The Hazards of Car Seats

10.21.09 Improper use of infant seats can be dangerous, study finds

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Infant car seats have saved countless lives. But more than 8,700 infants are taken to emergency rooms each year because of improper use, USA Today reports.

A new study from researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found that more than 43,000 infants in the U.S. required ER care between 2003 and 2007 after falling in car seats that were placed on tables, counters and other elevated surfaces. Accidents were also reported after seats rolled over on soft surfaces, such as beds and sofas, the study revealed.

According to the research, presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics' annual meeting this week, the most common injuries during this five-year period were to the head, then fractures and dislocations. (Click here for the AAP's car seat guide.)

Accidents happen when babies rock and fidget while inside an unattended seat, causing the device to tip over or fall. Sixty-two percent of the 2003-2007 accidents involved infants younger than 4 months old. About half of the cases occurred at home; and 8 percent of the infants were hospitalized.

Crib Notes recently reported on two developments in car seat safety. The first was a study that discovered sitting in a car seat when not in a vehicle could compress a baby's chest and also lower the oxygen level for babies to breathe when the gear is used as a crib. The second report focused on an inquiry into car seat testing problem that called into question the rigors of infant seat standards.

However, experts all agree that the new warnings by no means diminish the message that car seats are crucial in protecting children from injury during an accident on the road, just like seat belts protect adults.

If you're expecting and starting to think about registering for gifts, remember that a car seat is one of The Big Four that you will need for your little one. Plus, the hospital won't let you drive home without first securing your new baby in a car seat. Buying a car seat can be easy and fun, but installing one can be a challenge. Check out our tips on how to do it correctly. Also some of our expert tips on which seat to choose and when.

Maria Vega is Fit Pregnancy magazine's copy editor.