What is Postural Asphyxia and How to Avoid It?

Did you know that young babies can suffocate if they remain semi-sitting with incorrect neck posture? Find out how to prevent postural asphyxia.
What is Postural Asphyxia and How to Avoid It?

Last update: 02 October, 2021

Have you heard of postural asphyxia in babies? If the answer is no, it’s important that you find out what it’s about.

During the first months of life, your baby requires your attention permanently, even in moments of rest, outings, and transport. In addition to support and comfort, ensuring a safe environment is essential to preventing serious injury.

Postural asphyxia can be caused in car seats, rocking chairs, or in any device for babies where the position of the spine is in a “C” shape for a long time. For this reason, it’s essential that you learn to use these devices properly.

What is postural asphyxia?

Newborns are born with a rather flabby muscle tone, which prevents them from keeping their trunk firm in order to stay seated or to change position. For this reason, they require the assistance of their caregivers to achieve most of their movements.

Postural asphyxia is caused by the collapse of the airways, as a consequence of inadequate and sustained neck flexion.

When the child is lying on a slightly elevated surface, their spine adopts a C-shaped posture. This favors the forward tilt of the trunk and head, which puts pressure on the respiratory structures and prevents the child from breathing.

As the baby doesn’t have enough ability to sit up, after some time, the oxygen in their blood decreases and they can lose their life.

For this reason, it’s important not to leave your child in a car seat, chair, or similar device for periods longer than 1 hour and a half. In addition, you need to monitor them at all times and assist them whenever necessary.

The younger the age, the greater the risk of suffocation. As they grow, children develop strength and muscle tone. After 3 months, babies are usually able to control their head position and movement and, by 6 months, many are able to sit up unsupported.

What can you do to avoid postural asphyxia?

A newborn girl in a carseat.

The first thing to consider in order to avoid postural asphyxia is to give children’s devices the use for which they were designed. Having said this, using a car seat as a place for your baby to rest is very common, but extremely risky.

Below, we’ll share some safety measures that you must implement in order to take care of your baby while using these devices:

  • Secure your baby correctly to the chair: Make sure that the harness is the right size for your little one. Your child’s shoulders must be in contact with the seat to prevent them from leaning forward.
  • Don’t leave them in their car seat for more than 90 minutes: The function of this device is only to transport little ones. Therefore, you should never use it inside your home for other purposes.
  • If you must leave your child for a few minutes to do something, it’s better to place them on a flat and safe surface, always at ground level. This encourages safe rest and encourages free movement while awake.
  • Supervise the child permanently: The fact that the baby is comfortable and supported isn’t enough to ensure their well-being. The child must always travel within the sight of the adult, whether they’re asleep or awake.
  • If you’re going to travel far, make frequent stops: At least once per hour, it’s important to stop and remove the baby from their chair. You can take advantage of these breaks to breastfeed or change their diaper.
  • Don’t use the car seat or bouncy seat to put your baby to sleep at night, as you won’t be able to supervise them constantly.

Other considerations to take into account

On the market, there are hundreds of alternatives for placing or transporting little ones. However, when opting for any of them, you should check their characteristics:

  • Check the type and size of the car seat: Make sure the seat is suitable for the age and weight of the child.
  • Install the chair correctly in the seat of your car, depending on the fixing element (isofix, latch, or belt). This is one of the determinant factors of the safety of the device and prevents the child from moving abruptly inside the car.
  • Use approved reducers or adapters to keep the baby’s head aligned: Some seats have these accessories. If not, look for specially conditioned pillows.
  • Always use the car seat facing backward: Make sure that the seat allows you to place it in this position.
A newborn in a car seat.

You can prevent postural asphyxia!

While postural asphyxia is an unfortunate outcome, its completely preventable. Therefore, you must try to take the necessary precautions when leaving your child in a device for babies.

Remember that car seats or chairs should only be used as an element of safe transportation.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.