Deaths of infants left sleeping in car seats spark concerns

Published: Feb. 27, 2014 at 4:43 AM HST
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Corinna Sato
Corinna Sato
Lisa Kimura with Dylan
Lisa Kimura with Dylan

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The story of a 1-year-old who died while sleeping in a car seat in Utah several years ago has resurfaced on Facebook and is once again raising awareness about the dangers of leaving infants in car seats for long periods of time. It's gotten the attention of a lot of parents. After all, when you think of a car seat, you think of it as a safe place for your baby to be. Experts say it is, if it's used correctly.

First time mom Corinna Sato can't take her eyes off her 7-month-old baby girl Emma.  She checks on her when she's sleeping in her crib and when she goes on long drives, she looks in the mirror to make sure everything is alright.  She's also done what so many other parents have.

"When we come home from a car ride and she's still sleeping in her car seat, we're like okay, maybe we'll just leave her to take a nap in her car seat because she's sleeping so peacefully," said Sato.

It sure seems innocent, but it can be deadly.

Babies left sleeping in car seats have died in Utah, Nebraska and here in Hawaii just last year.

"Yes, there was a case on Oahu where a child died in a car seat. It got overheated in the seat while it was placed in the house during nap time," said Executive Director of Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawaii Lisa Kimura.

Just last week, a woman driving along a Florida highway pulled over to perform CPR after noticing her infant nephew had turned blue while asleep in his car seat.

The Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawaii reports there are about 20 to 25 cases of sleep-related deaths in Hawaii every year.  It's not clear how many died in a car seat or from positional asphyxiation which is when a baby can't get enough air due to the positioning of his or her body.  What we do know is that infants, younger than 4-months-old and unable hold up their head are at highest risk.

"They can overheat in the seat, they can be positioned so that they're not getting proper amount of air and the straps themselves can become a problem because they can slide down and asphyxiate," said Kimura.

Pediatricians recommend parents should never leave an infant unattended in a car seat for a long period or in a car seat that is not installed in the car because it increases their risk of asphyxiation. When the car seat is placed on the floor, it changes the angle your baby rests, than when it's clicked into the car seat and that can compromise their airway.

"The car seat can also rock or sway or overturn," said Kimura.

Another important tip is to always make sure your baby is fitted properly in a car seat that is installed correctly.

"The front buckle should be at the mid-chest nipple line. Not too high because that can choke the baby, but also definitely not too low in the case of an accident, this would go right into baby's stomach causing internal injury," said Kimura.

"Hospitals in Hawaii see these accidents all the time. No matter how wonderful of a parent you are, you always have to be vigilant about your child's safety because it only takes a second for an accident to happen," said Kimura.

"That's very scary to think about," said Sato. "As a first time mom, I want to take every precaution I possibly can to keep my baby safe."

Pediatricians say, it's important to point out that most experts agree that normal infants who are in properly fitted and installed car seats will be safe and that there is a greater risk of dying in a car accident than of dying from airway compromise in a car seat. For concerned parents, however, it is always good to be aware of the potential dangers.

Want more information? Call the Keiki Injury Prevention Coalition at 808-294-0402.

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