It’s sub-30 outside and snowing. Naturally, everyone from grannies to fast-pedaling cyclists is bundling up to escape the bitter nastiness of winter weather. And it’s tempting to put the puffiest jacket or snowsuit on your baby to keep things warm and cozy for them throughout the ride.
But child safety experts say that heavily padded cold-weather clothes aren’t safe. So, how do you keep your baby warm in the car seat when it’s chilly outside without putting them in harm’s way?
In this post, you’ll learn 6 practical ways to keep things warm and cozy in the car seat even on the coldest winter days.
I’ve Loved My Baby Dangerously Myself
I’ve been there myself, done that. Because I’m a caring mom. And I guess I’m not the only one.
It’s frosty outside, and I have to put my lovely tikes in their car seats. But it’s freezing outdoors, and like any other good mom, I bundle them up and off we walk to the car.
I help them wear their harness and strap them in nice and snug. Because loose-fitting safety devices can’t be trusted. I even do a little harness strap pinch test to make sure that the strap is taut enough. After tweaking the harness a bit, it is tight enough and securely safe, but is it?
It’s still chilly and windy outside, but my tots stay toasty warm thanks to all of the padding and puffiness covering them. But what would happen if a crash occurred?
I’ll leave that to your imagination. But every car safety expert who knows their thing advises parents to stay away from puffy winter coats and snowsuits. Layering a child excessively because it’s extremely cold outside is really loving them dangerously.
It’s Better to be Cold and Alive Than Warm And…
You want your little angel to be warm and happy as they ride to whatever destination you’re heading to. But if the harness loosens up too much and a sudden stop or crash happens, what happens? The child slips out and flies off their seat. And the worst happens.
The problem with using extremely thick clothes to keep children warm in a car seat in the winter is that it lessens the harness’ safety.
When crash energy reaches the bloaty jacket, the jacket compresses and creates too much space between itself and the harness strap. The straps get loose and their ability to protect your child gets significantly compromised.
Here’s How Puffy Winter Clothes Reduce Harness Safety
Here’s a little experiment to test the theory that padding in winter baby layers is a threat to car seat safety. Put the warmest winter coats you have around on your child. Then, take them into the car and put the harness on them.
Tighten the harness to a place where there’s no space at all between the harness and your tot’s small, vulnerable body.
Next, unclip the straps and help the child take off their astronaut jacket and buckle them right in. How well does the harness secure the child now? I bet you can slip a fist in there now!
Today.com performed a crash test using a child-like dummy that demonstrated just how dangerous putting a chunky winter coat on children can be. This crash test simulated what happens during impact, and the child got thrown off the seat. It was terrifying.
A standard fluffy winter coat adds about 4 inches of extra thickness around a child’s body. And we’re talking highly compressible fluff here. If car crash impacts can compress a steel body, imagine what those massive forces would do to a soft, small body.
Conclusion: puffy coats endanger the lives of children in car seats. Avoid them and dress your child in thinner, lighter cold-weather clothes.
How to Determine Whether a Toddler’s Winter Jacket is Safe in the Carseat
Pinch testing a padded coat is the best way to determine if it’ll be safe for car seat use when it’s freezing outdoors. Simply buckle your child in and tighten the harness as you should.
Then, unstrap him and take the heavy winter jacket off of their body. Next, buckle them in again, and don’t try to tighten the harness. Leave the harness where it was when you put the baby into the seat the first time.
If you can fit a fist between the harness and your kiddo’s body, there’s too much room there. And having any amount of room there is a recipe for disaster. That safety device certainly won’t provide full protection to your little one if you slam on the brakes suddenly for whatever reason. Or if you get involved in a collision of any magnitude.
But if all you can get into the space between harness and baby’s body is one finger, the harness is tight enough. You can count on it to keep your loved one safe and secure when an impact happens.
6 Ways to Warm Up a Baby in the Car Seat
Related: How to Keep Baby Warm in Stroller
Below are 6 strategies many moms use or have used to keep the cold out without endangering their kids:
1. Pre-warm your car adequately before buckling in your child.
2. Put a car seat poncho on your baby.
3. Have them wear a light sweater or a thin fleece jacket.
4. Put their winter coat on backwards.
5. Put a car seat blanket over the child.
6. Use a manufacturer-approved car seat cover that meets flammability standards.
1. Warm Up Your Car for 10 Minutes
You already knew this, but I’ll say anyway. Make sure to turn on the heat in your car before putting in your child. If you have remote start and it’s freezing outside, start warming the car 10 minutes before bringing out the child.
If you can’t remotely preheat your minivan or whatever car you have, walk out to the vehicle without your kiddo and turn on the heater. Then dress the baby in fleece or winter coat and walk straight to the car.
This method works really well as long as your automobile has proper heating.
2. Put a Car seat Fleece Poncho on Your Baby
Do you know what’s the best way to keep a baby toasty warm on a -40 wintry day? Putting a fleece poncho on a child is a super effective way to keep the cold out without compromising safety.
You can buy a good enough car seat poncho on Etsy or anywhere else online for roughly $20. Alternatively, if you have a friend who sews, you can talk them into sewing a fleece car seat poncho for your kiddo. Or just find someone who sews and sells ponchos locally. That shouldn’t be hard.
What I used to do when my kids were young is have them wear a sweater or hoodie before dropping a poncho over their head. At this point, put your kiddo in the car seat.
Then, grab the poncho’s back and lift up so that it now covers the car seat. What’s your little one wearing now? Pretty much a hooded cold-weather car seat blanket.
Your baby can also use the poncho for walking to the car when it’s cold outside and getting out of the car once you reach your destination. If you’re not a big fan of wearing the winter coat backwards, consider the car seat poncho idea.
And if you’re good with your hands and have a sewing machine, you can make your own car seat poncho. I came across a really useful resource on how to make a poncho at home. Lots of moms found the poncho sewing guide helpful and easy to follow.
3. Use a Baby Blanket Until The Car Warms Up
One way to keep your tot nice and warm in the car seat is to put a light blanket over their carrier. You also want to wrap your baby up when carrying them between your house and the car.
If it’s not too cold and your car’s heating is working great, you most likely won’t need a blanket. Because no loving mom or dad wants to roast their kiddo as though they were some Christmas turkey. So, remove the blanket once the car gets warm.
I used the one-size Hudson Baby Baby Blanket. It’s light, warm, and super soft. This baby blanket washes well and you won’t notice fuzz coming off as is often the case with some super soft car seat blankets. And the best part? This item is pretty inexpensive at around $14 as of this writing.
But I noticed that what I got from Amazon was somewhat different than what I’d bought in-store as a new mom. The online deal cost significantly cheaper, though, so I didn’t feel ripped off.
4. Consider Using a Car Seat Cover
It’s almost always best to stay away from accessories that didn’t come with your kiddo’s car seat. Any accessory that’s worn between your child and the harness or seat belt can severely compromise car seat safety.
But is it safe to use a car seat cover? Car seat covers are not safe if they’ve not been certified as safe by the car seat manufacturer. If it’s an aftermarket product that fully meets flammability standards and came as part of the deal from the provider, don’t worry. As long as you use the seat cover correctly, you should be fine.
I used a cover to keep my babies warm and protected from the elements. Another reason I used a seat cover was to keep skeets out. And with lots of touchy old ladies around who like pinching soft babies’ cheeks, a cover comes in handy.
5. Have Your Child Wear Their Winter Coat Backwards
What you should do is strap your kiddo in and then put their winter coat on backwards. The coat doesn’t get in the way and doesn’t compromise car seat safety in any way since it’s worn over the seat belt or harness. You want to use a coat without a hood because it works better.
It’s a safe way to keep babies warm and cozy in the car seat when the winter season rolls around. When you reach your destination and it’s still cold, help your kiddo wear the coat.
6. Use a Warm Sweater or a Thin Fleece Jacket
A sweater or a thin fleece jacket is a safe way to keep a walking baby warm in and out of the car seat. These items are much less bulky compared to a snowsuit or a winter coat. And because they’re significantly less thick, they’re definitely safer to use with a harness or seat belt.
You won’t have to put these clothing items on and off your child all the time. You’ll appreciate the convenience this winter baby dressing for the car seat offers.
Helping a kid wear a sweater or fleece jacket doesn’t take forever. But it takes some time and a bit of effort. And kids aren’t always cooperative when it’s icy and there’s wind chills.
You have learned at least 6 actionable tips on how to keep your baby warm in the car seat in sub-zero temperatures. Now, what remains is for you to obtain the car blanket, seat cover, a fleece jacket, or whatever else you need for your littles. Whatever y0u do, prioritize your child’s safety.
I'm Esther Moni, a proud stay-at-home mom and a psychology graduate of the United States International University (USIU) . I hate it when anyone calls me a housewife, because what does housewife even mean? Being a mother of two babies and a pup, Bailey, as well as being Ricky's wife tires me to no end, but I still manage a smile at the end of it all. And when my boys aren't done doing mischief, I juggle writing a post on parenting or baby gear performance for this blog and running my little counselling office based out in Nairobi. <a href="https://www.facebook.com/esther.moni/">Visit my Facebook profile here</a>, and this is my <a href="https://ke.linkedin.com/in/esther-moni-3841b573/">LinkedIn profile</a>, and here's my <a href="https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKcVb3NNDrURDH8C0KiAE1g/">nascent youtube channel.