The weather outside is frightful, but putting your baby in a car seat with a winter coat on is just as dangerous.

The colder weather has started in most places around the United States, and in Canada and Alaska they are already seeing their first signs of snow blizzards. This means that you are probably bundling up your little bundles of joy to brave the cold on your way to school, to run errands, or just to grab a much-needed coffee from your local coffee shop (because quarantine has us majorly exhausted).

You have probably seen Instagram photos of your friends and family with their child strapped into their car seat with a giant winter coat on. There is no doubt that someone, if not several people, have commented on it not being safe (even though little ones look adorable in oversized coats). As parents, we know what a pain it is to get your child into their large coat just to have to take it off again before they get strapped into the seat, and then repeat the same process when you get to your destination. This is especially true during extreme cold- we don't want to make our child freeze during the process of taking on or off the coat, so we strap them in with the coat on so they don't have to stand there with the car doors open while we get them undressed.

But riding in a car seat, it is imperative that parents do not allow their child to wear a puffy winter coat while strapped into their car seat. Why? Well, in the event of an accident, your child is not secured in the car seat completely. The jacket allows for significant space between your child's body and the straps, and they cannot sufficiently hold your child into the seat on a hard impact.

According to Miriam Manary of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, many puffy coats and snowsuits can leave up to four inches of slack in the straps. This significantly increases the risk that your child could be injured either through a head injury whereas the child could lean so far forward that they hit their heads on the seat in front of them or by them slipping out of the car seat all together and being projected into the car or through the windshield.

Although it is pretty well-known among parents that you shouldn't have your child wear a large coat or puffy jacket while in their car seat, a study conducted by Volvo in 2019 found that 65% of parents still put their children in their car seats with their jackets on. Why? Out of convenience.

How do you know if the coat is too thick?
Most experts agree that anything thicker than a sweatshirt is too thick for a car seat. If you still aren't sure if your child's coat, jacket, or snowsuit is too big, there is a simple test.
First, place your child in the car seat with their jacket, coat, or snowsuit on. Tighten the straps as you normally would so that you can't pinch the straps and you can't get more than a finger through between your child and the straps. Then, remove your child from the seat, take off their outer layer, and then place them back in the seat without adjusting the straps. If the straps are loose to the point that you can pick the strap webbing between your pincher finger and thumb, then the coat is too large to be worn while riding in the car seat.

So how do we keep our kids warm?
One of the biggest issues for parents when it comes to winter coats and car seats is that they don't want to make their child cold by taking the coat on and off. So how to we keep them warm during the transfer between the car seat and their winter coats being taken off or put on?
For infants, dress your child as if they are going to be indoors. If they are in an infant car seat, you can get them in the car seat before you leave to make the transfer to the car easier. Once they are in the car seat, you can cover them with a blanket to keep them warm for the walk to or from the car. For babies that are in convertible car seats, you can carry them covered with a blanket and then cover them with the same blanket once they are secured in their seat.

For toddlers and older children, you can get them dressed in their winter coats as normal. Once you have gotten them to the car remove the coat, secure them in the car seat, and then cover them with a blanket. You can also put their coat on backward- over their arms- to be used like a blanket.
Some car seat manufacturers and other companies have made blankets that are suitable for car seats. If you have a child that is constantly dropping their blankets or complaining that it doesn't cover them up enough, they might be a good option.

For example, Buckleme Coats, as seen on NBC's Sharktank, stay connected to your car seat even when your child isn't in it. Once your child is in their car seat and strapped up, you can then zip them up over the straps so they are essentially in a car seat-friendly coat.

Although it can be frustrating to put your child's coat on, then take it off, then put it on again, it is imperative that parents do so in order to keep their children safe while riding in the car. If your child's winter coat is on in the car seat, you are putting them at risk for serious injury. A puffy coat, even one that doesn't seem that thick, can prevent the car seat straps from securing tightly enough that you child will not slip out of the straps or lunge forward in the event of a crash.