One of the most common worries that parents have during the winter months here in Canada is how to keep their baby warm in their car seat when they are out and about. While it is tempting to bundle up your little bundle of joy before putting them in their bucket seat and heading out, this is not a recommended practice. Aside from the risk of overheating in a bulky coat or snowsuit when the car warms up, the other risk comes from the fact that it is not possible to adequately tighten the car seat straps when your baby is in bulky clothing. The heavy clothing prevents the safety harness from being able to adequately stabilize your baby’s body in the event of a sudden stop or collision. Infants should be placed in a Stage 1 rear-facing car seat until they outgrow the height or weight limits of the infant seat. At that time, they should ideally be moved to a convertible rear-facing seat, until they have reached the height and weight limitations of the convertible rear-facing seat (CPSAC, 2015).
For the same reason as heavy sweaters and winter coats are not recommended, aftermarket products such as harness covers, head positioners and bunting bags that go behind the baby’s back are also not recommended (SEATS for Kids, 2016). So how are you supposed to protect your little one from the harsh Canadian winters? I went to speak to trained car-seat technician, Ally, at Baby EnRoute in Westboro for tips on keeping babies warm, dry and safe in their car seats. A warm blanket, placed over baby’s legs after the baby has been harnessed into the seat is a great way to keep baby warm. If you are concerned that the blanket will fall off, get blown off by the wind etc, you can buy certain types of bunting bags that go over the car seat, and not behind the baby’s back. These are a great accessory to have, as they are very warm (some are even insulated), and have an opening for your baby’s face to ensure that are getting adequate fresh air.
Ally told me many parents do not realize how much even something as light as a fleece jacket can impact the efficacy of the car seat harness. To see how much space the jacket or heavy sweater creates between the baby and the harness straps, Ally often encourages parents to do the following test: Put the jacket or sweater on the baby. Then place the baby in the car seat and do up the straps (harness straps begin or are below baby’s shoulders, chest clip is in line with the armpits, no twists in the harness straps). The parents will see that it is not possible to get the chest clip flat against the baby’s chest, and they may be able to pinch part of the straps together at the baby’s collarbone, which indicates the harness is not tight enough. Then the baby is unbuckled from the car seat, and the jacket is removed, without loosening the straps. Then the harness is done up again over baby. Parents will notice that although the straps may have appeared tight against the baby while wearing the jacket, there is often a gap between the baby’s body and the harness when the jacket has been removed. The material in jackets and heavy sweaters is easily compressed during a collision, and the baby can be seriously injured as their body is able to move due to the space between their body and the harness.
More information about car seat safety can be found online at Seats for Kids (http://www.seatsforkids.ca). This organization also offers car seat installation clinics, with trained car seat technicians, at certain dates throughout the year in cities across Canada.
Baby EnRoute also offers free installation of a car seat that has been purchased at their store. And Ally will take the time to answer any questions you may have about car seat safety!
Wishing warm, happy and safe travels this winter season!
MotherWit Doula Care Ottawa