Winter coats and car seats don’t mi well. You want your baby to be warm, but you could actually be compromising their safety by buckling them into their car seat – or booster; age doesn’t make a difference with safety – with a bulky coat on.
Why is it a risk? What can you do to ensure your child’s safety while making sure they stay warm during the brisk winter months?
Don’t fret. We are here to answer those questions for you so that you can rest easy knowing your child’s car seat is doing its job: keeping your little one safe out on the road.
In order for your little one to be completely safe in their car seat, the harness needs to stay close to their body at all times. This means that the straps are tight against their chest with just enough room for you to slide a finger underneath.
If the harness is not fitted appropriately, your child could be ejected from the car in the event of a crash. Getting the fit and adjustments right on the harness during the winter can be a bit tricky. You want to keep your baby warm and it may seem like the harness fits right with their coat on, but it is actually putting your baby at risk for injury or death.
Clothing compresses in a car crash. This means that the thickness of the coat does nothing to protect your baby and actually leaves the straps too loose to keep your baby in the car seat. In fact, there have been accident scenes where babies have been found ejected from the vehicle with their coats still buckled into the car seat as if the baby was still wearing it.
Coats aren’t the only issue. Snowsuits, blankets, and thick padding are also a risk to your baby’s safety. Simply put, there should be no extra bulk behind your baby or under the harness to ensure the harness fits correctly every time you buckle up.
Staying Warm without a Coat
Of course, you don’t want your child to freeze, so how do you keep them warm in the car without having a coat on? Especially if you don’t want to feel like you are being choked out by keeping the heat on full blast.
1. Dress in Layers
Keep your little one dressed in multiple – but thin – layers. Thermal shirts under their regular clothes is a great way to keep them warm without the extra bulk. Be sure the layers aren’t too thick as you will run into the same issues you would experience with a coat.
It is best if the layer closest to the body is fitted, like a long sleeve onesie and tights, so that there is no extra fabric that can get bunched up. If you need a warm top layer, a fleece jacket is a good option since it is warm without being too bulky.
You also want to keep their winter accessories handy to keep their limbs warm. Dress them in hats, mittens, and thick socks and/or booties. These can also keep them warm even if they are only wearing thin layers in the car.
2. Keep a Blanket in the Car
During the winter, it’s a good idea to keep a blanket in the car that you can throw over your child’s lap in the car seat.
It is very important that you wait to put the blanket on after you have buckled them up. You don’t want to create any extra bulk under the harness that will cause it to be too loose. Also, only lay the blanket over your baby’s lap/front; never wrap the blanket around your baby for the same reason (creating bulk behind your baby’s back).
3. Turn the Coat Around
For older children, you can use their coat as a sort of blanket after you buckle up. Get them strapped in and adjusted as normal, then turn the coat round so they can put their arms through the sleeves and wear it over the frond of their body as a blanket.
What is Too Thick?
Just looking at a coat or snowsuit will not tell you if it is too thick; you need to put it to the test. Try following these few simple steps to see if the coat in question is suitable for your child to wear in their car seat.
Take the car seat inside the house. Dress your baby or child in their coat and buckle them up in the car seat, adjusting the straps to fit appropriately – so you can’t really pinch the strap between your fingers but can still slide a finger underneath. Next, take the coat off your child and buckle them into the car seat, this time not adjusting the straps.
How do they fit? If they look the same way they did with the coat on – unable to be pinched but allowing no more than two fingers to fit underneath – the coat is fine to wear in the car seat. However, if they are loose, you will want to avoid putting your child in the car seat with that coat on.
The best to ensure your child’s safety is to create good habits. Try to each of these things when preparing to take a trip by car in the cold weather so that you know your child is safe every time.
1. Take off Coat before Buckling Up
The very first thing you should do when you get to the car is take off your child’s coat. If you don’t want to deal with trying to wrestle the coat off your baby in the car seat before buckling up, simply use their coat as a blanket and dress them in their hat, mittens, and booties to run them out to the car without allowing them to get too cold.
2. Check behind Baby’s Back
Things can get left in your baby’s car seat; you may also miss a bit of fabric from clothing or blankets that may be stuck behind your baby’s back. Always check behind your baby before buckling up to remove any extra bulk that may be dangerous in the event of an accident. This also means that you should not tuck a blanket behind their back after buckling up either.
3. Adjust Straps Every Time
Even if you don’t put your baby in the car seat with a coat on, you need to make sure you adjust the straps every time you buckle up. Even the slightest difference in clothing thickness can change the way the harness fits, so don’t rely on the previous position to fit correctly every time.
4. Warm Up the Car
You can take it a step further if you have someone at the house that can watch the baby for you for a few minutes. Run out to the car before you are ready to leave and start it up, allowing the heat to run on full blast to warm it up before you bring your baby out.
If you are using a car seat with a separate carrier for your infant, you can keep the carrier part inside the house so that it stays warm, and you can get them bundled and blanketed before you go outside.
A Word of Warning
There are several cheap covers and blankets you can get that are designed to keep your baby and their car seat warm. It can be very tempting to purchase one of these covers, but they may not actually safe to use with your car seat.
If it didn’t come with the car seat, there is no guarantee that it is 100% compatible with your car seat model. You may be able to find something by the same manufacturer, which is a bit more reliable. If it is made by the same manufacturer and has your car seat model listed as compatible, it has likely been crash tested with your particular car seat.
However, it is not very common to find these. Most of these covers are made by after-market companies and most likely have not been crash tested with your car seat. If you find a cover that fits over the top of the car seat like a drape, these are usually fine as long as there is no extra bulk and it doesn’t cover your baby’s face.
You should also be aware that if you do choose to use one of these after-market accessories and are involved in an accident, some car seat companies will void the warranty since you are not using a product approved by the manufacturer.