Can I nap in the car with my baby?

Many new parents find themselves exhausted from the demands of caring for a newborn. It’s common to feel like you’re not getting enough sleep. As a result, some parents may be tempted to nap in the car with their baby out of sheer exhaustion. However, this is not recommended for safety reasons. In this article, we’ll explore whether napping in the car with your baby is safe, look at the risks, and provide tips for getting better sleep as a new parent.

Is it safe to nap in the car with my baby?

The short answer is no, it is not safe for a parent to nap in the car with an infant or child. Even if the car is parked, napping with a baby in a car seat has several risks:

  • Suffocation – A sleeping parent could slump over onto the baby, blocking their airway. Babies lack the strength and mobility to free themselves in this situation.
  • Entrapment – The baby could become trapped between the car seat and the parent’s body. This could lead to suffocation.
  • Strangulation – Loose cords from hoodies or pacifier clips could become wrapped around the baby’s neck.
  • Heatstroke – Cars can heat up very quickly, even when parked. A sleeping parent may not notice the rising temperature, putting the baby at risk.
  • Abduction – An unattended vehicle makes it easier for someone to abduct the baby.
  • Accidents – The vehicle could shift into gear and move if not properly parked.

For these reasons, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warn against sleeping in a car with baby. It puts infants at risk in multiple ways. The safest approach is to always stay awake and actively supervise babies during car trips.

Why parents may be tempted to nap in the car

Caring for a newborn is intensely tiring. New parents are often desperate for any bit of sleep they can get. Some reasons parents may be tempted to nap in the car with their baby include:

  • Severe sleep deprivation and exhaustion from meeting baby’s constant needs
  • The motion of the moving car can lull both parent and baby to sleep
  • It seems convenient to let baby sleep in their car seat
  • Parent hopes to sneak in a quick nap while baby is asleep
  • Lack of other opportunities for daytime sleep due to busy schedules

New parents sometimes operate in a fog of fatigue. It can seem appealing to catch a few winks while your little one sleeps in the car seat next to you. However, giving in to this temptation places your child in danger. Their safety should always come first.

Tips for getting better sleep as a new parent

Instead of napping with baby in the car, focus on setting up conditions that will allow the whole family to get proper, restorative sleep. Here are some tips:

  • Take turns – Split nighttime duties with your partner so each parent gets a chance to sleep.
  • Nap when baby naps – Sleep when your baby sleeps during the day.
  • Ask for help – Have family and friends cover childcare so you can rest.
  • Prioritize sleep – Make sleep a priority, not an afterthought.
  • Practice good sleep habits – Go to bed early, limit electronics, and create a restful environment.
  • Use white noise – Use sound machines, fans, or white noise apps to lull your baby to sleep.
  • Keep things dark and cool – Ensure the nursery is dark, quiet, and a cool comfortable temperature for better sleep.

It takes time for new parents and babies to adjust to a sleep schedule that works for everyone. Have patience, ask for help when needed, and focus on staying rested. But never take the risk of sleeping with your baby in the car.

What to do if you’re drowsy while driving with your baby

Sometimes, no amount of coffee or singing along to music is enough to fight off drowsiness behind the wheel. If you feel sleepy while driving with your child:

  • Pull over – The most important thing is to get off the road safely. Stop driving immediately.
  • Take a nap – Take a 15-20 minute nap in the parked car while your baby remains buckled safely in their car seat.
  • Get some fresh air – Lower the windows, turn up the AC, and breathe in some fresh air to revive yourself.
  • Have a snack – Eat a healthy snack to boost your blood sugar and energy levels.
  • Drink a caffeinated beverage – Drink a coffee, tea, or caffeinated soda for a short-term energy boost.
  • Switch drivers – If possible, switch to another alert adult driver.
  • Call for a ride – Call a friend or family member to come pick you up.
  • Get off at a rest stop – Take a longer break at a rest area with facilities and snacks.

Never ignore the signs of drowsiness at the wheel. Pull over or ask another adult to drive so that you don’t endanger your child.

The risks of sleeping in a parked car with your baby

We’ve covered that sleeping in a moving car with an infant is hazardous. But is it okay to sleep in a parked vehicle? The answer is still no. Here are some key risks:

  • Respiratory dangers: Babies have fragile airways. Your body could block their ability to breathe if you slump over while sleeping.
  • Hyperthermia: On a hot or even mild day, the interior of a vehicle heats up very quickly. Hyperthermia, or heat stroke, is a deadly threat.
  • Hypothermia: Similarly, babies can quickly suffer hypothermia, or cold-related injuries, if the car grows too cold in frigid weather.
  • Dehydration: Babies need frequent fluids. Extended time in a parked car could lead to dehydration.
  • Abduction: An unattended vehicle is an easy target for carjackers or child abductors.
  • Entrapment: Babies can become trapped between car seat straps and your body, causing injury or suffocation.

While a parked car may feel harmless, it poses many dangers for unattended infants. Staying awake to monitor your baby is essential, even if you’re exhausted.

When is it okay for a baby to sleep in the car?

It is understandable that the motion of the vehicle often rocks infants to sleep. When is it safe for a baby to sleep in their car seat? Here are some guidelines:

  • An alert adult must stay awake and actively supervise the baby throughout trips and car naps.
  • Limit car sleeping to short, necessary car trips rather than prolonged hours in the vehicle.
  • Pull over if you need to nap – never sleep while driving with baby in the car.
  • Only allow car sleeping while in motion, not while parked or stopped.
  • Check regularly that baby is breathing comfortably and not slumping down in the seat.
  • Do not let baby sleep longer than 30 minutes to an hour at once in the car seat.
  • Avoid car trips around baby’s usual naptimes so their sleep schedule stays on track.

With proper precautions, the occasional catnap while in the car should not harm your little one. But car seats are not a substitute for a full crib nap at home.

Using a mirror to monitor baby while driving

Many parents use a special baby car mirror so they can glance back and check on their child while driving. Guidelines for using these mirrors include:

  • Only use baby mirrors for briefly glancing back – keep eyes mostly on the road ahead.
  • Choose a high-quality mirror that mounts securely to the vehicle.
  • Adjust the mirror angle to offer the clearest view with minimal blind spots.
  • Make sure you can see baby’s face, not just the top of their head.
  • Demonstrate to other caregivers how to properly use the baby mirror.
  • Do not allow the mirror to become a distraction that takes your eyes off the road for long.

When used properly, baby mirrors can offer peace of mind and allow you to quickly check that your little one is safe and comfortable while driving. But the mirror is not a substitute for pulling over when necessary to directly tend to your child’s needs.

The safest way for parents and babies to sleep in the car

The safest way for both parents and babies to sleep in a vehicle is to take turns sleeping in the back seat while the car is parked:

  • Pull over in a safe, legal location such as a rest stop or parking lot.
  • Fully recline the front passenger seat forward.
  • Have one parent sleep in the roomy back seat, as far from the baby as possible.
  • The adult should sleep directly on the seats with no blankets or pillows near the baby.
  • Crack windows for ventilation, and use sun shades to keep the car cool.
  • Set an alarm so parents switch off after a reasonable period.
  • Never sleep in a parked vehicle on the side of the highway.

This allows someone to remain awake and supervising at all times. While not ideal, it’s the safest way for a parent to catch some rest during long road trips. Never sleep together in the back seat with your baby.


While the urge to nap alongside your baby in the car is understandable for sleep-deprived new parents, it is never the right choice. Letting your guard down puts your child’s safety at risk in multiple ways. With some advance planning and help from loved ones, you can ensure safer, better quality sleep for both parent and baby. When driving, stay alert and pull over if you need to briefly nap away from your little one in the back seat. Although groggy, resist any urge to sleep with your baby buckled into their car seat, where you cannot actively supervise them. Stay awake and keep your child safe from the many dangers of sleeping in a vehicle. With patience and support, you will make it through these tiring early months and reach a place of more consistent, restful sleep for the whole family.

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