When Rachel Jungling dropped off her twins, Anders and Linnea, at daycare on a morning in January, she brought them in the way she usually did, resting in their carseats. The North Dakota mom then headed off to her teaching job, WAGA reported.
A couple of hours later, Jungling got a call from a police officer, saying that her son, Anders, was in the hospital. The daycare provider had left Anders sleeping in his car seat and his breathing grew constricted. Anders passed away three days later and the cause of death was deemed positional asphyxiation.
The daycare provider wasn’t aware of the risks associated with leaving a baby in a car seat.
In a car or on a plane, a car seat is the safest place for a baby
The Junglings are now going public with their story. They’re also working with Safe Kids Worldwide, a group that works to prevent childhood injuries, in the hopes of educating families about these risks.
Of nearly 12,000 infant sleep-related deaths, which occurred over the span of a decade, 3% of them happened in sitting devices, according to Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Of those incidents, 63% occurred in car safety seats.
The figures underscore how important car seat safety is.
When used correctly, a car seat is the safest place for a baby to be in a car or on a plane. But outside of travel, babies should not remain in a car seat, especially if they’re sleeping.
If properly installed, a car seat will be tilted at 45 degrees for an infant, which is critical for a baby’s safety, Susan Millette, a neonatal intensive care unit nurse, told Insider. This allows a baby to keep her head back, and airway open. Before a baby’s neck muscles are fully developed, they aren’t able to hold their heads up for long periods of time.
If installed properly, the car seat will be safely tilted to enable a baby to breathe with ease
“When you remove the car seat from the car and place it down on the floor or another surface, it’s no longer at that safe angle,” Millette said. “The baby’s head can fall to the chest, which can cause asphyxiation.”
Undoing the chest clip or crotch buckle and loosening the shoulder straps can also increase a child’s risk for a number of serious conditions, including strangulation and asphyxiation. This also leaves the baby’s body in an unsupported position, said Alisa Baer, a pediatrician and co-founder of The Car Seat Lady, an advocacy group that educates about safe car seat practices.
There are other basic precautions parents should always take, experts say.
When moving a car seat containing a baby from a vehicle to a new location, the device should only be placed on the ground or in a stroller system.
A car seat should never be placed on an elevated or soft surface
It should never be placed on a bed, a couch, or any soft or elevated surface.
“On a soft surface — like a bed — a car seat can overturn from a wiggling baby, and the baby can suffocate underneath,” Baer said. “If you put a car seat on a counter, table, highchair, or the top of a shopping cart, it has the possibility of being knocked off, which can lead to head injuries.”
According to another Pediatrics study, the most common car seat injuries treated in emergency departments were related to infants falling from car seats, car seats falling from elevated surfaces, and car seats overturning on soft surfaces.
When leaving a baby to sleep unsupervised, experts agree that they should only be placed in a crib, bassinet, or in a play yard. Millette added that babies should be placed on their backs with nothing accompanying them, other than a pacifier, if a parent chooses to offer one.