Thursday, October 29, 2015

Winter is Coming

Well, it's that time of year. Leaves are falling and the weather is getting cold. Winter is coming. So what does that have to do with transporting your children safely? Thick winter coats and car seats don't mix. In a crash, a fluffy winter coat will instantly compress to the thickness of a piece of fabric and can leave way too much slack in the harness. Think about what happens when you put coats, pillows and other fluffy things into SpaceBags and vacuum out the air. They get flat! This is exactly what happens in a crash. A slack harness leaves your child at a real risk of ejection from the car seat and car. This is true of all fluff in the car seat including infant positioners, aftermarket strap covers and BundleMe's as well as coats. Nothing except fitted clothing should go between your child and the harness of the car seat.

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.

  1. Put the coat on your child
  2. Put your child in the car seat and tighten the straps to pass the pinch test
  3. Remove your child from the seat WITHOUT loosening the straps
  4. Remove coat.
  5. 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.

Example 1:

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.

Example 2:

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.

Example 3:

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.

Example 4: 
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 Road Coat from One Kid is a very easy, but expensive option. It zips open to a thinner lining and then zips the heavier, outer coat over top the harness. 
  • I also make a car seat blanket that goes over top of the harness and secures to the sides of the seat. Safe and warm! My Etsy Shop
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!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Ins and Outs of Proper Harnessing

90% of car seats are installed or used incorrectly.

Today I'd like to focus on the "used" portion of that statement. Much of the misuse associated with the use of a car seat stems from errors in harnessing. 

Strap Level

In a rear facing seat, the straps should come from below the child's shoulders. This is because a rear facing child in a crash will move back in to the car seat and as the seat rotates downward, the child may ramp up the back of the seat. Having the harness straps below the shoulders limits this movement. If they were above the shoulders, the child would travel the extra distance of that gap until their shoulders hit the harness straps. The less the head and neck move and stretch in a young child, the better. Some times it can be difficult to see if the straps are above or below the shoulders. There is a simple test you can do called "The Butter Knife Test". To do the test, harness your child in to the car seat and stick a butter knife along their shoulder and through the slot that the harness straps are in. If the butter knife points upward, the slot is below. If it points downward, the slot is above!

Rear Facing = Butter knife points up!

Forward Facing = Butter knife points down!
A forward facing harness should come from the slots ABOVE the shoulders. This is because in a crash, a forward facing child will move forward into the harness. If the harness starts below the shoulders there is significantly more room to move forward (greater head excursion) as with rear facing, as little movement of the head and neck as possible is the goal!

Harness Snugness

By far, the biggest error in harnessing is not making the straps tight enough. Parents are frequently worried that they are hurting their kids by making the straps too tight. You are not! Most parents do NOT make the harness straps tight enough. The harness should be "As Snug as a Hug". If the straps are too loose there is a real risk that the child would be ejected in a crash. The easiest way to see if your harness straps are tight enough is to perform "The Pinch Test". Glide your fingers across the harness webbing at your child's collarbone. If you can pinch any webbing, the harness is too loose. Don't dig in or stick a helper finger under the harness, just apply reasonable pressure and see if you can pinch the webbing. 

Too loose!

Just right!

Harnessing: Step by Step

Rear Facing

1. Buckle both tongs into the crotch buckle and tug the straps to remove all the slack from the hip and thigh area.

2. Clip the harness retainer clip (also called the chest clip) and pull upward on both straps

3. Reach behind the seat and grab both of the harness straps and pull. This is very helpful for seats that are hard to adjust using the front adjuster strap. If you pull the slack to the back of the seat it pulls out very easily with the front adjuster strap.

4. Pull the front adjuster strap by the child's feet and remove all the slack. 

5. Move the harness retain clip to the required position. The top of the clip should be even with the top of the child's armpits.

6. Do the pinch test and adjust further if needed.

Forward Facing

1. Clip both buckle tongs in to the crotch buckle and clip the chest clip. Pull all the slack out of the hip area.

2. Pull the front harness adjuster to tighten the straps. 

3. Move the chest clip so that the top is even with the armpits. 

4. Do the pinch test!

Proper harnessing is key to keeping your child safe in a crash. Make sure the straps are at the correct level for their direction, tighten up those straps and keep the top of the chest clip even with the armpits!