Winter and car seats are notoriously a hassle, but since it’s a must, it’s best to do it as safely as possible. I remember when my children were young and it started getting cold, I’d get them into their rear-facing car seats, strap them in securely and then place their bulky jacket or a warm blanket over them. Then I’d crank up the heat, too.
Kids hate being confined and restricted, especially with a puffy coat that can cause overheating, making them cranky and irritable. More importantly, it’s dangerous. Consumer Reports says winter coats should not be worn underneath the harness of a car seat and I agree. Their research has found that when a child wears a thick coat, the harness often has to be loosened, which can make the harness ineffective in a crash.
The harness should be tight enough that you can’t pinch the webbing between your thumb and forefinger. Car seat manufacturers and safety advocates like The Car Seat Lady, a fellow pediatrician who has made this issue part of her life’s work, warns that winter coats, snowsuits, buntings, sleeping bag inserts and head and body inserts you buy separately are not safe in a car seat.
Instead, try layering your child in thin, tight layers, depending on the temperature, and maybe have them wear a fleece jacket or poncho on top. If it’s really cold out and you’re feeling generous, here’s a tip: heat up a few blankets in the dryer before heading out to the car. The Car Seat Lady has a terrific, detailed listing of products by age and brand name she recommends to keep your child safe and warm.
And while we’re talking about safety, please remember that rear-facing is the safest way for your kids to sit in a car seat. (Think about it: flight attendants on airplanes all sit rear facing.) The risk of small children under age 2 being killed or seriously injured is five times higher for those sitting in forward-facing seats than those in rear-facing seats. Because rear-facing is the safest way to travel, children should ride rear-facing for at least until age 2, but for safety should continue in a rear-facing convertible car seat until reaching the maximum height and weight for the seat, which can be upwards of 4 years old.
I often am asked about a child’s legs when riding rear-facing. Parents are concerned their child looks uncomfortable or they worry about leg injury. Well, the truth is a child can sit with legs crossed or bent and they quickly seem to get used to the position. More importantly, leg injury is less common rear- facing than forward facing. Good thing kids are way more flexible than us adults!
In addition, parents often ask me about car sickness, especially on long rides. A common misconception is that kids that are rear facing are more often car sick. This isn’t true. But here are a few tips to help those that get queasy or nausea during road trips. Place your child’s car seat in the middle of the backseat, if possible. This should help a lot. Again, avoid overheating as this can add to not feeling well. Keep the window open a crack for a bit of fresh air (if it’s not too cold out.) Avoid large meals prior to a long road trip and don’t feed the child in the car. It’s always best for the child to look straight out the window whether rear or forward facing: looking out the side windows can increase motion sickness. Lastly, avoid watching screens or reading books. Entertain your kids by listening to music or singing.