Friday, November 13, 2009

Rethinking Car Seat Safety for Babies

By Wendy Haldeman, RN MS IBCLC

Few, if any parents would dispute the life-saving benefits of proper car seat usage when transporting infants and small children in automobiles. In fact, over 9,000 lives have been saved over the past 30 years. What parent has not appreciated the convenience of moving a sleeping baby from the car, to the stroller, back into the car, and into the home, all without waking the infant? Many parents hold the opinion that the invention of the infant car seat/stroller system was genius. New information, however, has come forward which may lead us to consider the wisdom of using the car seat outside of a vehicle.

Dr. Shital Parikh, a pediatric orthopedist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center presented her study at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ annual meeting this month. Dr. Parikh found that over 8,700 babies were treated in local emergency rooms last year for injures sustained in car seats while outside of the car. The most common accidents occurred when parents placed the occupied seat on a table or counter. The baby was able to create just enough movement to propel the seat off the counter and onto the floor. Babies were also injured while tumbling out of a car seat because the parent mistakenly believed that the baby was strapped in.

Another concern has been raised by a Pump Station & Nurtury™ favorite expert, Dr. Jill Stamm. Hours upon hours spent sitting and sleeping in a car seat may deprive a baby of its ability to develop normal peripheral vision. Dr. Stamm is concerned that the high sides and deep seat limits the baby to only seeing what is directly in front of him/her. Visual input is critical to the wiring of the brain. Normally, when a baby hears a sound coming from the side, they will turn toward the sound, and begin to associate the visual image with that sound. Consider the infant strapped into a car seat. The baby hears a sound, turns and views only the side of the seat. Dr. Stamm believes that when a baby is repeatedly deprived of the experience to connect the sound with the visual image, the baby simply “tunes out”.

One last potential problem for the developing newborn spending long hours sitting in a car seat is being discussed among experts. Is it possible that leaving babies in car seats outside of the car contributes to the flattening of the baby’s head? Experts agree that always placing the infant on his/her back for sleep will reduce the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome. As this is a necessary and safe practice, perhaps reducing the amount of additional time a baby spends with pressure to the back of the head should be considered.

Any parent is loathed to waking up a sleeping baby. Who wants to take a peaceful, quiet infant out of the car seat when it is so easy and convenient to just scoop up the baby and seat together? As parenting is exhausting, it is difficult to always place what is best for baby ahead of ease and convenience. A great alternative to carrying a baby outside of the car is to place the baby into a sling. “Wearing your baby” prevents infants from falling off of table tops, promotes peripheral vision by allowing free range of motion of the head and neck, and relieves the pressure from the back of the head. With so many different sling “models” most parents can find the sling that fits their body and life style. The Pump Station & Nurtury offers free sling clinics in all our stores several times per week. With some practice and patience, parents find that they are soon able to remove a sleeping baby from a car seat, place them peacefully into a sling, and continue on their errands without disturbing the infant. What is best for baby can actually be compatible with ease and convenience!


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Wendy for writing this article! I have forwarded it to my many friends and family members who are in this stage of life... It is easy to let go of the "convenience" of having one transportable seat for the baby when you consider the possible developmental implications. And of course, I believe that many parents will enjoy wearing their babies when they give it a go!
-Julie Grube