Sleeping in the Car Seat

Whether your baby is awake or asleep, the car seat is the SAFEST place for baby in a moving car or a moving plane. When anywhere else – at home, in a restaurant, at Target – there are safer places to be than the car seat. We’ll walk you through what to do with your baby in the car seat in each of these scenarios. 

In the Car

Whether your baby is awake or asleep, the car seat is the ONLY safe place for a baby in a moving car. 

Making sure your car seat is properly installed and your baby’s straps are properly buckled are critically important in ensuring that your baby is breathing safely – and protected if there is a crash. Most parents think they’ve made the straps snug – and many worry they’ve made the straps too tight… yet most baby’s straps are way too loose! Watch this video and make sure you know how to tell what too tight vs. just right vs. too loose really is.

  • If your baby can not sit upright unsupported, make sure their car seat is installed at the absolute most reclined setting allowed by the manufacturer
  • Make sure the harness straps are coming from at or just a little bit below baby’s shoulders
  • Make sure the crotch buckle is in the position closest to baby’s body – the farther it gets, the more likely baby will slouch, which may cause the chin to drop to the chest

How long can my baby stay in the car seat before I need to stop and take them out?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies spend no more than 90 minutes in their car seat at any given time. If you’re planning a long drive, think ahead to where you’ll be able to stop safely every 90 minutes or so. You’ll likely need to feed and change the baby as well – and probably re-caffeinate the driver too! If you’re in an area where there are no rest stops for miles, do NOT use the shoulder as a place to stop unless it is an emergency – keep driving until you get to a rest stop before you take the baby out. Never take your baby out of the car seat in a moving car.

Does an adult need to be in back with baby?

You do not need an adult in back monitoring the baby. So long as baby is buckled properly in a properly installed car seat, baby will be in a safe position for breathing and well protected in a crash. If an adult wishes to sit in back it can be a nice time to bond with baby. Just make sure the adult buckles up – otherwise they put baby and everyone else in the car at increased risk of injury. 

What about a mirror to see the baby? 

We do NOT recommend using a mirror to see the baby in the back seat. Mirrors are a significant driver distraction. Looking at the baby takes the driver’s eyes and mind off the road. Studies show that in highway driving, taking your eyes off the road for 2 seconds in a 6 second period doubles your risk of getting in a crash. The baby – and everyone else in the car – will be safer if the driver ignores the baby while driving. 

On a Plane

Whether your baby is awake or asleep, the car seat is the ONLY safe place for a baby in a moving plane… even on a long international flight. Whenever the pilot has the seat belt sign on – take-off, landing, turbulence – your baby should be buckled in their car seat, as it’s the only thing able to keep them safe if something goes wrong. Obviously, you’ll need to take your baby out to change their diaper – and maybe to walk them around if they’re fussy – but try to do this at times when the seat belt sign is off.

What about the bassinets offered on the long haul flights?

Bassinets do not offer any protection during turbulence or worse. As such, we recommend that the baby use a car seat – to include sleeping in it during a long flight – as it will protect them in turbulence or worse.

What about holding or wearing my baby while they sleep?

When your baby drifts off to sleep, you’ll want to drift off too. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents avoid sleeping with infants, particularly in chairs and couches due to the increased risk for SIDS and suffocation. The dangers of co-sleeping exist on planes too. Holding your sleeping baby while you doze puts the baby at risk for falling out of your arms and onto the floor.

In the House

The moment you bring your sleeping baby into the house, you should immediately transfer baby from the car seat and into a safe sleep environment – a crib, bassinet, or play yard (like a Pack n’ Play). 

If you feel like you can’t transfer baby immediately, then do the following to minimize the risks: 

Keep the Straps Fully Buckled AND Snug

You’ll be tempted to loosen them or maybe unbuckle the crotch buckle… resist the urge! Straps that are fully buckled AND fully snug are the best prevention against strangulation and asphyxiation. 

Put the Car Seat on the Floor or on an Approved Stroller

Do not prop the car seat against anything (like a couch). Keep the car seat as reclined as it wants to go – usually, keeping the handle up is best. Keeping the handle all the way down prevents the seat from rocking but also tends to sit it a little more upright. Never put the car seat on any soft surface – a crib, bed, sofa – as the baby’s own movements can flip it over and babies have suffocated this way. Never put the car seat on a table, counter, or chair – babies own movements can flip the seat over, landing them head first on the floor.

Keep Baby Where You Can See Them

Bad things can happen quickly – it only takes a minute or two. Make sure baby is somewhere you can see them at all times. Don’t lock baby in their room and close the door.

Remove Blankets & Jackets

Make sure baby is not overheating – as this increases the risk of SIDS. If you had covered baby with blankets or put a light jacket on, make sure to remove these now that you are inside where it is warm.

At a Restaurant

Restaurants are typically not a great place to bring a car seat as there’s usually no safe place for it. It is best to leave the car seat in the car and carry baby in – or even better, wear baby in a carrier. If the restaurant can accommodate a stroller, consider bringing baby in using the bassinet (if your stroller has one) or the regular stroller seat, instead of clicking the car seat onto the stroller.

What about putting the car seat on a restaurant high chair?

Whether the restaurant high chair is right way up or flipped upside down it is NOT a safe place for a car seat. In fact, studies show a significant number of babies every year visit the emergency room with head injuries due to falling from their car seat that was placed on a restaurant high chair. The only way a baby should use a restaurant high chair is as it was designed – with baby sitting in the seat and buckled properly (baby will need to sit upright unsupported to do this).  

What about putting the car seat on the table?

Baby’s own motion – or someone walking by and not paying attention – can knock the car seat off the table, sending baby head first to the floor. Just like feet don’t belong on tables… so too babies don’t belong on tables. 

What about putting the car seat on a chair? 

Like tables, chairs are not a safe place for a car seat as it can fall or get knocked off. The one exception is a booth – where if you turn the car seat sideways and keep the handle up the car seat can’t fall to the floor – and so long as baby is buckled snug, baby can’t slide to the floor either. 

Running Errands

If you get to the store and baby is awake, that’s a great time to take baby out of the car seat. We are huge fans of babywearing – it gives baby a good view and a snuggle while you have your hands free to shop. If you can’t wear the baby, consider putting baby in the stroller to get them out of the car seat for a little bit.

If baby stays in the car seat while you’re in the store, do the following to minimize the risks: 

Keep the Straps Fully Buckled AND Snug

You’ll be tempted to loosen them or maybe unbuckle the crotch buckle… resist the urge! Straps that are fully buckled AND fully snug are the best prevention against strangulation and asphyxiation. 

Put the Car Seat on an Approved Stroller or in the Large Basket of the Shopping Cart

The top of a shopping cart is NOT a safe place for a car seat. The large part of the shopping cart’s basket is a safe place for the car seat as the car seat and baby can not fall out of the cart from here. 

Remove Blankets & Jackets

Make sure baby is not overheating while you are in the store – as this increases the risk of SIDS. If you had covered baby with blankets, make sure to remove these now that you are inside where it is warm.