Positional Asphyxia: What You Need to Know

When parents being their brand new baby home they’ve usually done their research and made a plan to keep baby safe. Parents know that babies should sleep on their backs, that their cribs should be free of bumpers and toys, and that sleeping in a rock-n-play is a big no-no but one danger they’re often not aware of that can cause serious injury or even death is positional asphyxia.

What is positional asphyxia?

Positional asphyxia, also known as postural asphyxia, is when someone is unable to breathe due to the position that they’re in.

For babies, this typically means that their neck is either pushed downward and forward, with their chin to their chest, or craned backwards with the back of their skull resting on their shoulders or upper back. When a baby is left in this position their airway will be closed off and they will be unable to breathe.

This can also mean that their face is positioned in a way that their nose and mouth are covered, or unable to take in sufficient oxygen. 

Image via Unsplash/ Kevin Keith

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What causes positional asphyxia?

Positional asphyxia happens when a baby’s airway is pinched closed due to the position they’re in. While most parents don’t hold their babies in a manner that would cause positional asphyxia, sometimes the equipment they place their babies in can allow them to slip into unsafe positions in which positional asphyxia is possible.

While positional asphyxia is uncommon, when it does happen it often occurs when a baby has been left to sleep in their car seat after being removed from the car. While in the car the seat is secured at the proper angle to avoid positional asphyxia. When the car seat is removed from the car though, and set on the floor, a couch, or a table, the angle shifts and the seat is no longer safe for sleeping.

How can you prevent positional asphyxia?

Positional asphyxia is scary but it’s also completely preventable. As a parent, you can protect your child from positional asphyxia by ensuring that they are never left in a position that closes off their airway.

When they are in products designed to hold them in a sitting or tilted upright position, like car seats or chairs, be sure to use the straps and buckles as designed by the manufacturer to ensure safety. Most notably, you can ensure this happens by never leaving them to sleep in anything other than their crib and talking with your childcare providers to ensure they also never leave baby to sleep in anything but their crib.

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While it can be tempting to let your little on keep on sleeping in the car seat after you carry it inside, or not to check on your baby snuggled soundly in the sling, the risk of positional asphyxia just isn't worth it.

What do you think?

Positional Asphyxia: What You Need to Know

Julia Pelly has a master's degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. Julia lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young boys. You can find more of her work at JuliaPelly.com ... More

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2 comments

  1. Anasua says:

    Baby’s car seat is better in the car because will want to move, but due to belt baby will sit. It is very safe for parents as well as baby, some moment parents get careless that or else daddy is driving. mamma get to sleep, baby can fall down from mammas lap. for that car seat is safe. In the house no need of car seat because the house has no wheel to move, a car will move, so the car seat is better in the car

  2. Anasua says:

    Baby’s car seat is better in the car because will want to move, but due to belt baby will sit. It is very safe for parents as well as baby, some moment parents get careless that or else daddy is driving. mamma get to sleep, baby can fall down from mammas lap. for that car seat is safe.

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