Thursday, December 20, 2012

Car Seats and Winter Coats: How to Keep the Little Ones Warm (and SAFE)

This is the second in a series on car seat safety, written by Megan Arce, CPST (Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician) and mother to 2 little princesses. My daughter, Bethany, introduced us and I was thrilled when she agreed to write this series for me. So, for the next few weeks, make sure you check back in on Thursdays for more important information all parents, and grandparents and other caregivers, need to know to keep our precious little ones safe! *Note: GG is taking a break next week, so the third entry in this series will not be posted until January 3, 2013.

Several videos about the dangers of children wearing puffy coats in car seats have been making their way through the social media, and for this I am thrilled -- word is getting out about this danger! I am not seeing a lot of realistic alternatives for parents who live in a very cold climate, however. Taking a child’s coat off before buckling her into a car seat may actually sound like torture mid-winter! There are several ways to keep your child comfortable AND safe in the car though, I promise.

First, why are thick, puffy, bulky winter coats not advised for use in a car seat? Basically, too much puff in a coat means too much excess air in between the child and the harness. This air will compress in a collision, and the child will likely suffer from internal injuries resulting from slamming into the loose harness. A puffy coat can create an ill-fitting harness, and can also mask a bad harness fit (i.e. shoulder straps may not even be on the shoulders), and a child could be completely ejected from the seat. Children can overheat quite quickly as well, especially in the car.

I conducted the following test on my daughter as a visual reference of puffy coat danger:

1) Dressed in winter attire, M was buckled in a car seat
and I snugly adjusted the harness (no excess material to 
pinch). Even to my trained eye, she looks perfect:

2) Leaving the harness tight (unloosened/unchanged), I unbuckled her, removed the puffy coat and returned her to the seat in only a single layer shirt:


3) Here is how much slack was in the harness:


I repeated this test in a thin fleece jacket and the results speak for themselves -- MUCH safer:


Another cold weather no-no is a bundle sack -- a fleece lined pouch fits over the infant seat and almost completely cocoons baby inside. These seem like a good, warm idea but these products: A) are not crash tested by either the car seat manufacturer or the sack’s manufacturer, B) do not contain flame-resistant material that a car seats does, and C) interfere with the harness when attaching around and through it with Velcro, which could cause the harness to fail. Most car seat manuals specify that the use of ANY after market products is not approved by the car seat manufacturer with the car seat, and therefore would void the owner’s warranty. These items are wonderful for use in strollers, but not car seats!

So what you CAN do to keep a child warm in the car?  A thin, single layer of fleece (as shown above) is the best option, either hooded or add a hat. Thin fleece does not compress, and gives a child a good warmth foundation.  Blankets can be added ON TOP of the harness as needed, and they can easily be removed if the child becomes overheated. Using the child’s puffy coat backwards, on top of the harness, is a safe option, as are Snuggie blankets and ponchos (with the back lying up against car seat back, over child’s head, not behind). These are all safe, realistic options. The overall goal is to keep as little excess space between the child and the harness as possible

With Christmas right around the corner, I felt it was a good time to conduct a “puffy dress” test as well. Here is my oldest darling, donning a puffy dress, harnessed snugly in a car seat:

And here is how much slack was actually in her harness after removing the dress, but leaving the harness unaltered:


Please use caution with clothing and car seats- it is a far more relevant danger than it seems!   

“When you know better, you do better!”

Click here to read the first in the series -- Car seats and air travel

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