How Long Can a Newborn Be in a Car Seat?

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Car seats are mostly used to restrain your child to the seat and prevent rocking or in the worst-case scenario prevent your child from getting thrown about in the car in case of a crash.

The question of how long a child a newborn can be in a car seat, have been for the longest time now the biggest worry in new moms and guardians.

Out of the 1,465 infant mortalities recorded in recent years, 14 were car seat related according to a study done in 2014, the study contained data collected for sixteen years.

The high rate of car seat infant mortalities has raised concern and studies are being made on the maximum amount of time a newborn can be in a car seat.

Before you get pregnant again, it’s wise to take car of your new baby. Especially when they’re in a car seat.

So how long can a newborn baby be in a car seat?

A newborn can stay in car seat for up to 2 hours. The recommended maximum time is 2 hours, providing the parent is there with the baby. But for infants, regular stops and checks would do you and your child better.

You can be given a ticket for traveling with your child in the front seat and without a car seat.

The Age of the Car Seat

The lullaby Trust funded study done by researchers from the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, to find out the effects of car seats on the cardiorespiratory effect of having a baby in a car seat for long.

The research involved 40 infants of which 19 were full-term and 21 were preterm.

The study involved mimicking a car environment, for example when in motion and static using a simulator.

The back-facing car seat angle was set at 300 and 400 and recordings took on their breathing and heart rates.

The study showed that there was a considerable increase in the heart rate and a decrease in the amount of oxygen in the blood.

For the car seats that were angled at 400, there was a considerably higher recorded heart and breathing rate and high carbon dioxide levels in their bloodstreams.

Babies who were placed at 300 angles showed more stable condition, however, the study did not show the effect of time.

Maybe, with time, and continued discomfort would eventually make the babies’ heartbeats and blood pressure change.

Therefore, they concluded that putting a baby in a car seat that is inclined at a 400 angle while the car is in motion, will put the baby at risk of suffocation or developing breathing and neck problems.

The amount of time a baby should stay in a car seat depend on the type of car seat you have purchased, these are:

  • Seated car seat
  • Lie-flat car seat

i). Seated car seat: They are designed to put the baby in a near-vertical position thus the need to set the angle to either 400 and 300 depending on the age of the child.

seated car seat

Children should not be left for long in a seated car seat.

In fact, you should remove the child from the car seat immediately you arrive at your destination or during stops.

ii). Lie flat car seat: They are designed to allow the child to sleep on their back.

lie flat car seat

These types of car seats are appropriate for children below 6 months; those who cannot sit comfortably on their own.

A baby can comfortably sleep in this type of car seat.

There are also flat car seats that can be adjusted for the baby to sit on, an example is the Jane Matrix 2. They are convertible to fit both purposes of a lie-flat car seat and a seated car seat.

Car seat specification according to weight

For children weighing 2ks to 10 kgs a group 0 lie-flat, the rear-facing car seat is recommended.

For children weighing 10ks to 1 kg, a group 1 car seat rear-facing car seat can be used which should be harnessed.

For children weighing 16-25 kilograms, a high backer booster rear or forward-facing car seat can be used provided it is harnessed properly.

Why it is not advisable to leave a newborn in the car seat for long

A baby’s head is usually bigger in proportion as compared to the whole body, the babies neck muscles have not yet adapted to support the head properly.

Sitting up a toddler for a long time will, therefore, make their head hang forward thus constricting the airways, this might suffocate the child to death or cause severe respiratory problems.

Car seats also use straps to restrain the child, when tightly fitted they can compress the lungs of the young one making it difficult for them to breathe.

Loosely fitted or dangling straps can also choke your child to death.

How to use a car seat the right way

Only use a car seat while traveling, do not use the car seat for in-house sleeping.

In situations where you were traveling and your baby fell asleep you have to transfer them to a more comfortable position.

Of course, it is not a problem if your child dozes off while in the car seat, provided you check on them to see that they don’t suffocate due to clogging their airways.

This is their bed or a sleeping cot. This is however not the case when you own a lie-flat car seat.

a). Do not let your child stay in the car seat for more than 30 minutes. For infants, especially during the first month of their life ensure that you do not travel a lot or if it is a must, you can also sit at the back with your child or focus the front mirror on the baby if solo traveling.

Make regular stops at 30 minutes intervals and unbuckle the child from the car seat to rest.

You might see this as a waste of time, but in the long run, you will also enjoy the benefits, I mean, you too get to stretch out your legs. You will probably be less exhausted.

b). Always use a car seat for a maximum of 2 hours for your child this is irrespective of the age. On a recently completed survey, a large percentage of parents did not recognize the 2-hour rule.

Ensure that the child stays in the car seat for a maximum of 2 hours also when using the car seat in a travel system. In a recent case of the 9-car seat related deaths, 8 of them occurred when the car seat was used outside of the car.

c). Always ensure that the child’s head is well supported at the back and neck area to prevent any discomfort or training.

You should also not cover the child’s head or use extra comfy clothing or blankets to warm your child.

The interior of cars warms up quickly and the heat might be making your child uncomfortable, while you think he is liking it.

Laying baby to sleep

After a long travel time always lay your child to sleep on a flat, firm mattress.

  • You should lay the baby to sleep on their back, and not on their sides or tummy. Newborns have not yet developed muscle function and might sleep in an uncomfortable position. This is not the case as when they turn in their sleep, you should, however, check on them to see they do not strangle themselves or suffocate in the sheets. Of course, use cotton sheets that are well spread and do not come off easily.
  • Always cover a sleeping baby from the chin downwards, this will ensure that their nostrils are uncovered and they can breathe freely.
  • Always sleep in the same room as your child, this does not necessarily mean the same bed, you can have your child sleep in a separate bed, cot or lie-flat car seat if need be for example while traveling.
  • Ensure that the child’s sleeping cot is clean and free from toys, feeding bottles and pillows to provide the ultimate conditions for your child’s comfort.

Handling a sleeping baby

baby sleeping in car seat

The idea of waking up your baby because specialists say so does not click in many parents’ minds, but it is the right thing to do.

After a long journey, you might be tempted to let your child continue sleeping in the car seat, do not do that unless it is a lie-flat car seat.

Here’s the best way to transfer your child to a Moses cot or bed:

  • Unbuckle the car seat from the car with as much caution as possible.
  • Cover your child with a blanket or an item of warm clothing, this is in case it is snowing, windy or very sunny outside.
  • Carry the car seat with the baby in it as quietly as possible, some car seats are designed to be fitted permanently, you have to unbuckle the child from the car seat carefully.
  • Keep the lighting in the house to a minimum by covering the blinds during the day, to show your child that it is not yet time to wake.
  • Carefully lift your child and place him on the bed, provided he has not wet himself. You might take off all the outdoor clothing like jackets.
  • Cover him to the chin with a soft blanket and leave slowly, sometimes it is good to chill for some time and rock the baby to sleep. You might leave all happy that you have finally got some you time and you hear them wake before you even hit the corridor back.

Conclusion

Using a car seat for your child’s safety need is not a debatable story you have to do it so you better know how to use it properly.

You can learn how to correctly buckle your child in a car seat; I know this article has taught you a lot of car seat safety.

You can also take some time to watch a YouTube tutorial on how to safely buckle up a baby.

All the car seats come with a user manual and directions on how to use, you can also ask the store attendant to help you buckle up your child the right way.

Final takeaway

To wrap up this post, here are a few don’ts when using a car seat:

  • Do not use a car seat for ordinary baby sleeping, only use it while traveling. Car seats are necessary trouble, I mean we need them to protect the baby from a crush but at the same time can cause more trouble.
  • Do not leave any straps dangling the car seat, always ensure that you buckle up your baby properly, you can also show relatives and baby sitters how to do it properly.
  • Do not leave the baby unattended to just because he is in his car seat if solo traveling you can make stops every 30 minutes to check on your child. You can also adjust the front mirror to watch the baby.
  • Do not cover the baby in warm clothes if, in the car, cars tend to be warmer than the outside, therefore, a coat will only make your baby uncomfortable. It is good to go for cotton materials as they tend to absorb sweat.
  • Do not use an old or borrowed car seat for your child, use a car seat that is appropriate for your child’s age and size. A big car seat can have your child sliding out which is dangerous. A smaller car seat, on the other hand, can make the baby uncomfortable and some times chocking them. The second-hand car seats especially those sold at yard sales or from a friend who has weaned their children you need to properly clean it and sanitize it for germs.
  • Do not use extra cushioning to support your child’s car seat, if it does not come as the car seat accessory from the company. This is because the cushion might change the way straps fit and might even suffocate the child.
  • Do not have loose items ion the car especially the backs seat, they can fry on impact causing more injury. Items like umbrellas, shopping, pets should be restrained either in the boot.
  • Always make sure that the car seat is angled properly, some car seats have e a built-in spirit level that is used for ensuring that the child is comfortable.
  • The best position for toddlers is the most horizontal which can be raised as the child grows.