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What should I do when a new mom leaves her baby in the car to go to a convenience store?
Q: I recently had a conversation about hot weather with a friend’s daughter, who just became a new mum. I said that if I go inside to a convenience store, I’ll leave the car running with the air conditioning on, put on the hand brake and take off the dog's collar. She replied, "I leave the air on too … for the baby." I was shocked and relayed the conversation to my friend, her father, so he could talk to her. He did, and his daughter said we are overprotective and that she watches the baby from the store window. I still feel this is extremely dangerous. What should I do?
A: Although many parents leave their babies in the car when they run into a store, it can occasionally have tragic consequences. Babies have been kidnapped from cars. Cars have rolled away and crashed, and they’ve been carjacked with the baby inside. Babies can become very upset when they’re left alone, and they can get trapped in the car seat straps. If the baby is left for an extended period of time, she can get poisoned from the carbon monoxide in the car exhaust, or get overheated and die of hyperthermia. Some police departments fine parents who leave their children in the car, report them to Child Protective Services, or prosecute them for child endangerment.

The National SAFE KIDS Campaign has started an educational program entitled, “Never Leave Your Child Alone” to teach parents not to leave their children in the car. Approximately 30 children die each year from being left in cars, mostly children under age 3. On a warm, sunny day, even with a window open, the inside of a car can heat up to dangerous temperatures within minutes. And with children’s small body size, they overheat three-five times faster than an adult would. SAFE KIDS recommends never leaving a child—or a pet—alone in a car.

It’s good that you’re concerned about your friend’s granddaughter. You can help by visiting www.safekids.org to print out the educational materials to share with your friend and his daughter. You can tell them that you learned the importance of car safety from this website, and stopped leaving your dog in the car. You might also call your public health department and/or police department to ask if they have any local educational efforts.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician