Winter Wear Car Seat Guide: Some Best Practices & Advice from the Experts 

A little girl in a car seat
Fine me
Latest posts by Eran Jones, Child Passenger Safety Technician and Advocate (see all)

It’s now September and the temperature is starting to drop. Our morning routines become more hectic with all the added layers and cranky children who just do not want to get out of the house. We grab our jackets, mittens, and toques, and into the car, we go. In this article, I will hopefully enlighten you on how to keep your little ones safe in the car in those colder months.

Coming from a country where it gets pretty chilly, we know all too well how those big parkas are so comforting in those sub-zero temperatures. However, those big parkas pose a danger to our children in car seats and even us as adults.

Keeping Those Squishy New Born Babies Warm

Let’s start with those lovely newborn babies with that fresh baby smell. After you have spent 40 weeks cooking that baby inside, you want to make sure they’re safe on the outside world. You start by choosing the right seat to take your baby home in. Babies do not know how to regulate their body heat so it is important to make sure you do not overdress or under-dress your precious miracle.

Back in the day, we bundled them up in these huge snowsuits that could barely fit the car seat itself.  What we know now is that this is unsafe. It doesn’t allow the harness to do its job in a collision and your child could be ejected in the event of a collision.

How Do We Keep Those Fresh Little Squishy Babies Bundled?

Malachi Training doll

The safest way to keep them warm is to strap them into the seat nice and snug. Make sure you have checked the harness is at or below the shoulders and the chest clip is level with their armpits.  You will then wrap your baby over the hardness tucking in the sides of receiving blanket along the baby. You can then add another

blanket over the top if you wish. However as stated, babies can not regulate their body temperatures. You do not want to cook your baby while in the car. You as an adult while traveling if you get hot you are able to remove your jacket. A child strapped into a seat can not do so.

Bunting Bag

Baby Maddi

You can purchase a shower cap style bunting bag, however, these must be removed while in a vehicle as it can interfere with the mechanism of your infant seat. It also becomes extremely hot under that bunting bag and your baby will get cranky.

Baby Maddi

The bunting bags that go completely in the seat and under the baby are only recommended for use in the stroller, because:

  • It interferes with the harness
  • It creates extra space between your child and the harness
  • Can cause infants to overheat and become uncomfortable 
  • Is not approved by manufacturers for use with their seats in the car
  • Rule of a thumb, if it did not come with the seat, it does not belong with the seat
Here is my first bio son Trent, this was before I knew better, this is not safe for the car.

Now, full bunting bags can be great for those stroller walks on the cool fall morning. However, leave them for the walks.  Your child’s safety is not a parenting choice.

Car Seat Safe Options

Along with innovation for car seats comes great creators trying to make a difference in the world of child passenger safety. Some companies have created car seat-safe suits and jackets that do not interfere with the harness mechanism.

Buckle Me Baby Coats

Training Doll Camila
Infant Buckle Me Baby Snow Suit

Buckle Me Baby Coats( recently seen on Shark Tank), has different outerwear that can safely be used in the car seat. They range from sizes 0/3 to 18 months for their infant suits and 6m to 10 years for some of their wonderful jackets. Creator Dahlia has put her heart and soul into making sure that every little passenger is warm and secure in their seats. Dahlia has since become a certified child passenger safety technician and is saving lives as she goes.

These jackets are compressible and allow for you to safely buckle up your child while preventing interference with the harness.  One thing I really love about this option is the fact that my child can play outdoors in the cold weather and still be warm.

It is also great to know that children can remain safe and still be stylish.  Another great feature of this is that they can be worn for multiple years before being outgrown. Buckle Me Baby coats has a size quiz on their website so you can make sure you are getting the correct size.

Winter Safety in Car seats

Compressible Puffer Jackets

If you don’t want to spend extra money another good option is the compressible puffer coat options. You can get some from as low as 15$ at Walmart. There are other companies like Columbia, Patagonia Nano, and Mountain Wearhouse that also offer great compressible toddler jackets.

A compressible jacket allows you to properly tighten the harness so that your child can be secured in their seats. It acts as a small layer of clothing that keeps your child warm in the car and cozy to run from the house to the car without having all the extra bulk. Coming from a Canadian, your child will not catch hypothermia going from the house to the car.

Even discount shopping like PatPat and Amazon offer options to parents for low costs when on sale.

Puffer Jacket from Columbia And PatPat

Columbia Fleece One Piece Bunting Suits

A very popular recommendation from many technicians for safe winter wear in the car seat is the Columbia Fleece Bunting suit and all the companies that make similar products.

These are lightweight but keep your child warm and safe in the car. Available in multiple fun colors and patterns it leaves you with quite the selection. The fleece suits from Columbia do run a little on the larger side, so do not size up to avoid extra unwanted bulk under the harness.

Columbia Fleece One Piece

Car Seat Ponchos

Another great option is a car seat poncho. Yes like a regular poncho. With or without hood and quite easy to make yourself if you’re crafty! A poncho allows you to simply buckle your child in and them be covered in a blanket for your trip.

Many creators have developed new styles and patterns to their ponchos. All serve the same purpose and keep your children conveniently cozy.

Pictured here is the Original Car Seat Poncho.

 

Car Seat Safety 101

At the end of the day, everyone just wants what is best for their children. That means safety, comfort, and most of all happiness. While some of these options might work for some children, it might not work for others. My daughter, for example, loves posing in all these wonderful options. However, she is a child that overheats easily. She is much more comfortable in just a simple sweater in the car. My son, he has sensory issues so not all these options work long-term for him.

The safest winter solution in a car seat, is to just wear your normal clothing. However, I hope with some of these safer choices you can find the perfect way for your baby and children to stay safe and warm.

Some things to be prepared for in case of an emergency.

Travel Emergency Kit

A great tip for traveling is to have an emergency box secured in your vehicle. Things to have in this box are all in case of an emergency.  Putting these in a sealed Rubbermaid container is a good option to keep it contained.

  • Plastic Water Bottles– Switched these out quarterly to ensure you do not get plastic intoxication
  • Change of Clothes– Make sure to have the right sizes of clothes for your children for each season. Be sure to set a reminder to switch out the clothing periodically. You don’t want to be stuck with shorts in the middle of a snowstorm.
  • Blanket– Always have a spare blanket. If you are ever on the side of the road in the middle of winter it can come in handy.
  • Snacks and Protein bars– Always good to have with cranky kids if your car breaks down. Even pack spare sippy cups and bottles.
  • Kids Stuffed Animal or a Toy- Small comfort items that might help the possible long wait for help.
  • A Battery operated handheld radio– It is best to keep the batteries in a separate ziplock. This can help you to hear if there are any troubles ahead you might need to be aware of.
  • Garbage Bags– Never know when you might need to clean up a mess. Ziplocks are a good choice also.
  • A Map– A good Old School map of the location you are visiting! You never know when your phone will let go. Technology has a funny way of not working when you need it most.
  • Chargers & cords– It is important that you pack yourself spare chargers and cords. You would hate to be stranded in some random highway motel with no way to charge your phone or child’s tablet. And if you are anything like me, you don’t remember the important phone numbers.
  • First Aid Kit– Not only for yourself but for others you might assist.

Collisions can happen at any time. Most times when you are in a collision your body will be in shock. Or if you break down on the side of the highway your adrenaline will kick in. Making yourself prepared for anything and everything is a good way to make it easier for you and your littlest passengers.

Installation

Figuring out how to keep your child safe and warm is a huge step in traveling those colder months. However, the first step to safety is ALWAYS ensuring your child’s seat is installed correctly.

  • Check expiry date
  • Make sure your child has not maxed out any of the limits of the seat.
  • Check that your seat is moving less than an inch side to side and front to back
  • Make sure that your seat is reclined correctly using the correct recline level for your child’s height and weight.
  • Forward facing always uses the top tether in the correct tether hook and be sure it is attached.
  • Make sure your child’s harness is nice and snug and passes the pinch test
  • Rear-facing they should be at or below shoulders and forward-facing at or above shoulders.
  • Always read your manuals!!!!

FAQs

Question: Why are these products marketed as car seat tested if they are unsafe?

Answer: Short answer, because there is no real regulation on aftermarket products. Any company can do their own tests and it works great. However, most of these tests are done independently and not approved by the manufacturers of the seat.
You do have some manufacturers who produce their own products that are approved and tested with their seat. It is a simple reading of the manual, phone call, or emails away to find out what they allow.
Rule of thumb, if it did not come with the seat in the original box, it is not tested or approved with the seat.

Question: It’s -40 here in the winter, won’t my baby freeze?

Answer: It’s not 1960 when vehicles could not be preheated. The majority of folks have heaters in their vehicles and can preheat their car before departure.
Even if you don’t own your own enclosed garage, I promise you your child will not freeze from your house to your car. Nor will this child get hypothermia.

Question: What if we’re in a collision in winter? My child will freeze.

Answer: Chances are that if you are in a collision your body will go into shock. Having a travel emergency kit like stated above will help comfort your family in the event of a collision.

Conclusion

Everyone is just trying to do their best. Having children, unlike car seats, does not come with a manual. As parents and caregivers, we make a lot of choices for our little ones. What school they go to, if they can play sports, whether they can have one more cookie before bed.

One thing to remember; Car seat safety is NOT a parenting choice.

Hopefully, after reading, you have a better understanding about how to dress your little ones in the car. The short distance from your house to your already warmed-up vehicle will not give your child hypothermia nor will it give them a cold. Colds are formed by germs entering your body and not by the temperature.

As a Canadian mom, child passenger safety technician, and survivor of a winter head-on collision, who lives in some of the most ferocious snow storms and sub-zero temps, I am happy with the simple fleece or sweater to travel.

Recommended Reads:

Saving Lives, One Car Seat At A Time.