Car seats keep children safe—except when those seats aren't in the car. Parents who park babies in car seats inside the home put their children at risk of falls and head injuries, according to new research from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. That's news to me; parents get lots of information on how using car seats properly protects children in motor vehicle crashes, but this is the first report I've seen on what happens when we yank the baby bucket out of the back seat and walk into the house. It's not a pretty picture.
According to the researchers, who examined injury reports to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 43,562 babies were treated in emergency departments for car seat accidents that occurred outside of motor vehicles from 2003 to 2007—which translates to about 8,700 babies a year. Most of the children were 8 months or younger, and most suffered a head or neck injury as a result of falling from the car seat. The results were published in the August issue of Pediatrics.
What's causing all these injuries? Parents underestimate tiny babies' ability to move, wiggle, or turn over while in a car seat. And parents also don't recognize that the car seat, and baby, could fall from an elevated surface like a chair or table. Here's what not to do with an infant's car seat when your child is in it:
- Don't put a car seat on a table, chair, or sofa while at home.
- Don't follow the advice of the "baby whisperer" types who recommend placing the car seat on top of a running washing machine to help put the kid to sleep.
- Shopping carts can be perilous, too; the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against putting the car seat on top of a shopping cart, despite those nifty slots on the bottom of the baby bucket that invite that.
- Avoid the temptation to put the car seat on the tailgate or roof of the car in parking lots.
- Put babies in a playpen or crib if you need to keep them safe from pets or siblings. Use a car seat only as a travel device.
I'm guilty of using the car seat as a substitute high chair, and also of placing it atop the dining room table. I was lucky; nobody fell. But I hate to think of children being injured by the very device that's designed to protect them, just because we parents haven't thought this through. Car seats are great safety devices for cars, it turns out, but not so safe anywhere else.