How Long Can a Baby Stay in a Car Seat + Parent’s Guide to Travelling Safely with Babies

Nowadays, the news is filled with tragic stories of babies dying after being left in a hot vehicle or from car seat suffocation. These alarming stories may make parents think twice when buying a car seat or even travelling with their babies. As a matter of fact, ‘How Long Can a Baby Stay in a Car Seat’ is one of the leading questions that you’ll see when you type ‘car seat safety’ in the google search bar. 

If you’re thinking of going on a road trip with your baby, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will discuss how long exactly a baby can stay in a car seat. Additionally, we’ll give you some tips on how to travel with your baby safely and what type of car seats to buy.

Is It Safe for Babies to Sleep in Car Seats?

If you don’t have a nanny or someone else to watch your baby, travelling with an infant is unavoidable. There will be times that you’ll need to bring your babies to the park or to the clinic for a check-up. During these situations, aside from the fact that it’s the law, baby car seats can definitely help keep your child safe. 

And most parents know that babies sleeping in car seats are normal. Due to the fact that you’re busy driving, your baby got nothing else to do. In addition to that, the soft rocking motion and the purr of the engine can also lull your babies to sleep. It’s totally safe for your children to take a nap if you’re just driving for 20 minutes to the mall or to the grocery store.

baby sleeping in a car seat

On the other hand, for long-distance travel, this may not be the case. Baby car seats are not designed for long-distance travel. In fact, no studies have been conducted to assure the safety of infants when traveling long distances in a car seat. And even car seat manufacturers don’t recommend letting your baby stay in car seats for a long time.

So, How Long Can a Baby Stay in a Car Seat?

It is not recommended to let your baby stay or sleep in a car seat for more than 2 hours. A pilot study discovered that babies in car seats experience breathing troubles when travelling longer than 2 hours. That’s because the car seat’s 40° upright position and the car’s vibrations cause increased heart rate and respiratory rates which decreases the oxygen saturation in the car.

Furthermore, a 2014 UK study discovered that majority of car seat-associated infant deaths are due to the use of baby car seats outside the car and by using them as substitutes for cribs or even for strollers. This is the main reason why the 2 Hour Rule was established by trusted car seat manufacturers and safety experts like Baby Safe Ltd.

Why is it BAD for a Baby to Stay in a Car Seat for a Long Time?

As mentioned above, there are several risks associated with letting your baby stay in a car seat for a long time. Here are three of the most important risks that you should know about.

Suffocation

Aside from the increased heart and respiratory rates that lead to lower oxygen levels in the car, there are other breathing risks associated with staying long hours in a car seat. When infants are in the sitting position for a long period of time, their heads can fall forward to their chest. This position can restrict their breathing and cause suffocation. And this phenomenon is also known as positional asphyxia.

Asleep or not, there is a high chance that a baby will be rocked into a position where the chin is pressing against the baby’s chest. Newborns and young infants are especially at high risk because their necks are not strong enough to keep their heads up and sit up straight for long periods of time. And unlike adults, they may not be able to move to breathe when their airway is blocked.

Overheating

Unlike adults, infants have higher temperatures than adults. That’s because those baby fats are actually brown adipose tissues. And these brown fats generate more heat compared to regular fats, thus making babies more resistant to the cold.

baby feeling hot in the car

But because of these, babies are also susceptible to overheating. In fact, babies tend to generate body heat three times faster than adults. Thus, leaving your babies even for just a few minutes inside a car is extremely dangerous and irresponsible.

Furthermore, your baby’s risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is high when travelling in a car especially in the summer. Even the thin blanket that you believe will keep him/her comfortable can cause overheating as well.

Spinal Problems

Babies have very fragile bodies and long durations of travel may have a bad impact on their spinal development. Because a child’s head is relatively bigger and heavier than their body, this can result in abnormal neck motions when they’re asleep, resulting in neck and spine injuries. For babies with developing bodies, this can cause permanent disability and sometimes, in worst-case scenarios, mortality.

These are the major risks that you should know about when travelling with an infant. If you’re a responsible parent, it’s very important to do your research and plan well if you need to travel with your child for long hours.

Travelling with Babies Safety Tips

Although there are a lot of dangers associated with baby car seats, they are still your child’s number one protection from car accidents. To reduce the risks of infant overheating and breathing problems in car seats, remember the following:

One, car seats are NOT designed as safe sleeping devices.

Do not let infants sleep for long periods of time in car seats. Accordingly, never leave the baby unsupervised, even when they are awake. Bring your baby’s favorite toys, or some wooden puzzle toys to keep them busy and prevent them from falling asleep. Additionally, find and play your baby’s favorite off-beat music to keep them entertained before your reach your short destination!

Two, take regular breaks.

If your trip involves driving for long periods of time, you should stop for regular breaks to check up on your baby. Take them out of the car, and let them move around.

When it comes to overheating, the Lullaby Trust also recommends feeling the baby’s tummy or the back of his/her neck. If it feels sweaty or clammy then the baby is too hot. Remove their hats or blankets and make sure that you block the sun using sunshades on their side of the car.

Three, stop if necessary.

If your baby changes its position and slumps forward, then you should immediately stop. Take them out of the car seat and sit them upright before continuing on your journey.

Finally, make sure to read and follow all other instructions provided by the manufacturer. People caring for your baby should also know how to use the seat. After which, a certified child passenger safety technician should inspect the car seat. You should make sure that they install the car seat properly. That’s because the study we mentioned earlier that another major reason for infant car seat deaths is due to improper cat seat set up.

What type of Baby Car Seats Help?

Now you know the importance of car seats and how to avoid the risks associated with their use. Next question is, which car seat should you buy? Generally, there are three (3) types of baby car seats: Infant Car Seats, Rear-facing Car Seats, and Baby Car Beds.

Infant Car Seats

As the name implies, infant car seats are designed for babies up to 35 pounds. This type of car seat is usually rear-facing and is equipped with a three- or a five-point harness. Although more expensive, try and get an infant car seat with a five-point harness. That’s because it offers the best protection. Thanks to the two straps that secure the shoulders and two more that secure the hips.

5-point-harness-baby-car-seat

Rear-Facing Convertible Child Seat

The second type of car seat is the rear-facing convertible child safety seat. This type of car seat has two configurations, rear-facing, and forward-facing positions. It is, however, recommended to use the convertible child safety seat in the rear-facing position. That’s because in the event of a crash a rear-facing car seat will absorb the impact. Unlike in the forward-facing position where your child can be thrown forward and the impact can cause serious spinal injuries.

Baby Car Beds

Lastly, car beds are safer alternatives to standard baby car seats for low-birthweight babies or premature babies. And just like the other baby car seats, baby car beds are usually positioned in the back seat. In addition to that, most baby car beds have special features dedicated

The advantage of baby car beds is that they let your children lay flat on the bed. This will be much safer compared to placing them in a semi-reclined position, which as we have discussed above has several risks. Baby car beds are generally designed for more fragile babies who are prone to positional asphyxiation. With this device and according to your doctor’s orders, a baby can be safely laid on their backs or on their tummies.

Conclusion

Having a car seat does not completely assure the safety of your baby during trips. Inappropriate use of the car seat can greatly increase the risks of serious injury or death to your infant. Therefore, you should always make sure that you have properly set up the car seat according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Additionally, you should constantly check up on your baby’s condition and sleeping position. As a rule of thumb, stop and take them out of the car every 2 hours. Then let them stretch and move around.

If you’re interested in learning more about baby and children’s safety in cars, we have dedicated an entire section to our website to make traveling with kids in cars more fun but safer as well.