Is it Okay to Let My Baby Sleep in a Car Seat?

Reviewed by James Brann, MD
Some babies sleep very well in their car seats, especially newborns. The cozy feeling of a closed-in container, with the cute, little visor can be very comforting for an infant, whereas the giant crib or playpen may seem scary. The crib is very spacious for a baby under the age of three months. However, many parents wonder if letting the baby sleep in its car seat is a good idea, or a bad one?

The pros and cons of baby sleeping in a car seat

Car seats are meant to be cozy and safe. That is why they are made with high safety standards, just in case your baby falls asleep while you are traveling. Your baby may also be perfect content sleeping throughout whatever activities you present while running errands, shopping, or in cases when a car seat is detachable from a baby stroller. This is perfectly fine, since you are usually with the baby and able to keep an eye on the sleeping.

Many parents also use the car seat as a tool to get a fussy baby to sleep. If the baby refuses to lie in its crib and cries for a long time, some frustrated parents might decide to take the infant for a ride in the car. The trip is relaxing and soothing, especially if you play some soft music to help the baby calm down.

However, the car seat is not intended to be an “all night” sleeping solution, even if your baby does prefer the car seat over his or her own bed. Even long naps should require a transfer of the baby from the car seat to the crib or bassinette, or even on a napping blanket on the floor.

Why is prolonged sleeping in a car seat a bad idea for babies?

There are several reasons you may wish to reconsider the car seat as a habitual place to let your baby rest. For one, your baby’s head and neck are not well developed, therefore if you baby pushes its neck down in an awkward position for a prolonged period, it has the potential for suffocation or SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

Another reason is the habit aspect. If you let it become a habit, then the baby will never get used to sleeping in the crib. It is difficult to retrain a baby after a routine is in place, even if you are super, duper exhausted and just want the child to go to sleep long enough for you to get a few Zzzz’s of your own. The problem is, when the baby grows bigger and can no longer fit in the infant seat, then your baby will have a difficult time adjusting. So it may bite you later with the screaming, whining and crying baby who simply refuses to sleep in the crib.

As another alternative, you can “graduate” the baby from a cozy bassinette or cradle, which are baby beds that are designed to be smaller than cribs. These feature a more enclosed setting, which many babies can sleep comfortably in. The rocking also may be soothing to the baby, much like the rocking style of a car seat.

With that in mind, you can always try putting the baby in the car seat until he or she does fall asleep and then transfer the baby after fifteen or twenty minutes of certainty that the child is not just resting but is in fact in a deep slumber. When the baby wakes up and realizes he or she is in its own bed, the baby will grow used to it after a week or two. You can also place activity toys along the crib railings and a bumper to make sure the baby’s foot does not get caught in between the railings. Keep safety in mind and do not put lots of pillows and blankets in the crib that could suffocate the baby.
You can make a little “mini bed” within the bigger bed, if that helps your baby to feel cozier. Try propping a couple of organic cotton pillows in a square shape and rest the baby on its back to give the baby an “enclosed” feeling that is similar to the car seat. This should not be a permanent solution and should only be used as a way to help your baby transition from the car seat to the crib.

 

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