Don’t use the car seat as a crib

Here’s a sleep question from Kathryn: “Just wondering about the safety of infants sleeping in the car seat (in the crib). My 8 week old sleeps beautifully in the car seat but only naps for 45 minutes at a time in the crib. This is my 3rd child and this is new to me – my others were great sleepers once I “figured them out”. It appears that this one just does better sleeping like that -what are your thoughts? Thank you!”

In the short run, car seat sleeping might save you some trouble, but in the long run it can lead to more serious problems. Best to stop this habit now, before it’s really ingrained.

Babies will quickly develop sleep associations, for better or worse. These are the things in the baby’s environment—what he sees and hears and feels—that are present when he falls asleep. Whatever the sleep associations are, those are what need to stay in place all night for a baby to get solid sleep. If you let a baby habitually fall asleep in your arms, for instance, that baby will almost certainly get up later and wonder where you went. And by “wonder,” I mean scream and yell until you come back.

So falling asleep in a car seat will soon become a sleep association, and Junior will expect to spend the rest of the night there. This creates some problems:

  • Babies in car seats can’t move as much, and end up with flat heads.
  • Babies grow, and once Junior is big enough to kick and fuss, he might be able to tip himself over. You can fight this with wedges and blocks, but it’s a losing battle: eventually, safety concerns mean that the car seat has got to go as a bedtime association.

Even if your child sleeps well now in a car seat, you can’t do it forever, and probably can’t even do it past 3 or 4 months. By then, the sleep association will be firmly fixed, and moving to a regular crib is going to be very difficult indeed. You think your 8 week old can scream now? Just you wait –n- see.

Now, there will of course be times when your daughter will fall asleep in the car seat, while running errands or whatever. Feel free to let her sleep there, occasionally, when that’s the way it works out. But I wouldn’t make it a routine to always put her to sleep in her car seat.

Start good, healthy, adaptive sleep associations now. You baby should be held, and sung to, and snuggled up; run a white noise machine that can stay on all night. Then put your baby down with a kiss, and leave. Let him learn that alone in bed + snuggy wrap + white noise = sleeptime. That’s a habit you’ll be able to rely on for years to come.

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