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Car Seat Safety: Watch Infants

Experts Note Life-Threatening Breathing Problems in 9 Infants Sleeping in Car Seats
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Dec. 7, 2006 -- Parents should keep an eye on infants in car seats to make sure the babies are breathing properly, researchers say after reports of some problems.

Nine healthy babies had "apparently life-threatening" breathing problems while sleeping in car seats, the researchers say.

All of the babies survived and had no other breathing problems over the next year.

The researchers stress that infant car seats are "vital" for protecting babies in automobiles. But they add that redesigning the seats might reduce the risk of the breathing problems seen in these infants.

Sleeping Babies

The nine cases all occurred in New Zealand between July 1999 and December 2000.

They were reported in BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) by Alistair Jan Gunn, MD, PhD, FRACP, and colleagues. Gunn is an associate professor in the physiology and pediatrics departments of New Zealand's University of Auckland.

All the babies were healthy. They were 5 weeks old, on average. One had been born prematurely.

Eight of the nine babies were sleeping in car seats placed on flat surfaces -- such as a floor in their home -- instead of in a car.

When placed on flat surfaces, the babies were in a "relatively upright position," the researchers say.

The infants' heads tipped forward, hampering breathing; they were too young to have good head control, Gunn's team explains.

Five of the babies' mothers were smokers. It's not clear if that had anything to do with the babies' breathing problems, say Gunn and colleagues.

Recent U.S. Study

In August 2006, Pediatrics reported an earlier study involving infant car safety seats.

The researchers in that study included T. Bernard Kinane, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital for Children and Harvard Medical School.

Kinane and colleagues studied 67 healthy full-term newborns who were up to 1 week old.

Half the babies sat in a car seat for about an hour. The other half lay in a car "bed" for the same amount of time. A car bed allows a baby to lie down while restrained.

Study's Results

Monitors showed a drop in the babies' blood oxygen levels for "substantial" periods of time during the experiment, report Kinane and colleagues.

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