It is easy to think that there is nothing wrong with bundling a baby or toddler up in their winter gear before bucking them into the car seat. Perhaps you even think that is the exact right thing to do. You are, after all, keeping them warm – and it is much easier than undressing them before buckling and then redressing them when you arrive at your destination…
Before becoming defensive, before you exit this article while thinking I am going to lecture you on your horrible parenting skills, please – PLEASE – understand that no one can do better until they know better.
I had no idea that I couldn’t strap my kids into their car seats while wearing winter coats until about 3 years ago. We are from Florida (AKA: The land of no winter clothing). I thought I was completely at the peak of my car seat safety status, and then we moved northward. With three car seat riding babies in tow (ages 4, 2, and newborn), we moved to Washington, DC – in JANUARY. We arrived to snow and headed directly to the nearest snow gear store for warmer coats. Satisfied with draining our bank account on the best jackets possible for a family of five, we headed home. As the kids were getting in the car, I had a weird feeling that they didn’t look right. I made the ‘big kids’ take their jackets off, but I left the baby bundled in his warm-bodied zip-up suit. I am so thankful we weren’t in an accident.
I was talking to a friend that night, and she quickly told me I had made a mistake! I did a little research and found out just how dangerous winter coats and car seats can be!
According to Car Seats For The Littles, a community of car seat technicians:
“For your child’s car seat to offer the maximum protection in a crash, the harness or seat belt needs to be as close to the child as possible. The more layers of padding or clothing between a child and the harness, the harder it is to properly fit the restraint to the child. The harness can end up fitting to the thick coat, and in the event of a crash, all that extra air is forced out between the layers, leaving the harness too loose to protect a child. A loose harness, at best, means extra crash time on the child, and at worst, could mean ejection from the seat. This principle also applies to children riding in boosters and adults in seat belts.”
The Car Seat Lady recommends the following to keep your child warm in the car without wearing a bulky coat:
If you are unsure of your child’s clothing, here is a simple way to check safety:
- Put the coat on your child, sit them in the child seat and fasten the harness. Tighten the harness until you can no longer pinch any of the harness webbing with your thumb and forefinger.
- Without loosening the harness, remove your child from the child seat.
- Take the coat off, and put your child back in the child seat and buckle the harness straps, which are still adjusted as they were when he was wearing the coat.
- If you can now pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger, then the coat is too bulky to be worn under the harness.
Meet the guinea pig, Lyle... He was NOT happy about wearing a jacket for this article! This is Lyle in a winter jacket buckled into the convertible car seat.
And THIS is Lyle buckled into the same seat with the jacket removed but the straps in the same position. You can see just how much space a jacket takes up!