Bringing your newborn baby home from the hospital is one of life’s greatest joys.

But when your infant has a low birth weight or is born prematurely, the drive home may be fraught with danger.

Proper tools and knowledge

Every parent knows the importance of using a child safety seat, but many are unaware our smallest passengers require a special seat to keep them safe.

Most child safety seats are designated by the manufacturer to be used by full-term infants. For preemies born before 37 weeks gestation or those with low-birth weight (less than 5.5 lbs.), special safety seats have been developed to provide maximum protection.

“Premature infants and low birth weight infants are at increased risk for episodes of oxygen desaturation, apnea and bradycardia when placed in a semi-reclined position,” said Erin Ross, a pediatric nurse practitioner with Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital Pediatrics. “This could lead to neurological problems and problems with development, which is one of the reasons why having the proper child safety seat is so important.”

Along with minimizing health risks, child safety seats are also proven to save lives. According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, child safety seats that are used correctly are 71 percent effective in preventing fatalities during an automobile accident.

“Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children in the United States,” said Mary Fulton, child safety seat inspector with the Mason County Sheriff’s Office. “Properly installing a safety seat as well as making sure your child is properly fitted could ultimately save a life.”

Fulton says because a majority of car crashes happen head-on, installing the infant child safety seat in the middle of the backseat is the safest. She says it’s also important to keep children rear-facing until they reach either the height or weight limit specified by the manufacturer for that particular safety seat.

Although parents are ultimately responsible for the proper use of child safety seats, they are given basic training by an obstetrics nurse before going home from the hospital. Many local law enforcement agencies offer free child safety seat inspections for parents who want added peace of mind.

The nurse also ensures parents have the correct seat for their infant. If they don’t, they provide assistance to help parents obtain the safety seat that best suits their infant.

A blessing that wasn’t expected

At Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital, the nurses in the Family Birthing Center have resources available to assist parents with obtaining child safety seats for preemies and low-birth-weight infants thanks to a program created through Spectrum Health Foundation Ludington Hospital.

The program is funded by the Together We Inspire Generosity (TWIG) auxiliary and provides free car seats that are specially sized for premature babies.

Lee’shya and Jamel Dukes of Idlewild, Michigan, were the first parents to benefit from the program.

Their twins, Nariyah and Nyomi Dukes, were delivered premature at 35 weeks gestation on Dec. 5, 2018. Nariyah arrived first at 5:37 p.m. followed by Nyomi one minute later.

Nariyah weighed 4 lbs, 4 oz. with a length of 17.25 inches, while Nyomi weighed 4 lbs, 11 oz. and measured 18 inches.

“It’s a blessing that wasn’t expected,” Lee’shya said. “This helps out—big time—because we don’t have to buy new car seats. We weren’t expecting the girls to be born premature, so we already had a couple of car seats for them. But with them being so little, the car seats weren’t the right size.”

The staff in the Family Birthing Center was equally as excited to present the car seats to Lee’shya as she was to receive them.

“There couldn’t be a more deserving family to receive this gift,” said Michele Schoon, RN. “When we told Lee’shya that we had these seats for her—the look on her face said it all.”