Keeping Babies (and Kids) Warm in a Car Seat

dressing for the car seat |

There are some things I like about winter: delicately falling snow, hot chocolate, and the fireplace channel on my TV. Then there’s the annoying things: the cold, the wrestling kids into winter gear, and keeping everyone toasty warm. When taking kids out in the car, it’s important to realize that bulky winter coats and car seats can be a dangerous combination. In general, winter coats make car seat harnesses too loose, putting your child in danger in a crash.

How to test this? Put your kid in their car seat, wearing their winter coat. Fit the straps properly, and then unbuckle and remove the child without loosening the straps. Take the coat off your child, and put them back in the car seat (leaving the straps the length they were at when your child was wearing their coat). Can you pinch the straps? Too loose.

But fear not, there are other ways to keep your little one warm.

For Babies

Babies are the easiest to keep cosy when they’re in a bucket car seat. Since you can bring the car seat inside, your baby will be placed in an already warm seat, with appropriate layers, before going out in the cold.

I recommend some combination of the following to keep your baby warm (depending on how cold it is outside):

  • A thin fleece layer over baby’s regular clothes (Columbia makes a great suit with integrated mitts and booties, but fleece pants and a hoodie work equally well).
    • Definitely put your baby in something that has a hood, they’re much easier to keep in place, compared to a hat.
  • Wool booties keep little toes warm.
  • Mitts may not be necessary if the fleece layer has integrated mitts.
    • In a pinch you can always use a pair of socks.
  • As a top layer, tuck one or two thin blankets around your baby. You can remove them later if the car heats up. (I recommend fleece, and also not paying much for them!)

There are a number of after-market car seat covers out there. Make sure you choose one that does not have any material going between the back of the seat and your child, or your child and the straps. These covers can be great in colder climates, but proper layering and a few blankets might meet your needs.

For Toddlers

Toddlers are great because they can tell you if they’re cold (whether they’ll actually do that is another thing). For my daughter I’ve had good luck putting her in a lined windbreaker or thin down jacket to keep her warm. As with a baby, choose the other layers based on the temperature outside: fleece pants, winter boots, mitts and a hat, and a fleece blanket you keep in the car to top everything off.

It can seem strange not putting your child in a snowsuit before going out in the cold, but if you keep their extremities nice and warm, they’ll be safe and cosy.

For Kids

You can dress your older child pretty much the same way you would a toddler. One quick trick, however, is to buckle your child into their car seat, in their regular clothes, then put their winter coat on them backwards.

Car Seat Safe Coats

There are a number of companies out there manufacturing car seat safe coats that snap or unzip to allow straps to fit properly. We haven’t tried them. My theory is that in our climate (below freezing winters, but rarely below -20) careful layering and the reverse coat “trick” is sufficient for keeping children warm. Especially since the car seat coats have to be thin enough not to interfere with the fit of the child in the car seat. Also, at $80+ for a coat that will only last a year, I’ll stick to secondhand shopping. On particularly cold days, I will admit to running out to start the car 5-10 minutes before we have to leave.

Stay warm, and safe!


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