During the winter months, parents bundle up their children in coats, hats, gloves and more to stay warm when the temperatures drop. However, when it comes to riding in the car seat, parents need to take caution about winter clothing.
For children to be safe in a car seat with a harness, the harness should be snug at the child’s hips and shoulders with retainer clip at armpit level as per manufacturer instructions. For example, snug means that you are not able to pinch any extra harness webbing at your child’s shoulders. The level of the harness depends if your child is rear facing (at or below) or forward facing (at or above), or per car seat manufacturer instructions.
“It is not recommended to wear a puffy winter jacket under the harness as you may not be able to get the harness snug, causing slack in the harness putting the child at risk in a sudden stop or crash,” said Heather Krzykowski, registered nurse in critical care for Marshfield Clinic Health System.
How to know if a coat is safe?
As part of the Wisconsin’s Child Passenger Safety Advisory Board, Krzykowski helped create an educational handout (also available in Spanish) explaining ways to check whether your child’s coat is safe to wear underneath a car seat harness.
Follow these steps to check your car seat harness:
- Put the coat on your child.
- Sit them in the car seat. Buckle and tighten the harness.
- Without loosening the harness, unbuckle it, and remove your child from the car seat.
- Take the coat off.
- Strap your child back into the car seat without adjusting the straps. If the harness is too loose, the coat is too thick to wear under the harness.
Take the coat off while in the car seat
Parents can use a blanket or jacket for warmth while outside the vehicle, but then remove once you put your child into the car seat. Then, return the jacket on backwards or blanket once secure.
“One option I would recommend is to put the child in the car seat and tighten the harness for a snug fit and then put the jacket or coat on backwards over the child or a blanket around them,” Krzykowski said. “A loose car seat harness greatly increases the risk of injury to your child.”
Other ways to bundle up
Additionally, for rear-facing only car seats, there are car seat covers that go over the car seats to keep the cold and wind out. Krzykowski said it is not recommended to use the car seat covers that go under and over the child like a sleeping bag because the material that goes behind that child can interfere with a snug harness causing unsafe slack or may interfere with the car seat buckle.
She mentioned ponchos to wear out to the vehicle or over the child once secure in the car seat harness as option for warmth. You should dress you children in layers like a light fleece as long as the harness is snug.
Keep the car seat warm
Another concern with car seats and winter months is keeping the car seat itself warm.
For some infants and toddlers, you can carry the rear-facing only car seats into the home, while the base remains in the vehicle. For all car seats – infant, convertible, 3-in-1 and booster – you can warm your vehicle before bringing the child outside.
In addition to warming your vehicle, you can warm car seats with a warmed therapeutic rice bag by placing it in the car seat before placing your child in the car seat.
Connect with local safety center
Overall, it is so important to make sure your child’s car seat harness is secure regardless of age. Car seat safety is a priority, and many areas have local safety centers with information and resources for parents.
Marshfield Children’s Pediatrician Dr. Valerie Hay often recommends Stevens Point Child Safety Center to her local patients. Wood County Public Health also does local car seat checks for Marshfield region patients. These groups provide not only car seat safety checks, but also bike, home, sleep and other safety checks.
For more information or questions, talk to your Marshfield Children’s pediatrician or family medicine provider for their local recommendations or visit Wisconsin Safe Kids website for more educational tips.