Why It's Risky to Leave Infants in a Car Seat for More Than 30 Minutes

Buckle up!
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At some point, new parents are going to need to head off to a destination with their baby. Whether you're traveling home for the first time or heading to the pediatrician, the grocery store, or Grandma's house for the holidays, there's a pretttty good chance LO will go along for the ride. But you might consider putting off long car trips for at least a month. A new study urges parents to keep car rides with infants as short as possible -- under 30 minutes if you can -- out of fears that babies 4 weeks and under could suffocate if left inside their car seats too long. So scary!

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This warning comes after experts from Bristol University, the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and the University of Southampton in the UK discovered during an exploratory study that some infants could have trouble breathing if left inside a car seat for longer than a half hour.

More from CafeMom: New SIDS Discovery Could Mean We'll Be Able to Screen Babies -- & Prevent Deaths

The BBC reports researchers conducted a clinical car seat challenge where 40 babies -- 21 preemies and 19 babies born full-term -- all under 2 months were placed inside rear-facing car seats. Simulating a 30 mph drive on a straight road, babies remained in their car seats so scientists could monitor the infants' blood oxygen levels and heart rates. Experts discovered that many of the babies' blood oxygen levels dropped to 85 percent, which is 10 percent lower than where it should be (95 percent). The Mirror also notes doctors had to stop the study at times out of concern for a couple of the participating infants' well-being.

These unmistakable signs of distress, coupled with the knowledge that young babies typically don't have neck muscles that are strong enough to hold up their heads for a long period of time or keep them from flopping forward while cars are in motion, led experts involved with the study to conclude that the less time an infant remains inside a car seat, the better.

Dr. Peter Fleming, a pediatrician who helped oversee the study, tells the BBC, "If you can avoid a journey, it's probably best to do so -- restricted to, say, no more than half-an-hour or so. But try to avoid unnecessary car journeys with younger babies."

Although experts are quick to mention these findings are a part of a pilot study, and that a larger investigation is still needed, Consumer Affairs reports researchers hope car seat manufacturers will reconsider their recommendations as to how long a baby can remain inside a car seat -- specifically, infants 4 weeks and younger. (Researchers claim some car seat makers say a baby can stay inside of a car seat for up to two hours.)

More from CafeMom: 10 Common Car Seat Mistakes Parents Make & How to Fix Them

"This very useful research provides further evidence for keeping car travel to a minimum in the first few months of a baby's life. Some babies may be susceptible to breathing problems if they stay in a baby seat for longer than 30 minutes," Kevin Clinton, head of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents' (RoSPA) road safety, tells the Mirror.

Studies like this can be extremely frightening for new parents, especially those who feel they might need to start clocking the amount of time they keep LO in the car seat. While researchers certainly don't want to scare parents into keeping their baby inside the house entirely -- or, worse! not placing an infant inside a properly secured car seat -- they do hope their findings can be used in a way to empower new moms and dads to make the necessary adjustments to their routine that will help keep their child safer. 

Here's what parents CAN do:

Break up long car rides. In addition to avoiding long expeditions in the car, the Lullaby Trust, a UK organization dedicated to raising awareness about SIDS, recommends parents split up their road trip into manageable (and shorter) chunks, and allow baby to rest on a "firm flat sleeping place" once you reach your destination.

More from CafeMom: 9 Lifesaving Car Seat Rules You're Probably Ignoring

Sit next to baby. Consumer Affairs reports experts involved with the study suggest an adult sit next to baby in the backseat to monitor breathing and look for any signs of complications.

Get an expert opinion. Kevin Clinton suggests new moms and dads look to their medical center for advice before leaving with LO. "Parents should ask the hospital to assess whether it is safe for their baby to travel in a baby seat before they are discharged," Clinton tells the Mirror.

And as always, choose an appropriate rear-facing car seat for your infant that will help keep baby safe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers an assortment of resources for new parents -- including car seat recommendations based on your child's age and where to get them inspected by a certified technician.

More from CafeMom: 10 Ways Car Seats Can Be Dangerous for Your Kids

I used to think I was a total worry-rat and a bit of a nutbag for wanting to sit in the backseat with my 2- and 1-year-old boys when they were babies. Call me crazy all you want, but my mind always went into the land of "What if" that made me feel like I needed to be as close as possible -- just in case something happened. Seeing as experts recommend parents actually do this, I guess it shows other moms I know who did this and I weren't crazy after all!

No matter how concerning this study might make us feel, it's good for parents to stay in the know and heed any warnings so we can help keep our children from harm's way.

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