Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Bulky winter wear and car seat safety don't mix

1/20/2022 by David Soma, M.D., and Tammy Schmit, R.N.


When winter winds blow, babies and kids are bundled in snuggly coats and snowsuits. While they keep children warm, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns they also can interfere with car seat safety. That's because bulky clothing can compress in a crash and leave the straps too loose to restrain your child. And that leads to increased risk of injury. 

Ideally, dress your baby in thinner layers, and wrap a coat or blanket around them over the buckled harness straps. Oh, and dressing in thinner layers, with a coat at hand, applies to parents, too. 

Follow these tips from to keep your little ones warm, as well as safely buckled in their car seats: 

  • Store the carrier portion of infant seats inside the house. 
    A room-temperature car seat will reduce the loss of your child's body heat once he or she is in the cold car. 
  • Plan ahead and take extra time. 
    Consider warming your car before getting the child inside. Also, extra time may be needed for travel on winter roads. 
  • Dress your child in thin layers. 
    Start with close-fitting layers on the bottom, like tights, leggings and long-sleeved bodysuits. Then add pants and a warmer top, like a sweater or thermal knit shirt. Your child can wear a thin fleece jacket over the top. In very cold weather, long underwear is also a warm and safe layering option. In general, infants should wear one more layer than adults. If you have on a hat and a coat, your infant will probably need these, as well as a blanket. 
  • Pull on hats, mittens, and socks or booties. 
    These help keep kids warm without interfering with car seat straps. 
  • Tighten the straps of the car seat harness. 
    Even if your child looks snuggly bundled up in the car seat, multiple layers may make it difficult to tighten the harness enough. If you can pinch the straps of the car seat harness, it needs to be tightened to fit snugly against your child's chest. 
  • Use a car seat cover, or coat or blanket, over the straps. 
    You can add a blanket or coat atop the harness straps or add a car seat cover. Remember that nothing thick or bulky should ever go underneath your child's body or between the body and the harness straps. Be sure to leave your baby's face uncovered to avoid trapped air and suffocation. Keep in mind that the top layer should be removable so your baby doesn't get too hot after the car warms up. 
  • Remember, if an item such as a car seat cover didn't come with the car seat, it hasn't been crash-tested. 
    It may interfere with car seat safety, so be cautious what is purchased, as some items may be considered unsafe. 

Taking a few minutes to follow these tips can help you travel with peace of mind. 

David Soma, M.D., is a pediatrician in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. 

Tammy Schmit, R.N., is the ambulatory nurse manager in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.