author of the study, told TODAY, adding that, “I think every parent, including myself, has been guilty of doing this at one time or another.”
Dr. Colvin, who is also a pediatrician at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., explained that many of the deaths took place when the babies were unsupervised or when the car seat wasn’t being used properly. He warns that not only can a car seat flip over or fall from whatever surface it was set on if the parent isn’t watching but that the straps can also cause strangulation or suffocation.
However, he says that parents shouldn’t worry if they see their babies sleeping in the car: “While car seats are always the best place for babies when they are being transported in a vehicle, that doesn’t mean they are the safest place when they’re sleeping outside of the car.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that when sleeping, babies should always be placed in a supine position on their back until they’re at least one year old. Parents should also remove loose bedding and opt for a firm mattress to prevent choking or worse, infant death.