WRITTEN BY JULIE MONSON
Occupational Therapist &
Certified Car Seat Technician
HOW TO KEEP MY BABY WARM AND SAFE IN THE CAR SEAT
As winter approaches, it is important to keep your baby warm in the car seat as you head out into cold weather. Babies do not yet have the ability to self-regulate their core temperature. They lack the ability to increase heat by shivering and do not have sufficient body fat to warm themselves once they get cold. This places them at risk from freezing temperatures and wind.
There are several ways and products to warm your baby up in the car seat, but many can be unsafe. There are important safety aspects to consider when trying to keep your baby warm in the car seat.
The items used to warm your baby should:
1) Not compromise the safety of the car seat
2) Not cause your baby to overheat
3) Not pose a suffocation risk.
In this article, we will explain the dangers of puffy jackets and car seat warmers, how to determine if a jacket or car seat warmer is unsafe, as well as discussing safer ways to keep your baby warm.
1) PUFFY JACKETS
IS IT SAFE TO USE A PUFFY JACKET IN A CAR SEAT?
No, it is not safe to use puffy, bulky or loosely fitting thick clothing, including winter coats and snowsuits, underneath the harness of a car seat. This rule applies to babies in car seats, older children in boosters as well as adults using a seatbelt.
In order for a car seat harness or booster to provide maximum protection, the harness or seatbelt needs to be as snug on your child as possible. The more layers of padding or clothing between a child and the harness, the harder it is to properly tighten the harness/seatbelt on the child's body.
Puffy jackets are bulky and filled with air. No matter how tight you pull the harness of the car seat, you won’t be able to expel all the air out the jacket. In a car accident, puffy padding in a coat immediately compresses from the force, leaving extra space between the child and the harness. A child can then slip through the straps and be ejected from the car seat.
HOW TO USE A JACKET SAFELY IN THE CAR SEAT
In the video below, Miriam Manary of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) conducted a crash test with a crash test dummy wearing a puffy jacket. You’ll see how the jacket created too much space between the dummy and the harness, and how the dummy gets ejected out the car seat.
Here’s an easy way to check how loose the car seat’s harness could be in a crash with a coat on your child. We also show the way to wear that coat safely in the vehicle.
- Put the coat on your child.
- Buckle your child into the car seat.
- Tighten the harness enough to remove all slack so that it passes the pinch test
- Unbuckle the child from the car seat without adjusting the harness.
- Take off your child’s coat, then buckle the child back into the car seat.
- If the harness is too loose, it is not a safe coat to use in the car seat as it will create too much potentially harmful slack in the harness!
Crash test footage used with kind permission from University of Michigan
IS IT SAFE TO SWADDLE A BABY IN A CAR SEAT?
It is NOT safe to wrap your baby in a swaddle or blanket under a car seat harness. Arms and legs MUST be sticking out of the harness straps, in order for the harness to effectively restrain your baby in a crash. There must also not be any blanket or swaddle behind your baby, as this may interfere with the harness.
HOW TO SWADDLE A BABY SAFELY IN A CAR SEAT
It is safer to first strap your baby into their car seat and sufficiently tighten the harness, before tightly tucking a blanket OVER your baby and the harness. The blanket should not be loose or gathered around the face, due to risk of a baby accidentally pulling it over their face. As the car starts to warm up, you can easily pull the blanket off to avoid overheating
3) AFTERMARKET PONCHOS, SWADDLES AND COVERS
IS IT SAFE TO USE AFTERMARKET ACCESSORIES TO KEEP MY BABY WARM IN THE CAR SEAT?
HOW TO DRESS MY BABY WARMLY AND SAFELY IN THE CAR SEAT
Layering your baby in 2-4 layers of thin, tightly fitted clothing is best. Vest, leggings, onesie, pants, shirt and tightly fitted fleece jacket, socks, hat and gloves should do the trick! If a garment does not fit your baby snuggly, it can gather which can cause excess space between the car seat and harness.
Photo credit: The Car Seat Lady
TIPS TO KEEP MY BABY WARM AND SAFE IN THE CAR SEAT
- Dress them in 2-4 thin, tightly fitted layers
- Use hats, gloves/mittens, socks
- Warm the car up beforehand
- Store the baby car seat (Group 0 ) inside the house when not in use
- Remove all bulky/puffy clothing in the car, strap your child in securely, then place a jacket on backwards or tuck a blanket over your baby and harness.
- Don’t use any unapproved car seat accessories