If coat’s too bulky, carseat harness might not work right
Baby, it’s cold outside. But even as temperatures dip, parents should be careful about pairing bulky coats and child car seats. Most car seat manufacturers warn against big coats, saying the fabrics and fillers interfere with the safety of the seat.
At issue is the fact that bulky coats compress in a crash — even at low speeds. That means the harness straps could slacken in a crash, allowing the child to be ejected. (The Illinois Childhood Passenger Protection Act requires that all children under 8 use a child restraint system when riding in a vehicle. The state does not regulate coat usage inside of car seats.)
“Parents often have a hard time understanding crash dynamics,” says Jennie Reiff, a child passenger safety technician and a local writer for carseatblogs.com. “In a way car seats are very simple, and in another way they are very complex. We have all that extra padding between us and the seat belt. It’s something people don’t think about.”
That said, it’s impractical for Chicagoans to place a coatless kid into a freezing car seat or to carry a coatless child outside in freezing temperatures. In those cases, experts say the best way to keep kiddos warm and safe is to reconsider the coat option. The hard, puffy, Michelin-man-esque toppers aren’t the best car coats. Rather, parents should find a down coat that is super soft and very squishy — i.e., easily compressible under the seatbelt harness. Or, parents can try layering their children in thin fabrics that lock in warmth.
“Who’s got 45 minutes to wrestle their child into the car?” says Amy Tara Koch, a local fashionista and author known for finding mom-friendly fashion solutions. Her kids wear thin layers in their car seats. “It’s really difficult if the car is parked outside.”
Koch recommends coats manufactured by Uniqlo, which she says are warm when layered with fleece and quite thin. “They are Japanese and the puffer coats are super thin but very insulated,” she said. “In this weather, if it’s below 32 degrees, you layer with a fleece under it.”
Other Chicago parents recommend fleece jackets paired with windbreakers. And for infants or toddlers in rear facing seats, parents can first strap baby into the seat and then tuck an old-fashioned blanket around the child. Also safe are showercap-style car seat covers with an elastic rim but a middle opening for the child’s face. (Note: J.J. Cole’s Bundleme coverings are not recommended for use inside of car seats for the same reasons that bulky coats are not recommended for use inside of cars.)
Chicco, maker of car seats, recommends putting an older child in the car seat minus their coat, buckling him in and then putting the coat on backward over the child’s arms.
“For a child’s car safety seat to perform the way it was designed, the harness must fit properly and remain snug against your child’s body. If the harness is not used properly, your child is at risk of injury,” says Julie Prom, Chicco’s child passenger safety instructor.
However, car seat safety technician and cars.com news editor Jennifer Geiger also suggests strapping an older kid in with their coat wide open, so that the car seat harness straps are pulled tight on the chest versus on the coat. Otherwise, she says, a car seat poncho works well for older kids in front-facing seats. For infants up to 30 pounds, Chicco offers an attachable “boot” for some car seats (some versions of the Chicco Keyfit 30). It’s essentially a manufacturer-produced infant car seat cover that will not interfere with the harness.
“The tricky thing is that obviously you don’t want to loosen your straps to fit into that coat,” says Geiger, who lives in Chicago. “But if the coat is open, and the child is already in the coat and the coat is already compressed against her back, that’s not going to affect the fit of the straps. You don’t want more than an inch of slack in that chest harness clip.”
No matter what method is used, parents should test their kid’s current car seat coat safety as follows:
† Put coat on baby, and put baby in car seat. Pull straps as tight as possible. Lock baby in car seat.
† Take baby out of car seat without loosening straps.
† Take coat off baby and return baby to car seat. Strap baby back in without adjusting straps.
† If the straps are loose, then the coat is not thin enough for the car seat.