When we become parents we don't just have to learn how to take care of a baby, we also have to learn how, when and why to use all the different kinds of baby gear.
But just as important is when and why not to use some baby gear standards—specifically their car seats.
According to multiple studies, babies are at risk for decreased oxygen levels while in car seats, especially when the car is not in motion or the trip lasts for an extended period of time. Although preterm babies or infants with respiratory conditions are most at-risk, there is good reason for all families to take proper precautions.
As Scottish mother-of-two Kirsti Clark recently told STV, she had no idea that infants shouldn't be left in car seats for more than an hour at a time until her 3-week-old daughter, Harper, had a seizure following a car trip that went longer than expected. It was a situation not unfamiliar to many other families: The Clarks simply got stuck in traffic and then left Harper in the seat while they put their older daughter to bed.
When Harper's father then took her out of her car seat she seemed like she could not get comfortable on his lap, Metro reports. Her father tried to settle her on a play mat and that's when the baby suffered a seizure. The Clarks rushed to the hospital where she was treated and thankfully recovered. But, Clark says one of the biggest shocks to her was that these guidelines even exist.
"I've never once been told a child should not be in a car seat for any length of time," she told STV. "Nowhere in the instruction booklets or any guidance that we've seen online has there been anything mentioned about breathing difficulties."
This is why some hospitals do what's known as a "car seat challenge" with preterm babies before discharge, which allows professionals to monitor the baby's cardiorespiratory stability when they're in their car seat.
As for the best-practices for parents, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends planning "to stop driving and give yourself and your child a break about every two hours." In the case of babies younger than one month, some car seat researchers recommend avoiding unnecessarily long road trips.
"Restrict it to say, no more than half an hour or so," Professor Peter Fleming, a noted car seat researcher, told the BBC. (If you've got to go farther than that, just plan for rest stops to get baby out of the car seat.)
Researchers with the APA and the Canadian Paediatric Society also note the most dangerous time for a baby to be in a car seat is when they're not actually in a car—so while it may seem convenient to leave a sleeping babe in their car seat after a long trip, it's best to take them out right away.
All this comes with one significant note: While baby is in a moving car, safely buckled into a car seat is always the safest place to be. As noted in a study The Journal of Pediatrics, babies riding in a car seat as per the manufacturer's guidelines have a very low risk of suffocation or strangulation from the harness straps.
If we're aware of the risks and make sure to take breaks and take the baby out of the seat when the car stops, everyone can ride safely. Car seats, when used properly, are a literal lifesaver we should all be thankful for.
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