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Sleeping in Car Seat Can Be Dangerous for Infants

Report describes nine infants in New Zealand who experienced potentially life-threatening events

FRIDAY, Dec. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Young infants should not be allowed to fall asleep in car safety seats for extended periods since this can cause potentially life-threatening breathing problems, according to a report in the Dec. 9 issue of BMJ.

Alistair J. Gunn, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and colleagues describe the cases of nine infants (age range 3 days to 6 months) who had been restrained in an age-appropriate car safety seat and subsequently had apparently life-threatening events and turning blue. Only one of the infants had been born prematurely and in all but one case the infant had been left in the car seat indoors and allowed to fall asleep in a relatively upright position.

The researchers reconstructed the scene, using each infant's own car seat. They found that sleeping in the car seat caused the jaw to press on the chest, leading to pressure on the upper airway and subsequent breathing problems. The infants were followed-up with apnea monitors and parents were given advice on how to appropriately position the infant and told not to leave the infant in the car seat for excessive periods. There were no similar events over the next year, the report indicates.

"Half of the mothers in our study were smokers, and nicotine exposure could have reduced hypoxic arousal," the authors write. "Repeated episodes of mild hypoxia may lead to an 'habituation' effect, with failure to arouse to subsequent episodes."

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