A common source of fall injuries to infants involves car seats being improperly used outside of the car. Approximately 9,000 infants wind up in the ER each year after suffering a fall in their car seat. Parents use the seat to tote the infant around, and sometimes place it in precarious places. Most injuries occur when the seat is placed on a table, countertop, or other high surface, and then falls off (or is bumped off). Sometimes an older sibling may want to say hello and reach up to tip the car seat so they can see the baby, and wind up tipping it over.
Another problem arises when the car seat is set on a soft surface, such as a bed or a couch. Sometimes the seat can tip over onto the side or roll upside down, and the infant suffocates when their face is pressed against a cushion or blanket. Other injuries may occur because a child isn’t properly buckled, and falls out of the seat while it is being lifted or carried.
Infant injuries from falls in car seats
The injuries caused from these accidents can range from minor to deadly. Most injuries occurred to the head, although fractured arms and legs are also seen after falls in car seats. About 8% of the babies in one study suffered injuries serious enough that they required admission to the hospital. Most seriously of all, a handful of infants have died in recent years after taking tumbles in a car seat.
Parent safety tips for using infant car seats as baby carriers:
- Always place the seat on a hard, flat floor where there is no danger of a fall or the seat toppling over.
- Watch out for pets, which can sometimes knock a seat over. It’s best to set it down right where you are sitting in a house with pets and keep the infant in front of you or between your legs. Never leave a sleeping infant unattended in an area where pets could knock the seat over.
- Try to limit the amount of time your baby spends in his or her car seat. Aside from accidents, too much time in a car seat can cause other problems. Pediatricians report seeing more babies with what they call “container syndrome,” involving weak muscles and flat heads as a result of too much time lying on their backs. A study in the August 2009 Pediatrics also found that car seats may make it difficult for a baby to get enough oxygen, and should be used sparingly outside the car.
- Try to avoid placing your infant’s car seat in the smaller, higher part of a grocery shopping cart. It makes the cart unbalanced and more likely to topple over if you hit a bump or someone else bumps into it. Place them instead in the larger flat part. This may limit the room you have for groceries, but many infants have been injured in falls from shopping carts.
It’s important to remember that car seats have saved nearly 9,000 lives in the past 3 decades, and it’s certainly OK to transport a sleeping or content baby in one. Just maintain awareness about where you set it down.