Dr Andy Raffles
Car Seats and Information For Families
One of the most important jobs you have as a parent or grandparent is keeping your child safe when your child is a passenger in a vehicle.
Each year, thousands of young children are put at risk through poorly fitted or unsuitable car seats. Proper use of car safety seats helps keep children safe. But, because so many different seats are on the market, many parents understandably find this overwhelming.
If you are a new parent, or about to become new parents (or even grandparent for that matter!) you need to ensure you have the correct car seat even before your baby is born, to ensure a safe trip home from the hospital.
The type of seat your child needs depends on several things, including your child’s age, size, and developmental needs.
Car seats are designed to keep babies safe while travelling and not as a main sleeping place. Car seats should only be used for transport and not as an alternative for cots or highchairs. It’s fine for your baby to fall asleep in a car seat when travelling, but they should be taken out as soon as you get home or to your destination, and placed onto a firm, flat surface to sleep.
The best place for your baby to sleep is in their own separate sleeping space such as a cot or Moses basket, in the same room as a parent or carer for the first six months.
How long can a baby travel in a car seat for?
There is no published evidence that sets out how long babies should be kept in a car seat when travelling. However, infant healthcare professionals, safety experts and most car manufacturers recommend that babies should not be in a car seat for longer than 2 hours at a time and they should be taken out frequently.
If your trip involves driving for long periods of time, you should stop for regular breaks. Not only will this allow you to refresh and stretch your own legs but you can check on your baby, take them out of the car seat and let them stretch and move around. Ideally, a second adult should travel in the back of the car with your baby, or if travelling alone use a mirror to keep an eye on your baby. If your baby changes its position and slumps forward, then you should immediately stop and take them out of the car seat and reposition them before continuing on your journey.
Are babies at a greater risk of SIDS in a car seat?
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a worry for all parents. Avoid travelling in cars with pre-term and young babies for long distances. Research published in 2016 by the University of Bristol looked at the health impact on babies travelling in cars in infant car seats and found pre-term and young babies may be at risk of breathing difficulties if travelling in an upright position in car seats for a long period of time.
It’s fine for your baby to fall asleep in a car seat for a short amount of time when travelling, but they should be taken out of the car seat as soon as you get home or to your destination, and placed onto a firm, flat surface to sleep such as a cot or Moses basket.
Babies that get too hot are at a greater risk of SIDS. It is advised that you remove any hats or outdoor clothing such as snowsuits and coats once your baby is in the car. The best way to check your baby isn’t getting too hot is to feel their tummy or back of their neck, if their skin feels clammy or sweaty, they are too hot, so remove a layer of clothing, as young babies cannot easily regulate their temperature.
Car Seat Safety
Make sure you have a car seat that is suitable for your baby’s weight and is correctly fitted according to the manufacturer’s instructions (many shops will help with this).
Car seats must conform to safety standards - United Nations standard, ECE Regulation 44.04 (or R 44.03) or to the new i-size regulation, R129. Look for the ‘E’ mark label on the seat.
Do not buy or use a second-hand child seat as you cannot be certain of its history. It may have been involved in an accident and the damage may not be visible.
What size car seat?
Car seats are divided into three main groups, depending on your baby or child's age and weight:
Group 0+ – rear-facing car seats suitable for babies aged up to about 15 months or who weigh up to 13 kg (29lb); some can be clipped onto a pushchair frame and are known as travel systems
Group 1 – forward-facing seats suitable for children who weigh 9-18kg (20-40lb) or who are aged from about 9 months to 4 years
Group 2/3 – high-backed booster seats suitable for children who weigh 15-36kg (33lb-5st 9lb) or are aged from about 4 to 11 years
You can also buy combination seats that cross over these groups, such as group 0+/1 seats, which are suitable from birth until your child weighs about 18kg (40lb) or is aged about 4. These can be more economical but may not offer the same level of protection.