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Published on January 13, 2017

Bundle up that baby – but not in the car seat!Bundle up that baby – but not in the car seat!

If you’re taking your little one for a winter walk, bundle up that baby. But if you’re going for a drive, don’t put a warm, puffy coat on your child.

That might not seem to make sense, but there’s an important safety reason. In a car accident, the fluffy material will flatten from the pressure of the car seat’s straps. That creates space between the child and the harness. A child could slip between the straps – and out of the car seat.

“We recommend that children are not bundled in their winter clothes when they’re strapped in a car seat for just that reason, because it’s essentially as if they’re traveling with loose straps,” said pediatrician Dawnnica Eastman, MD, of Seaside Pediatrics in West Yarmouth. “The straps may be tight over the coat but it’s not safe.”

For the same reason, Dr. Eastman doesn’t recommend using additional padding on car seats for newborns.

“They sell little positioners and strap padding, and we recommend avoiding all of those things. They can compress in an accident and it’s not safe.”

So how do you keep a baby or toddler warm while traveling on a winter day?

“Pre-warming the car before you put the child in the car seat helps a lot, especially for the smaller ones,” says Dr. Eastman.

“What I generally tell parents is the child should be wearing indoor-type clothing. You can drape the coat over them after you buckle them in or cover them with a cozy blanket.”

Keep the child’s coat or snowsuit handy, she said, so you can put it on the young one as soon as they’re unbuckled and before you leave the car.

“It’s kind of hassle but it’s only for a couple of years,” she said. “It takes a little more time and preparation than driving during the summer, but we do whatever it takes for children to be as safe as possible in the car.” (And remember that it’s also risky for grown-ups to wear a puffy coat under a seat belt.)

A video prepared by Consumer Reports demonstrates the hazards of putting a child wearing a winter coat into a car seat and shows how to test that the straps are properly snug.

Winter Safety Tips

A few more tips come from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Store the carrier portion of infant seats inside the house when not in use. Keeping the seat at room temperature will reduce the loss of the child’s body heat in the car.
  • Get an early start. If you’re planning to head out the door with your baby in tow on winter mornings, you need an early start. You have a lot to assemble, and your baby may not be the most cooperative. Plus, driving in wintry conditions will require you to slow down and be extra cautious.
  • You can add a blanket over the top of the harness straps or put your child’s winter coat on backwards (over the buckled harness straps) after he or she is buckled up. Some parents prefer products such as poncho-style coats or jackets that zip down the sides so the back can flip forward over the harness.

Additionally, Dr. Eastman suggested that parents keep some extra items in the car, just in case your car breaks down during cold weather.

“Even if they’re not wearing it in the car seat, make sure you have outdoor clothing in the car for the child,” she said. “Be prepared to be exposed to the elements if you are stuck somewhere. Don’t leave the house without hats, gloves and other clothing to bundle them up.”

She suggested carrying some basic emergency items – water, snacks that won’t spoil and a flashlight, for example – and to bring a well-charged cell phone to call for help if you do have a problem.