Let me be the first to acknowledge the truth: I’m just as guilty as anyone else.
It happens almost every day as I load the kids into the car, to and from school. It’s cold outdoors. Bitterly cold. Temperatures are in the low 30s. The wind has picked up and I just want to keep my kids warm…you know, like any parent would while outdoors to prevent those little hands and faces from freezing.
So I do what most parents with good intentions would, and help my children zip up their coats as we make our way to the car. Once there, I loosen the seat belt and help them get comfy in their car seats…with their coats still on.
But buckling a kid in the car with a puffy winter coat is more than just a little no-no; It can actually be a dangerous combination according to Consumer Reports.
A bulky coat under a child seat harness can result in the harness being too loose to be effective in a crash.
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Why is a coat in a car seat so dangerous?
I didn’t quite understand how a coat and car seat combo was so bad initially…but after I saw it in action everything made sense.
You see, a bulky coat prevents a seatbelt or harness from being snug enough to keep a child safe during a car accident. The extra layers between a child’s body and the belt can leave dangerous room for your kid to be ejected in a collision or upon slamming on the brakes. It is actually pretty terrifying to think about.
According to the experts, if you can squeeze in more than two fingers in that space…it is not safe.
Test to see if your baby or toddler’s coat is safe in the seat.
Try the “pinch test” yourself. Buckle your kid into the car seat with a coat. Once everything is in place, unbuckle him and remove the coat, making sure to not adjust the straps (for test purposes only*). You should notice a significant difference in the space now — if the straps are now super loose and you have to adjust them to secure your child in tightly…you know that the coat and car seat combo is NOT safe.
How to keep your baby safe in a carseat during the winter
I know it’s a pain in the butt to take those coats off in the car once you’ve spent all morning chasing your kids down to get them on in the first place, but it’s a step worth taking.
No one wants to think the worst, but it can be life-saving in the event of an accident.
That’s why one of the first steps I’ve recently taken is to remove those coats once we are in the car. I’ve also made it a point to educate my spouse about it too…and although inconvenient, he has made it a habit too!
Then of course, you’ll want to ensure they are actually strapped in correctly with a 5-point harness. A 5-point harness is the standard car seat straps, that includes two straps over each shoulder and two straps around the waist that meet at the center to buckle. The buckle should meet right above the heart — not at the waist (which kids may sometimes prefer!).
And don’t assume every caretaker knows how to properly use the buckle — oftentimes grandparents or older babysitters don’t know how it all is supposed to work – so show them!
What are some alternatives to wearing a coat in a carseat?
If you need simple alternatives to wearing a coat for the loading and unloading routine, here are some great ideas.
Turn the heat up.
This one’s a no-brainer. When it’s cold, you obviously want to make sure the car is warm. So turn up the heat and make sure the temperature is comfortable for everyone. With larger vehicles like my minivan, I realize the back temperatures aren’t always the same as the front — even with the controls as my fingertips. So every now and then I take a walk to the back seat where baby is strapped in and check it out for myself — making sure to see if the vent blowing air is open or closed.
If you have a remote control, you may also be able to start the car while you’re indoors getting everyone ready — this makes taking off your bulky winter coat MUCH EASIER when you step into a toasty warm car!
Use a blanket.
Instead of wearing a puffy coat, take a large warm blanket like this with you — many kids already have a favorite blanket they like to tote around the house so usually they don’t make a fuss about snuggling in once buckled up.
Wear coats backward.
Another easy tip to help keep the kiddos warm in the car is simply putting the coats on backwards once strapped in. This is probably one of the more convenient ways to stay warm since you already have the coats handy and need a place to store them while driving.
Consider a car seat poncho.
If you haven’t seen these before, you better check them out! A car seat poncho is exactly what it sounds like: a warm poncho often made of terry-cloth material that kids can wear over the car seat to keep them safe. It is NOT bulky and fits right over their heads for easy access. It’s basically a blanket that kids can wear as they walk to the car AND keep on in the car because it stays OVER the seatbelt straps!
Use a sweater or light jacket.
Sometimes it may just be easier to have the kids wear a warm sweater or thin fleece jacket when in the car. They are great for several reasons. First, they can still keep your kids warm in the car without having to deal with putting on and taking off a coat in the car. Second, they are not super bulky like a winter coat making them much safer alternatives in the car.
But one of my favorite reasons for going with a fleece jacket is when it comes to baby. Because the baby is typically already in the carseat before we get into the car (Thank God for click-connect carseat technology!) I don’t have to follow the same procedure of putting-on-a-coat-and-taking-it-off that I do with my 2 and 4-year-olds. Instead, he just wears this thinner microfleece body jacket that is super warm, yet not super bulky like a standard winter coat. It makes life so much easier when you have three boys to load into the car.
Those extra minutes you take to remove coats in the car ride can be such a hassle. Your kids may fuss, you may be short on time and it just isn’t as convenient as keeping them on…but they can literally be life-changing.
It’s something I will always keep in mind during the cold winter months.
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Ana, a mom to three rambunctious little boys, has supported thousands of women throughout their pregnancy and motherhood journey since 2012 as a prenatal and postpartum educator at MommysBundle.com.