What is positional asphyxia and how can you avoid it?

Positional asphyxia is capable of lowering the oxygen saturation in the blood in a matter of minutes and can lead to death if it is not remedied.

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Road Safety

People spend a very short time inside the womb suspended in a state of “weightlessness” thanks to amniotic fluid, before facing the Earth’s gravitational pull for the rest of our lives.

When a newborn begins to experience the force of gravity, it’s body is still not sufficiently developed to safely undertake such basic functions as falling asleep in a position other than horizontal.

This must be taken into account when placing the child in a car seat. It is very important to do this properly, with the correct posture and properly attached harnesses, to prevent the body from bending in on itself and making it difficult for your child to breathe. This is  known as positional asphyxia. With all the child’s weight thrown forward, the rib cage cannot expand to take in air, the diaphragm cannot work, and if it also throws the head forward, the windpipe will close, resulting in suffocation in a matter of minutes.

Pediatrics magazine published a study in 2001 that analyzed 100 babies, 50 of whom were premature at 36 weeks, and they were monitored for 60 minutes in child car seats. The blood oxygen saturation after that time dropped on average from 97% to 94% (normal values are between 96% and 100%), falling to 90% in seven cases. In addition, 12% of premature babies suffered apnea or bradycardia.

All this has stemmed from a family that is appearing a lot in the media and whose story has spread like wildfire on the internet. This is the Dodd family, who lost the second of their children, Shepard, at under three months old, due to positional asphyxia.

They left their son at the nursery and one of the caregivers put Shepard for a nap into the child car seat his parents had brought him in. The correct thing would have been to put him to sleep in a crib, or any other suitable horizontal surface. Unfortunately, this was not the case.

For this reason, the recommendations are clear:

  • Even if it they seem to be very comfortable in their seat, you must limit its use to the car and for only short periods of time.
  • Do not use the seats to let children sleep.
  • When you put them in the seat, the harnesses must ensure their shoulders are kept close to the backrest to stop them leaning forward.
  • If you are going on a long trip, you must stop regularly so that the child can recover their position and oxygenate adequately.