When you’re the parent of an infant, sometimes you’re so thankful for the moments of peace that sleep brings, that you wouldn’t dream of doing anything to disturb it. If that means leaving the baby to sleep in a car seat or baby rocker, so be it. But authorities are warning that the extra moments of quiet aren’t worth it. In fact, leaving your baby to sleep in a car seat can be fatal.
As KFOR News reports, Ali and Derek Dodd discovered the dangers of sleeping in car seats in the most heartbreaking way imaginable. Their son Shepard was only eleven weeks old when a daycare worker swaddled him and put him down to sleep in an unbuckled car seat in an empty room. Two hours later, the daycare worker saw that Shepard was blue and unresponsive and called 911. Though he was rushed to the hospital, it was too late.
“I was able to kiss him on the forehead as they wheeled him in,” Shepard’s father told KFOR. “He was cold. So I knew it was coming.”
Adding to the Dodd’s frustration is the fact that only eleven days before Shepard’s death, the same daycare was warned about the dangers of allowing a child to sleep in a car seat. A Department of Human Services citation shows that the operator had just been warned that infants should never be put down to sleep in a car seat or left sleeping in one.
What’s more, it took months before the daycare center in question was shut down. The only reference to Shepard’s death that appeared in the state’s records of the daycare center mentions an infant being put to sleep in a car seat, with no indication of the tragic consequences.
“What it says on there for our incident… it says she allowed a baby to sleep in a car seat,” says Ali Dodd. “It doesn’t say anything about him dying. Even parents, wouldn’t even know that he died in her care.”
Though parents put a lot of faith in car seats to protect children while traveling, few know about the danger that cost Shepard Dodd his life. It’s called positional asphyxiation, and it occurs with newborns and babies who get into a sleeping position that closes off the airway (like the slouch that often occurs in a car seat or rocker).
Without the muscle strength to move or lift their neck, an infant in such a position can quietly suffocate.
“They can overheat in the seat, they can be positioned so that they’re not getting proper amount of air and the straps themselves can become a problem because they can slide down and asphyxiate,” Lisa Kimura, Executive Director of Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawaii, told Hawaii News Now in response to a similar story about car seat death. “The car seat can also rock or sway or overturn.”
It’s an understandably stressful situation for parents who want to be sure that their infants are safe in the car, but were unaware that sleeping in the car seat comes with other dangers. The answer, say pediatricians, is to be vigilant.
Be sure that the car seat and straps are fitted and secured correctly for proper use. The front buckle should be mid chest. (Too high risks choking and too low can cause major injury in the case of an accident.) Don’t leave a child unattended in a car seat for an extended period of time—especially if the seat has been removed from the car. Once removed, it sits at a different angle, changing the angle that the baby rests in and possibly compromising his or her ability to breathe properly.
Ali and Derek Dodd are still struggling with the fact that their son’s death was so avoidable. They are currently lobbying the state legislature to introduce safe sleep standards for babies. And they’re warning other parents about the dangers of letting children sleep in car seats.
“It’s not worth getting a little more sleep or 30 minutes more of quiet time,” Derek Dodd told KFOR. “It’s just not worth it when it’s as dangerous as it is.”