Baby Dies After a Daycare Worker Put Him In His Infant Car Seat
A licensed daycare worker decided 11-week-old Shepard Dodd would breathe easier sleeping upright in his infant car seat. He had a cold and stuffy nose, and the worker was concerned that he be more comfortable for his nap. When the daycare worker checked Shepard later, he was dead.
This was not a case of Sudden Infant Death syndrome. Shepard died of asphyxiation. How could something so horrible happen so suddenly?
We don’t hear much about positional asphyxiation in babies. Infants don’t have the neck muscle to hold their heads up until they are older than Shepard. If they are not properly buckled into a car seat, their heads fall forward onto their chests, effectively cutting off air supply. Although car seats are a safety device, they are very unsafe when used as anything but what they were designed for.
Sadly, death while sleeping is the most common demise for infants 1-12 months of age. Parents often allow infants to sleep in carrying devices, bouncers, swings and other alternative devices, because the child appears to be comfortable. The improper use of these items may lead to tragedy.
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Researchers studied reports of 47 deaths concerning carrying or car seat devices. All of these but one were confirmed death by positional asphyxiation. Fifty-two percent of these involved car seats with strangulation from straps. The reports included both infants and toddlers.
How does this happen?
If a child is sleeping peacefully, parents are inclined to let her sleep. Infants less than four months old are at particular risk for death in a car seat. Sometimes the infant can slide down in the seat, causing strap strangulation. Other times, the child’s head may slump forward, causing the airway to be pinched off. A Florida woman narrowly averted this tragedy. She noted her infant nephew in his car seat had turned blue. She frantically pulled to the side of the freeway and began CPR.
Erich K. Batra, M.D., Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical center has this advice for parents:
1. Do not leave a child alone with straps unbuckled in a car seat. Use the device only as the manufacturer intended.
2. Do not set car seats on an unstable surface where the child can turn the seat over with movement.
3. Slings for newborns or infants are very dangerous due to the design, which can easily collapse an infant’s airway.
4. Do not leave children unsupervised when asleep or awake.
It is important to check the fitting of the car safety seat to the infant. The front buckle should rest across the chest at mid-nipple line, and should not be able to ride higher if the infant slides down in the seat. It should not be much lower, because the impact of a car collision could cause internal injuries.
Shepard’s parents are concerned that other parents might lose children to what is considered a safety device, a car seat. They are taking his story to media to let others know the dangers of letting children sleep unsupervised in car seats. They are lobbying the Oklahoma state legislature to call for serious sleep instructions for babies and to warn of positional asphyxiation.
Pediatricians say that there is greater danger of children dying in car collisions without proper restraints than there is risk of asphyxiation from improper seating. They warn that children should be supervised at all times, especially when using car safety devices.