Safe in the Seat

Winter Safety FAQs

On top of the hustle of getting kiddos in car seats, now we get to do what we mamas do best: get kiddos in car seats while freezing our bums off and worrying that they stay safe and warm.

Did you know kids’ bodies heat up at a much faster rate than adult bodies? Their thermoregulatory systems aren’t as developed as ours, so they absorb lots of heat but have a harder time cooling down through sweat. Bad news: Same goes for cold weather. Since our littles are very small, they lose heat more quickly too. (Because of course, why wouldn’t they?)

First things first —bulky clothing is not safe to wear in car seats. It creates too much space between the restraint (5-point harness or seatbelt) and the body. Any extra padding will compress in a crash leaving slack which allows your child’s body to move wayyyyy more than we want it to before that restraint kicks in. The key to surviving the cold? Smart layering. Onesie, long outfits, booties, hat/mittens. Harness them in the car seat then add a blanket tucked in over the top. You’ll be a layering pro in no time. (I lived in South Bend, Indiana for four years, so this Florida girl knows a little bit about cold weather!)

Now, we’re talking about keeping our little ones safe and warm from the house to the car, from the car to school, on an errand, or a playdate and back home. As long as the car has heat, we’re not really worried about their time in the car. What we are concerned about is the transition. How do we move our littles in and out of the car and do it in a way that is safe, warm and — let’s be honest — the least amount of hassle possible?

Being the Tampa mama that I am, I reached out to Angela Campos, mom of two, child passenger safety technician extraordinaire and a resident of actual cold weather to share her answers to these frequently asked questions…

How do I know if the clothing my child is wearing is to bulky to wear under the harness?
Do the coat test! Put the child’s bulky clothing on and harness them in tight, then unbuckle them without loosening the harness and put them back in the seat. If you can pinch harness slack together at their shoulders than you know that the clothing is too bulky to wear under the 5-point harness. Download the step by step guide here.

It’s freezing outside. (No, really.) How do I get my kid(s) from the house to the car if I can’t put them in their seats with a bulky coat on?
Covering littles with a blanket or poncho works well for a quick trip door-to-door.

What are my best stay-warm options for kids in harnessed seats?
For toddlers and older kids, I find fleece jackets easiest since they generally fit under the harness. We keep blankets in the car as an added layer and purchase a “shell” for them to use when playing in the snow.

How do I keep my babe warm in a stroller?
Check out Safe in the Seat’s Facebook page for safe options. You can just search “stroller blanket” online too. There are tons of great products out there for keeping warm on walks! Plus, while the BundleMe style covers aren’t safe in a car seat, they’re fine for strollers. If you’re using an infant seat, the cocoon-style covers may be the simplest option.

Are blankets safe to use in the car?
Yep! A blanket tucked around your little one as a top layer over the harness is great for added warmth and blocking wind.

What about hats and/or hoodies?
Hats are fine — just make sure they’re well fitted. I actually take my kids’ hats off in the car because they get too hot after a few minutes. As for hoodies, hoods (and scarves) should be pulled up so they aren’t stuck behind the back or under the harness. I like to pull hoods up and off to the side so it’s not bunched behind their neck.

Silly question — what about cloth diapers?
Not a silly question! Cloth diapers are pre-compressed layers of fabric that attach to your child. There is no concern with cloth diapers and car seats. #flufflove

What if I cut the back of a BundleMe, then can I use it on my car seat in the car?
This would be safe as long as you cut the portion where the crotch buckle slot is too. You can’t thread any portion of the harness through the fabric of the BundleMe. By the time you cut out that giant rectangle from the back panel most of it is gone and you would have been just as well off getting a shower cap style instead.

Why is the car seat coat (with an opening to put a buckle through) unsafe?
Nothing should ever go around the harness system. If you have to thread the harness straps or crotch buckle through any part of any product, it isn’t safe. There are a select few car seat coats that are a safe option if you do want something that can stay on in the car.

Is a thin layer bunting suit safe for an infant?
Something like a fleece bunting suit is likely OK as long as it passes the coat test! This is really trial and error with different brands and how the bunting fits your child. Also, be mindful of how hot baby is getting in the car so they don’t overheat.

How can you tell if baby is overheating?
Good question! Often caregivers will find them sweaty or irritable after riding in the car.

Maxi-Cosi sells car seat footmuffs! Safe or no?
These are safe for use only on Maxi-Cosi seats

How do I do this logistically with multiple kids in tow that all need harnessed in?
This is where I really find fleece jackets become the easiest option. You can bundle all the kids up inside and then walk them out to the car and directly into their seats. Blankets can be snuggled up in after harnesses are in place.

What aftermarket products are safe to use in cold weather? Which aren’t?
Honestly there are so many products out there these days there is no perfect answer to this. In short- nothing should go behind your kiddo that adds bulk or is compressible. Nothing can be used that requires you to thread the harness or crotch buckle through it. When in doubt, do the coat test to see how the item changes the fit of the harness when in use and as always, contact a Child Passenger Safety Technician for clarification if needed.