The average puffy coat/snowsuit adds about 4 inches of slack into the child’s harness straps. Why should you should care about 4 inches…
You’d care if you wear a size 32 pants and instead had to go to work in a size 36 without a belt.
You’d care if you had to put your newborn into size 5 diapers overnight… and your baby always pooped overnight.
You’d care if you had to walk your dog and only had a leash that was 4 inches too loose for his neck.
We put the same baby, in the same car seat, wearing the same few thin layers of clothes underneath – but changed which jacket/bunting she was wearing. In all four winter outfits we tightened the straps all the way (as shown here) – so there was only one finger’s worth of room at her collarbone, and you couldn’t pinch any slack at the collarbone. With 2 of the 4 winter outfits, her straps were just as snug with or without the outerwear. But with the other 2 we were deceived – as we had to loosen the straps by 4 inches to fit the bunting/snowsuit!
What’s 4 inches to your child in a crash? A whole lot, says Miriam Manary of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) – as 4 inches significantly increases the risk of injury, and particularly head injury. Here’s how she studied this (see video with her crash test footage):
In her crash test lab she properly installed 2 identical car seats side by side on the crash test sled bench. The only thing she varied was the snugness of the harness straps. She buckled one dummy properly, but the other dummy’s straps she left with 4 inches of extra slack.
The loose dummy’s head moved 4.25 inches farther forward than the properly buckled dummy. 4.25 inches is easily the difference between your child’s head hitting the back of the seat in front of them, or not, something which is a known cause of serious head injuries to real kids in real crashes. Not only was the head more likely to hit the back of the front seat, but the head was likely to strike the back of the front seat at a much lower point on the vehicle seat… a point that is often outside of the zone that is required to be padded to reduce the risk of head injuries.
The head and chest injury scores – which indicate how likely a real child would be to suffer a head or chest injury – were also significantly higher in the looser dummy because when the child is loose they can’t take as much advantage of the safety features that the car offers (like crumpling to absorb some of the force of the crash) to reduce injury to the people in the car.
If there is ever a place to dot your I’s and cross your T’s, your child’s car seat is certainly the place–it could literally save your child’s life. Car seat manufacturers and safety advocates warn that winter coats, snowsuits, buntings, sleeping bag inserts, head & body inserts you buy separately from the car seat, and other “fluff” are not safe in the car seat. In a nutshell, you end up holding the child’s body + fluff in the harness straps, and in a crash all the fluff compresses and the straps are too loose for the child’s body, which causes injuries. Besides the safety issue, winter coats and snowsuits make kids overheat in the car… and there’s no better way to piss a kid off than to overheat them while they’re strapped down. For a detailed explanation of why fluff is dangerous in the car seat, see here.
Step 1: Dress your child in layers before strapping him into his car seat
Dress your child in 2 to 4 thin, tight layers. How many layers to use will depend on how cold it is outside, if you can warm your car up ahead of time, and how cold/warm your child tends to be on average. The goal is that your child is comfortable in the car – not too cold and not overheating.
Long sleeve onesies/undershirts and tights/leggings/long johns make a great base layer for babies and older kids. For kids in diapers, leg warmers may be easier than tights/leggings when it comes to diaper changes – BUT if you have a child who loves pulling his shoes & socks off, tights are a great way to keep your little Houdini’s feet warm.
Fleece makes a great top layer – just make sure the jacket is thin & tight – otherwise you’ll have lots of fabric bunching up under the chest straps which isn’t safe. We love these Columbia fleece jackets – Steen Mt II for boys and Benton Springs for girls – available in infant, toddler, andkids sizes, they are typically under $30 and are great for the car seat (and for layering under another jacket when out on the playground in winter). They are snug fitting and survived a full winter of washings and look like new. The Columbia Snowtop II Bunting also works well (so long as you don’t get it 2 sizes too big).
Some of the REALLY thin down jackets will also work so long as they are thin AND properly sized for your child. We tried these OneKid Packable Down Lightweight Puffers (girls and boys) and found them to be safe for the car seat when worn in the appropriate size for the child.
3-in-1 jackets (with removable fleece inserts) are great for the car – since you can unzip the outer layer, remove it, and leave the fleece on under the straps. The outer jacket can be used over top of the straps (the child can use it as a blanket, or put their arms in the sleeves so it is worn backwards).
Please note that jacket also needs to be short – as if it is longer than to the hips it will definitely be too bulky for the car seat.
If you have a jacket or thin snowsuit that you are wondering whether it’s thin enough to be safe in the car seat, watch these videos:
Step 2: BUCKLE the child into the car seat and get the straps snug.
Step 3: Cover the child OVER the straps in a way that allows them to be warm without overheating in the car and then stay warm when they go back outside into the cold.
It’s safe to swaddle babies OVER the straps (never swaddle under the car seat straps). Use a thin receiving blanket first, then add a heavier blanket. Swaddling both warms and soothes babies. See this video for a how-to on car seat-safe swaddling.
At first glance, the 7A.M. Enfant Nido might not look safe for the car seat… but it absolutely is safe as it has a large oval hole in back that allows you to put the product on AFTER the baby is buckled snug. It will work in infant and convertible seats.
There are just 2 thin layers of fabric behind the head – so you shouldn’t have to worry about this pushing your baby’s head down into a chin to chest position like other products can do.
Shower Cap Style Covers
Called shower cap style as they have an elastic rim, these are covers that just go over the top of the car seat (with nothing under the straps or under the baby) and help keep the air surrounding the child warmer. They may also help keep people’s hands away from the baby when you’re around others. You’ll still likely want to use blankets on top of the child (under the shower cap cover) if it is really cold out.
Car Seat covers that ALSO work for babywearing (Ergo, Bjorn, Lillebaby, Beco, etc)
Sleeping bags, like the Bundle Me, have a layer of fluff that goes UNDER the baby’s body… which is exactly where you do NOT want to add fluff. Because these sleeping bags are sold separately from the car seat, they have no safety standards they are required to meet, are not required to undergo any crash testing on your child’s particular car seat, and most importantly their use is strictly prohibited by most car seat manufacturers.
In the picture below, the fist worth of room that you find with the sleeping bag removed is exactly what the straps would feel like in the instant of a crash when the sleeping bag is in use. The crash forces will compress all the fluff in the sleeping bag, making it as if the sleeping bag didn’t even exist, and the straps therefore way too loose for the baby’s body.
If you have a sleeping bag and would like to use it in the car seat, you can cut it to remove the fabric behind the child’s back and under the bottom, leaving behind a safe product as shown in this video. Please note that if you cut the product, you’ll need to sew the cut edges. Otherwise there will be filler material coming out, and that’s a choking hazard for the child.
*If you have a car seat made by TOMY/Lamaze/The First Years, the use of the Bundle Me is allowed in some of their car seats as the companies are owned by the same parent company.
There are some sleeping bags – like the 7 A.M. Enfant ones shown in the picture below – that are designed to allow you to use a part of them safely in the car seat. With these, you leave the bottom part of the sleeping bag in the stroller, and you zip the top part off to use on the car seat. The top part is specially designed with a fleece sleeve at the bottom that fits over the foot area of the car seat. Another way you can use the top part is to tuck the baby’s feet into the fleece sleeve and use the top part more as a bunting for the child (again, all the fluff is over the straps in this scenario – making it safe for the car).
Note: Just the top part of these products are safe to use in the car seat (despite what some of the marketing images on the company website may show). The bottom part, while not safe for the car seat, is absolutely safe to use in the stroller as strollers don’t get into crashes.
Unzip the Coat and Close it OVER the Straps
This is perfect for thin coats, because it gets rid of half of the fluff AND if the child gets warm during the car ride, they can unzip the coat to cool off a little. With bulky coats it’s still best to remove the coat completely (but, if you can’t/won’t remove the coat completely, this is a way to at least eliminate half of the fluff of the coat… which makes even the bulkiest of coats safer for the car seat).
The Cozywoggle is the only bulky coat that’s safe for the car seat. It opens in a unique way–it unzips from hip to wrist on both sides–which allows the harness straps to go under the coat. The coat becomes like a poncho when worn in the car seat. The coat is well made and quite warm for the child when worn outside the car (it is fleece lined in the torso part).
We understand there is a learning curve with using this product. We had some difficulty buckling the child, especially when the child was squirming, as the front of the coat hid the straps and buckles from view.
Note: while in the car, the child’s arms will not be completely in the sleeves of the coat due to how the coat unzips (it is possible to re-zip the sleeves halfway to the elbow, or leave them completely unzipped)
Car Seat Poncho
These hooded ponchos are made of 2 layers of thick fleece. They’re durable and wear well (many use them for multiple kids).
These are available in multiple styles and can be customized with features including a removable hood, zippered slits for hands (great for kids who want to still play with their toys in the car), snap-ups so that the child can walk around in it outside of the car without it dragging, and a lining for extra warmth.
This is a super deluxe, super warm blanket with sleeves (think Slanket) that can be used in the car seat, or stroller, or while wearing your baby facing out, or while watching movies in the house, or any other time you want a blanket AND your hands free. The bottom can snap up to keep legs and feet warm.
A blanket with a comfortable neck hole AND holes for the hands… allowing your child to stay covered but have their hands free for playing. Also works in strollers and on baby carriers (facing out). They have ones that are single layers, and ones where there are 2 layers of fabric (and will do custom orders). Works for babies and big kids up to about age 3.
Good old fashioned blankets
Keep them in the car to use to cover the child. If it’s really cold (and you want to give the child a treat), put the blanket in the dryer for a few minutes to get it toasty before bringing it out to the car. It’s also a good idea to keep a few warm blankets in the car in case the car breaks down and you’re stuck. You want to be able to keep your child and yourself warm as you wait for help.
Do Not dress your child in bulky clothing or other garments that will hinder the harness from being snug around your baby and properly latched between your child’s legs.
Accessory products for use with the Safety Seat are acceptable for use provided that they do not interfere with the harness assembly, or the proper adjustment of the harness such that it remains tight on the child’s shoulders at all times. Thick, soft, or other compressible material in excess of 1/4 inch thick should not be placed behind or under the child or between the child and harness straps. Examples of accessory products are head support pillows or rolled blankets to add additional head support.
The use of non-Britax Child Safety, Inc. covers, inserts, toys, accessories, or tightening devices is not approved by Britax. Their use could cause this restraint to fail Federal Safety Standards or perform worse in a crash. Their use automatically voids the Britax warranty.
NEVER use clothing or blankets that interfere with fastening or tightening the harness. An unsecured child could be ejected in a sudden stop or crash! To keep child warm, place a blanket over child and restraint AFTER you have properly secured child in harness.
DO NOT use any accessories, pads or products supplied by other manufacturers with this Child Restraint. Items not tested with this restraint could injure your child.
Child must be dressed in clothing with arms and legs that will not interfere with buckling and snugly adjusting harness. Never place blankets between harness and child.
Child must be dressed in clothing with arms and legs that will not interfere with buckling and snugly adjusting harness.
Do not use accessories or parts other than those provided by Combi USA. Use of accessories or parts from other manufacturers could alter the performance of the car seat.
Never secure child in infant carrier dressed in a bulky garment or heavy clothing.
Using any non-Diono/Sunshine Kids product with this restraint; or any product not specifically approved by Diono/Sunshine Kids for use with this restraint is not allowed. Use of such products voids manufacturer’s warranty and may seriously impact the products ability to perform properly in an accident.
Dorel (Cosco, Eddie Bauer, Maxi Cosi, Safety 1st)
Dorel Juvenile Group does not recommend the use of any child restraint accessories except those recommended by DJG.
In cold weather, DO NOT dress the child in bulky clothing like snowsuits if the child is riding in a child restraint. Bulky coats/ snowsuits make it difficult to properly tighten the harness to the child, which may allow the child to be ejected from the restraint during a crash.
DO NOT use accessories or parts other than those provided by Graco. Their use could alter the performance of the car seat.
Never use clothing or blankets that interfere with providing a properly tightened harness. An unsecured child can come out of the restraint during a crash. Place blankets over child AFTER harness has been properly tightened.
Do not modify your Infant Car Seat or Base. Only use products and accessories approved by Orbit Baby to ensure the safety of your child. This limited warranty does not apply to: defects resulting from use with covers, inserts, accessories, tightening devices, or other components not supplied by or expressly approved in writing by Orbit Baby.
Use only approved parts. Use of unapproved parts can affect the safety of the car seat and cause serious injuries in an accident.
When it is cold and you are using the seat in the Harness Mode, Recaro recommends the following tips to reduce possible injury or discomfort to your child:
Remove the child’s bulky clothing before restraining the child in the seat. This will help belts and other safety features function properly.
After restraining the child in the seat, cover the child and the restraint system with a blanket or their jacket to maintain warmth and comfort of the child.
TOMY/The First Years
DO NOT modify or attach any toys, padding, or other items to this seat. Untested modifications or padding could result in injury in a crash.
DO NOT secure an infant in the carrier with extra material, bulky clothing, or extra padding. Instead, place a blanket over the harness after properly securing the child.