I LOST my six-month-old daughter, Susannah, 13 months ago without warning.
Her day care provider put her in a car seat for a nap. She did not strap her in properly; she only latched the chest strap, and it was not tightened. She set the car seat on her bed, and then she left her alone for an unspecified amount of time.
In that time, Susannah scooted down in her car seat and caught her neck on the chest strap. She was strangled.
This was someone who had been trained in safe sleep practices and knew car seats were not safe for sleep, but she used it for that anyway out of convenience. However, this could happen to anyone. If you or someone you know uses car seats outside the car for naps, or lets their little ones stay napping in car seats outside the car after they've nodded off during a car trip... it could happen.
Strangulation isn't the only danger either. Babies do not have great neck strength and can also fall victim to positional asphyxiation (PA). And supervision is not a safeguard; PA kills silently and quickly. Many parents (myself included!) let babies sleep in car seats after a car ride. Many babies wake up and are just fine. You may feel this way because you did it, and your baby was fine too. What happened to Susannah won't happen to your daughter, or son, or grandchild, or niece, nephew... She'll be fine.
Until she's not.
And you get a call from the police, saying you need to get down to the hospital right away. You rush there, only to be told your daughter has died.
You hold your dead child for hours in a quiet hospital room.
You have to leave your little girl there, knowing she'll never come home again.
You have to pick which cute outfit your baby will wear in her casket.
You take pictures of purple flowers instead of your little baby girl.
You keep buying plants because it never seems like enough.
You visit her grave on weekends and on a random Tuesday afternoon.
She has a heavenly birthday in addition to her regular birthday, which leaves you feeling so lost because you don't know what to do on either day.
You deal with extreme guilt over decisions you made, convinced you are the reason she's gone and that some people secretly feel that way too.
You have to learn how to properly answer, "How many kids do you have?" depending on the situation or person.
If you want to honour Susannah... Help make sure another baby doesn't die the same way. If you have a baby or are close to someone who does, don't leave them in the car seat once they're out of the car, especially if they're sleeping!
I know it's hard, especially for tired mamas, but please remove them from the car seat and place them in a sleep environment:
- On their Back
- In a Crib (or play yard or bassinet)
A shortened nap is far less regretful than a shortened lifetime. IF YOU USE DAY CARE, PLEASE USE A LICENSED PROVIDER AND MAKE SURE THEY FOLLOW STRICT SAFE SLEEP GUIDELINES! Although a licensed provider is not a guarantee of 100 percent safety, they are regulated, trained, and have records you can (AND SHOULD!) check prior to choosing who will care for your child.
Ask about their safe sleep practices before you select a provider, demand to see the sleeping space, and make surprise visits there to make sure the guidelines are being followed. And by all means, REPORT any issues you see to the the relevant regulators! You're not being nit-picky, bitchy, or overreacting. You're protecting your child and the safety of all the other children there too.
Help me find meaning in Susannah's death. Honour my girl and your little loved ones. Please love them enough to make sure they sleep safely, in their own crib, on their back, no blankets, no bumpers, no stuffed animals.
If one life is saved, I will feel so much joy.
While Erin's daughter passed away in a style of car seat that is not available in Australia, the warning is just as important here. Red Nose (formerly Sids and Kids) gives these recommendations about car seats and sleep:
Once the car journey is over it is very important that you remove baby from the car seat or capsule, even if this means waking baby, because it is not safe for baby to spend long periods in car seats, capsules or infant seats.
Research has shown that:
- babies left in a sitting position for a long period of time may be placed at increased risk for sudden infant death.
- car or baby seats may cause baby's neck to flex forward which may block baby's airway not allowing airflow
- falls from car seats used outside of the car as infant carriers are common, often involve children unbuckled in their car seats and represent a significant source of head injury for baby. Never leave baby in carriers on shopping carts, counters, or other high location
This article originally appeared on Kidspot.