So how do you know if a coat is safe to wear in a car seat? There is no way for anyone to say "This coat is safe" or "That coat is unsafe". There are simply too many variables. The best way to know if a coat can be worn in the car seat is to test it yourself.
- Put the coat on your child
- Put your child in the car seat and tighten the straps to pass the pinch test
- Remove your child from the seat WITHOUT loosening the straps
- Remove coat.
- Put your child back in the car seat and do the pinch test again- if it still passes it's safe to use.
Here are some examples of how various coats performed in my seats.
This is Sven- my Swedish baby from IKEA. He has the torso length of a newborn baby (7.5") and he's filled with flour so the straps can't crush him. The bunting used in this example is a 0-3 month size Carter's bunting. It's two layers of fabric and a layer of fiberfill between. It doesn't seem overly thick but as you can see, it fails miserably in the fluff test.
This is Sven in a "Car Seat Blanket". It has holes in the back for the straps to go through and a split at the legs for the crotch strap. It's only a piece of fuzzy fabric and a piece of cotton. This is very similar to the JJ Cole BundleMe and it is not safe for the car seat, as you can see. The sheer amount of fabric bunching around under the straps leaves far too much slack.
This is a "shower cap" style of car seat cover for infant seats. It goes over the top of the seat and the child is safely harnessed underneath with nothing to interfere with the harness. This is an excellent, safe option for young babies.
Liam is 19 months old and in a rear facing convertible car seat. He has two coats that he wears regularly- a single layer fleece jacket for fall months and a "packable" down bunting from One Step Ahead for the dead of winter. As you can see- both coats can safely be used in the car. Even though the down bunting looks thick- it compresses when the harness is tightened so it is already fully compressed under the harness and will not compress more in a crash.
Examples 5 & 6:
Makayla is almost 7 and normally rides in a high back booster but she is modeling her coats in her old harnessed seat. The thinner coat is one layer of fuzzy fabric. The thicker coat is a heavyweight winter parka from LLBean. As you can see, neither of her coats are safe to wear under a harness. They both leave a surprising amount of slack. She is also demonstrating another safe way to stay warm in the car- remove the coat, harness the child and put the coat backwards over top!
So as you can see- you really need to test your own coats in your own car seat to see if it's safe.
If your coats aren't safe to wear in the car- don't panic! There are a ton of options!
- For infant seats- shower cap style covers or just plain blankets over top of the harness are safe and can be easily removed if baby gets too hot.
- Skip the heavy coat and wear a lightweight fleece jacket, preheat the car and then it's just a quick hop from a warm house to a warm car
- Take off coats, harness and cover with blankets in the car
- Take off coats, harness, put coats on backwards over the harness
- Car seat ponchos- harness under the poncho, flip the back out over the car seat (also easy to DIY)
- The Cozywoggle- similar to a car seat poncho, it zips down under the arms to open out the back and allow proper harnessing and can still be used as a coat on the playground
Not all options work well for all families but with all of these choices there is definitely a way to keep your most precious cargo safe AND warm this winter! Buckle up!