Avoid "parking" your baby

Consumer Reports News: April 13, 2011 02:08 PM

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You pull up in your driveway with your baby contentedly snoozing away in his car seat. If the seat has a carrier that detaches from a base that remains in the car or is part of a travel system that lets you attach it to a stroller frame or bring into the home, it's only natural to want to let him continue his nap in the seat. But it might be a better idea to transfer him to his crib.

The problem is, it's not a good idea to leave your baby in a relatively upright position for an extended period of time. In addition to car seats, other common culprits are umbrella strollers and baby swings or any other baby container that doesn't allow your infant to sleep in a fully reclined position. Remember that babies' heads are much bigger compared to the rest of their bodies. If they fall asleep for long periods in an upright or even a semi-reclined position, they're not getting the support they need, and this potentially can cause serious breathing problems. Most rear-facing infant seats are designed to provide a more reclined position when they are installed in the car but may not provide that same recline angle once removed from their vehicle base.

Of course car seats are essential for the safe transport of your baby in any motor vehicle and a short snooze is one thing but there are compelling reasons to resist the temptation for longer-term "baby parking."

"Car seats are only for travel," said Marilyn J. Bull, M.D., an expert in proper use of child car seats who is the Morris Green Professor of Pediatrics at the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, IN. "They're not to be used for positioning outside the car, even if they're marketed that way."

For developmental reasons babies need more mobility than confined places like infant seats and umbrella strollers can offer. At least in a regular stroller, your baby can lie on her back and stretch more easily. A fully reclining stroller, in its flat position—like a bed-- allows your baby to rest her head more comfortably and move
her head, arms and legs more readily.

"You have the soccer mom syndrome, where a mom is driving around all day with car pools, soccer practice and other activities, and the baby is in the car for eight hours a day," said Dr. Bull.

She explained that "babies who are not allowed to move their heads freely are more likely to develop flat-head syndrome. Babies need more tummy time when they're awake and alert. Babies need to develop their upper trunk control, push up with their head and need to develop their upper torso and arms."

The basic idea is that your baby shouldn't be stuck in one place for too long. He should be able to move around, to stretch and strengthen his developing muscles.

You need to change their position as their spine is growing rapidly for the first two years," said Shevaun M. Doyle, M.D., a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

See our Car Seat Ratings (available to subscribers only).

Aaron Bailey

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