Eleven years ago when I was a new mother I took my cue about baby car-seats from the name. These were devices to make it safer for your infant to travel in a car. (I'm told that when I was a baby I travelled across the Napier-Taupo Road passively smoking Rothmans while in a carry cot that had been placed on the backseat of a V-Dub. We had it tough back then. Youngsters today don't know how lucky they are.)
Anyway, as a grownup I may have taken car-seats at face value but it seems many parents also viewed them as a handy container in which to carry their infant around. Sometimes they were even used as portable sleeping quarters. I've seen young babies (clearly with parents who have no fear of hot drink spillages or other gravity-related issues) in these so called "capsules" placed underneath tables in cafes. I've seen mothers out shopping holding these newborn car-seats with the handle hooked through their arm as if it was a fashion accessory.
It struck me as counterintuitive to keep a baby for extended periods hunched up in a device designed specifically for use in a vehicle while travelling. Somehow it seemed to diminish the child's worth as well. Was this baby a person or was this baby simply some object that needed to be carted around as surreptitiously as possible? Its subtext may have been a little dehumanising but it was a common sight in the suburbs. Maybe these are the same people who think carrying a pet around in a designer dog carrier is a fun idea.
But now there's hard evidence that supports the position of those whose gut instinct told them all along that baby car-seats were being misused. Never let babies sleep in seats out of car - research reports on "a new study showing a link to decreased oxygen levels" which in turn "is associated with behavioural problems and adverse effects on development and school performance". The study highlighted "the importance of not using car seats as a place of sleep for infants" and the researchers noted that "car safety seats are essential for infants' safe transport in cars but they express concern at the reported high rates of infants spending more than 30 minutes a day in a car seat".
The warnings about this practice have been growing over recent years. In 2011 Baby Centre said: "Don't use the seat as a place for your baby to sleep at other times. Being in a semi-upright position for long periods may place a strain on your baby's developing spine." The Mayo Clinic agreed: "A car seat is designed to protect your child during travel. It's not for use as a replacement crib in your home."
The author of Letting Your Baby Sleep in a Car Seat Is More Dangerous Than You Think, who clearly didn't plan outings that coincided with her baby's "awake time", reckons that "pretty much every single one of us is guilty of leaving our babies to sleep in their car seats as opposed to waking them up when we take them out of our vehicles".
Comments on this piece included:
"[O]nce we got out of the car, so did the baby ... None of that ridiculous moving baby from car to stroller to shopping cart to house without ever having to actually touch the baby."
"[M]y kids slept best in the car seat carrier ... so that's where mine slept for several months."
"I just find it much easier to carry around a 7-20lb baby without adding the weight of lugging a huge carseat around too."
"Anyone can tell a child can't breathe right with his chin touching his chest. I always remove the kids once the car ride is over."
Regardless of personal viewpoint and the modern day urge for convenience, the message from experts is loud and clear: the use of infant car-seats should be reserved for when taking a car trip. The only surprising aspect of this particular finding is that research was required in order to establish it.
What's your policy with baby car-seats? Are they used strictly for car trips or does your infant car-seat double as a crib?