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How Long Can a Baby Stay in a Car Seat?

How long can a baby stay in a car seat? Many seem to believe that you should not let your baby stay in their car seat for more than two hours at a time. But is there any truth to this?

UK law is clear on when a child must use a child seat or a booster seat, and on the rare occasions when they’re fine to travel without a car seat. But there’s nothing in the law about how long it’s safe for your baby to stay in a car seat.

It’s essential to take regular breaks while driving for your driver as well as to give the baby a chance to move out of their car seat. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents recommends taking at least a 15-minute break every two hours.

To answer this question in more detail, it’s important to know why child seats are so important.

The Life-Saving Importance of Child Car Seats

Seatbelts are designed to spread the impact from a collision across the strongest areas of your body, protecting your vital organs from shock in the process. Children’s bones aren’t as strong as adults’ bones, and their organs aren’t in precisely the same places. This is why they need child seats and booster seats until they reach a certain height. They essentially ensure that seatbelts work like they’re supposed to.

What are the Concerns About how Long to Keep a Baby in a Car Seat?

Babies are even more vulnerable than small children. Until they weigh more than 9kg, or until they reach 9 months, they must always travel in a rear-facing child carrier. This is to ensure that they’re able to travel while lying relatively flat, and that their heads and neck are fully protected in the event of an accident. But crucially, travelling at this angle helps to ensure that their heads don’t flop forward when they fall asleep.

This is where the concerns come from for how long a baby can stay in a car seat. It’s the idea that lying at an angle, coupled with the vibrations of travelling, can increase a baby’s heart and respiratory rates. This can lead to decreased oxygen circulation, which could result in suffocation. There are also fears that certain car seats may push babies’ heads forward when they sleep in their seats, which could obstruct the airway.

But How Big is the Risk to Babies?

The NHS has some guidance on this issue. They refer to a 2016 study by researchers from Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, The University of Southampton and the University of Bristol. This study involved using a simulator to reproduce the vibrations a baby experiences when travelling in a car seat.

The research showed that, while travelling in car seats can affect a baby’s heart and breathing, a larger study is required to investigate the significance of the results. What’s more, the researchers stressed that this does not mean that car seats are inherently dangerous. They explicitly recommended that parents and carers should continue to use car seats according to their instructions.

The project leader Dr Renu Arya said: “Parents should not stop using car safety seats to transport their infants. Infants must be protected in moving vehicles and UK law requires car seats to be used whenever infants travel in cars.”

But nonetheless, it’s still a good idea to ensure that your baby doesn’t spend too long in their car seat. If you’re facing a long journey, aim to take a break of at least 15 minutes at least once every two hours. Not only will this give your baby a chance to move out of their car seat, it will also help you, the driver, stay alert. This will of course reduce the risk of accidents, keeping both you and your baby safe on the road.

What Sort of Car Seat Do I Need?

Read our essential guide to child car seats here. It contains more information on the law concerning child car seats, on how to choose the right seat for your child, and on how to safely install a child seat in your car.

If you’re insured with Go Girl, we will pay towards the cost of a replacement child car seat in the event of an accident – even if it doesn’t appear to be damaged. For more information, please refer to your policy wording.