Are car seats safe for sleeping babies?

(Consumer Reports) - Recent recalls of the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper and other infant inclined sleep products have highlighted the dangers of putting babies to sleep on an incline. It has many parents wondering if it's okay for babies to sleep in car seats.

As long as it is for short periods of time, you can let your baby sleep in a car seat. (Consumer Reports)

The angled position of this Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper can cause an infant's head to tilt forward and compress the airway, increasing the risk of suffocation. Consumer Reports is aware of at least 54 reported deaths linked to infant sleepers like these.

But infants often fall asleep in car seats, which also position children at an inclined angle. -- Is that safe?

"Yes, you can let your baby sleep for short stretches in a car seat, as long as it's used properly,” Consumer Reports investigative journalist Rachel Rabkin Peachman said. “While the risks of sleeping on an incline are real and serious, they are vastly outweighed by the protection that a properly installed car seat provides during a crash."

The angle of rear-facing car seats -- including the kind for infants -- has been extensively tested, and is necessary to protect a child's head and spine in a collision. You can check the recline indicator to confirm your child's car seat has been installed with an appropriate recline angle for your child's age.

And here's an important reminder: car seats—even those that you can remove from a vehicle to lock into a stroller—are meant to be used only while you're with your baby or are able to observe him or her, not for extended or overnight sleep.

Another difference -

"Infant car seats have a five-point harness system, which are designed and tested, not only to protect your baby in the event of a crash, but also to lower the risk of your baby slumping down, and their head falling chin to chest and blocking airflow," Rabkin Peachman said.

The best sleep advice for parents -- Follow the Safe Sleep recommendations from The American Academy of Pediatrics: babies should sleep alone, on their backs, with no soft bedding or padding, and always on a firm, flat mattress.

If you are on a long car trip, make sure you pull over occasionally to check on your baby. -- And CR warns that no car seat will fully protect your baby if it's not installed and used correctly.