January 26, 2015

Warm and safe car seat tips

It's cold out, and no doubt little ones are bundled up for warmth. But, while those layers may be protecting them from the cold, they actually pose a hazard in the car.

Bulky winter coats don't allow the straps of the car seat to be tight to the child. In the unlikely event of a car crash, the coat will compress and make the straps loose.

The importance of the pinch test

To make sure your child is secure in the seat, take the "pinch test" First, remove any bulky jackets or snowsuits before placing your child in the car seat. Next, adjust the harness straps to the correct height for your child — at, or just below, the child's shoulders when rear-facing, or at, or just above the shoulders when forward-facing. Next, buckle and tighten the straps.

Place the chest clip at armpit level and secure.

Now pinch the strap at your child's shoulder. If you are unable to pinch any excess webbing, you're good to go.

Options for keeping kids warm and safe in their seats

  • If it's possible, get inside the vehicle and close the door before securing your child in the car seat. If this is not possible, try to work from the side of the car that is out of the direct wind. These efforts will help keep your child warm and make it easier for you to take the time to properly secure your child in his safety seat.

  • For infants, you can find blanket covers that fit over the car seat once they're strapped in. Lighter-weight fleece body suits are also as option (and let's be honest, adorable with little bear ears).

  • For older infants and even toddlers, you can tuck a blanket around them once they are strapped into their seat.

  • And while it may look silly (although kids may actually find it fun), remove the winter coat, strap the child into the seat and the put the coat on backwards so the child's front is covered.

  • Store your child's safety seat at room temperature so it doesn't rob your child of body heat.

Specifically for infants

  • Dress baby in clothes with legs so the harness straps fit between the legs.

  • Avoid using heavy snow suits for babies. A baby's shoulder and neck muscles are not fully developed and heavy layers of clothing make it difficult to correctly position the safety seat harness straps.

  • Dressing an infant too warmly will cause the baby to sweat. Try using light weight layers instead. Use adult socks to cover the baby's hands and feet for additional warmth.

  • Cover an infant's face when outdoors in cold weather. Babies will hold their breath when the air is cold and blows in their face. Cover the face ONLY when outdoors — never in the car or indoors.

The importance of car seat safety checks

Every car seat is different and even with an instruction manual it can be challenging to figure out whether the seat is properly installed, not to mention whether the child is as secure as he or she should be. Some experts suggest that as many as 90 percent of parents make mistakes installing and using car seats. Many local organizations offer free car seat safety checks (by appointment only). Certified child passenger safety technicians will help you ensure the car seat is properly installed and that your child is safely secured in the seat.

Check out the calendar of upcoming car seat checks in the Madison area.