Winter Car Seat Reminders: Three Holiday Gifts of Safety

Baby, it's cold outside! As the temperature is dropping, parents are bundling up their little ones to keep them warm and comfortable. And, for many of them, this is the very first winter season with a little person in the house. Pure joy.Recently, however, my face is turing as sour as Scrooge. I am seeing a large number of children being transported in car seats incorrectly. Specifically, infants secured in car seats with bulky after-market products, kids strapped into convertible seats while wearing large puffy coats, and babies being placed in a front-facing car seat too soon.

I want your most precious gift to arrive safely to your Holiday gatherings. So, as you are preparing the family sleigh for the drive to Grandma's house, let's review some car seat safety rules.

1. If it did not come in the box with the car seat, it should not be under the straps of the car seat. The ONLY exception to this rule? Your baby.

Everything that comes in the box with the car seat has been tested for optimal protection in case of collision. If an item did not come in the box; it should not be attached, installed, or used underneath the car seat straps.

Why? Because items placed behind and around the car seat straps can interfere with the snug strap fit. A poor strap fit decreases a child's safety. Items such as sleeping-bag style car seat blankets are not safe because too much cushion behind the baby does not allow for the snuggest straps. In addition, infants can overheat in these fleece bags.

car seat safety
car seat safety
car seat safety
car seat safety

Fuzzy animal strap covers and cushy infant head supports, that did not come with the seat, are also not safe. These items should not be used unless exclusively directed by a professional car seat installer or medical professional.

“But, Dr. Natasha, there is a whole aisle in Big Box Baby Store full of this stuff! And, the fuzzy bear strap covers are so cute.”

Please repeat after me: Just because you can buy it, does not mean it is safe. Although items will boast "tested for safety" claims on the packages, there are no safety standards for these after-market products. Cute or not, these items are interfering with the integrity of the original seat design and should not be used.

“So, how do I keep my infant warm?”

Dress your infant in thin layers. Add a hat. Secure your infant in the seat. Pull straps snug. Put blankets over the straps and your baby. Alternatively, use a fleecy car seat cover that does not go behind the infant's back.

2. Puffy coats are an adorable choice for outerwear this season. A car seat, however, is no place for fashion statements.

For the same reason infant car seats should not have thick strap covers or sleeping-bag style blankets, kids should not be wearing thick coats while strapped in their seats. The extra padding on the chest and shoulders does not allow for the snuggest fit of the car straps. They also will quickly get uncomfortable as the car warms up.

car seat safety
car seat safety
car seat safety
car seat safety

Keep your child warm by having a car blanket available to cover them once they a securely buckled in. Alternatively, buckle in your kids first, then have them put the arms in their coat backwards. They can easily remove the coat if they get too warm.

The "no puffy coat" rule also applies to infant snowsuits and thick-fleecy bunting outfits. Get your infant out of these items before putting him in his seat.

“How do I know if my child's coat is too puffy?”

Put your child in the car seat, wearing her coat. Get the straps as snug as possible.  Now, get your child out of the seat and take her coat off. Place her back in the seat. If you need to tighten the straps after she gets back in the seat, the coat is too puffy and should only be worn when out of the car.

3.  If installed correctly and properly used, a toddler in a rear-facing car seat is 500 times safer than in a forward-facing seat. Really. Five-zero-zero times safer.

Although most of my patient families have heard my "rear-facing until 2" mantra, it begs to be repeated. In 2011, the AAP released a report discussing safety data for U.S. child passengers. The report suggested the longer the child is able to remain rear facing, the safer they will be during a collision. The numbers were solid, and significant. Specifically, children in the second year of life are five-times less likely to be seriously injured or die in a crash rear-facing than forward-facing. To review the paper and its content, visit this post aboutcar seat safety.

car seat safety
car seat safety

“But, Dr. Natasha, rear-facing doesn't look comfortable.”

The car seat is not meant to be a La-Z-Boy®. It is meant to keep your child safe. It is not fair to your child to make a safety decision based upon what you may perceive as comfortable. I assure you, children have smaller hips and more flexible ligaments than an adult. They will not complain about this positioning if it is the only way they know how to ride in the car.

“His feet hit the back of the seat!”

The rear-facing car seat is positioned to optimize head and neck protection during a crash. Surprisingly,arms and legs are safertoo! Only 1% of serious injuries for those under the age of 2 involved arm or leg injuries. If forward facing, arm and leg injury risk jumps to 25%.

“He can't see the DVD player if she is facing the back seat.”

Shockingly, our generation survived car travel without digital entertainment. Amuse your child by singing and talking loudly, playing with car-only soft toys and books, and having safe snacks and drinks. An older sibling can be entertaining with funny faces and songs. While traveling, be sure the sun is not glaring in your toddlers eyes and they have some good air flow.

Add your favorite boredom-busters to the comments below.

Spread the word about car seat safety to your friends in the carpool lane, your boss at the Christmas party, and at grandma's dinner table. Tell your daycare provider to leave your daughter out of her winter coat when you pick her up. Explain why.

You may be the one to save the life of a child by sharing this message with someone you care about. And, there could be no greater gift than that.

Enjoy the ride!

**A huge thanks to my families who let me take photos of their car seats for this post.