Many would say that I am pretty extreme when it comes to car seat safety. But even if you’re not, please keep reading. I’m not here to judge you, nor belittle you.
Sometimes our family gets car seat questions like:
“You continue to rear-face your child until they are FOUR?!”
“Jenn is seriously still in a five-point harness at age five?!”
“Why are you making me use a carseat for my child in your car when I don’t in mine?”
The simple answer is that our family enforces best practice when it comes to car seat safety. And the longer answer is that if I have the means to do something to ensure my child is not just safe, but safer… no matter if it’s convenient for five seconds, 5 minutes, or even five years, I will do it.
So now with cold weather upon us, winter car seat safety is even more important. We always talk about children getting left in cars in the summertime and it’s not an argument. Everyone rallies to say “this is unacceptable, let’s find a way to end unnecessary deaths.”
However, in the winter, we don’t come together about coats in the car.
We are usually fighting & pointing fingers.
But it shouldn’t be up for debate. Because it’s also a matter of life and death.
When my oldest, Jenn was 13 months old I took her with me to the store. It was the first cold and icy day that we have really had. Before going, I bundled my daughter up in warm clothes, with a warm hat, and warm gloves. I tightly wrapped her in a blanket and carried her to the (already running) warm car.
When we got to our destination, I unbuckled the car seat and snugly wrapped her up in the blanket again. As we were walking in, two ladies glared a piercing stare in my directiong. One whispered (not very quietly) to the other…
“That child is not even wearing a coat”.
So what? My child was not freezing to death and she was bundled from head to toe, snuggled against her warm momma on the 30 second walk into the heated store.
Our society seems to think they will get “killed by the cold” instead of working to understand the underlying implications of improper car seat safety.
Understanding why it is important for kids to not wear a coat in a car seat or even under their seat belt.
Again nothing in this post is a judgment against someone who has put their kid in the car with a coat on or even against anyone who does something different than our family. So from me to you, if you have done this, fear not… I hold nothing against you. I just care about protecting your child’s internal organs.
That’s the root of this. So let me explain.
I want to protect my own baby and everyone else’s too! In a time of technology where texting, watching movies, fidgeting with an in-board navigation system, and more happens while driving, I want all kids to be safe in the car at all times.
With all these hazards coupled with winter weather, this is extremely important.
A collision could happen at any moment and that maybe the car beside me doesn’t know I have a precious baby in the car (3 of them to be exact), or maybe they don’t care. Or maybe they don’t know they’re drifting into my lane because they are texting or checking facebook updates.
So when a chest clip is called a chest clip, the placement should be on their chest. The proper way to check this is to see if it is around armpit level and if you can tap on a hard sternum underneath the clip.
If your family got into an accident, sure, their sternum could get bruised, but it would 1) keep them in their car seat and 2) avoid immediate internal bleeding from being placed either on the ribs or stomach.
Why it is unsafe to leave a coat on a child in their car seat.
- The bulk of the coat does not place the straps in the appropriate places. If you are to take the child out and leave the straps where they were with the coat on, it would be too loose and would not fit snugly against the child.
- It is also not safe to use after-market devices that attach to car seats. Anything that threads into the seat would be considered unsafe (like the BundleMe for infant seats).
Notice in this picture, the chest clip would not be on the baby’s sternum if it was not there.
What are some safe winter coat alternatives for kids?
I’m glad you asked. Not only have I found multiple excellent jacket and coat options for kids in the last 5+ years, but I have also successfuly used 5 great stratgies to keep them warm, even in Boston winters.
Meaning if we can survive Boston, it’s replicable most anywhere.
Ditch the thick coat! 6 effortless ways kids can stay safe and warm in the car.
These ideas are appropriate for all ages.
In fact, wearing a puffy coat yourself with the seat belt is not a best practice because it’s not where it would lay on your body if the coat was off.
So whether you have an infant, a toddler, a big kid, or it’s just you, these are some ideas that can help you stay safe and warm this fall and winter in the car.
Please note that there are *some* affiliate links below for your convenience. These don’t cost you a thing, but the small commision we earn helps put gas in our car.
Wear a coat that doesn’t displace the straps or buckles of your car seat.
There are many options actually. And because there are new technologies every day… even in clothing… there are more and more options. For instance, Jenn has an awesome winter vest from Columbia with thermal heat technology in it, but it’s paper thin.
Here are some other car seat safe coat options:
- Buckle Me Baby has a unique, under harness crash-tested design.
- North Face fleece coats
- Patagonia fleece jackets
- Columbia Omni Heat jackets and vest
- For infants, choose a backless/un-lined carseat cover.
Place a heat pack in the car before you head out to the car.
Microwave and place in your child’s seat. This means it’s nice and toasty once your child gets there. Take the heating source out of the seat before placing the child in their seat. Then this can be placed over a blanket. We did this last year and it worked so well. If you stay somewhere for awhile, most places have microwaves so you can reheat it. We LOVE our Nature’s Creation heating pack because it’s long and narrow to fit the full length of the seat. You could also get a cute kids’ heating pack too.
Use a Winter Poncho
The benefit of this is that the straps go underneath the thick layer of warmth, keeping your child safe. They can easily be worn and not taken off before getting in the car. Simply pull up the warm layers when putting your child in the car and place the straps under the poncho and over the shoulders for appropriate winter car seat safety.
Put the coat on your child’s arms backwards after being strapped in the car.
Then when your child is not in the car, wear the coat as usual…Lest you might get judged for not using a coat. Once in the car, put it on backwards to keep them warm. The downside being having to take it off in the car is a hassle.
Turn the car on so it’s warm.
Pre-heating the car is always a great option. In the battle between environmentally friendly or a safe happy baby, this one is a comprise I am always willing to make.
Use a heavy blanket to transport them to and from the car and to lay over them while in the car.
This would mean you can still dress your child in warm clothes, but it eliminates the bulk that would cause the harness in the seat to not be safe.
Click here for more on Car Seat Safety and to see the research behind why we practice extended rear facing.
Concluding the winter car seat safety information, keep your kids safe and remember that the next time that judgment may come easy to what may seemingly be a bad parenting choice, to take a step back and realize that maybe there is a greater motive behind it.
More ways to keep your children safe
Kara is an author and advocate for positive, grace-filled parenting. She is homeschooler to her 4 children living in Boston, MA and believes in creative educational approaches to help kids dive deeper into a rich learning experience. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!