Coats and the Car Seat: The Dilemma

The Midwest has taken a beating this winter. Our temperatures go from positive to negative so quickly, we have summer temps in the dead of winter, and dry spells when we need to start thinking about welcoming those May flowers. I am a Chicagoan living in Kansas City, so the drastic changes in weather do not scare me nor do they shock me. And I never questioned how to dress for any climate, until I had a child.

There are so many warning signs, including on the car seat, advising parents not to put a child in the car seat in a snow suit or a coat of any kind. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, bulky clothing, including winter coats and snowsuits, can compress in a crash and lead to increased risk of injury. Ideally, you can dress your baby in thinner layers and tuck a coat or a blanket around your baby over the buckled harness straps if needed.


The dilemma every parent faces: Coats in the car seat or not? Credit: abbybatchelder, Flickr

I’m not a Nervous Nelly, but I do try and keep my son as protected as I possibly can. I take safety very seriously and pay attention to all warnings and all safety requirements of anything Evan-related. Throughout the fall, I had Evan in a fleece jacket. It was pretty thin, so I felt comfortable. I asked my pediatrician about it, and although she does recommend no jackets of any kind, she didn’t completely write off the fleece. As the temperature began to fall, I began to get more and more nervous. I’m torn about a jacket in the car seat and here’s why: It’s cold! It has been in the single digits lately and most days we’re lucky if it’s even above zero degrees. The back of the car does not heat up as quickly as the front, and there are no butt warmers in his car seat like I have up front. When we leave the house and the car is in the warm garage, I have no concern. It’s when we get to our destination and we have to get from the car to point B where he’ll be chilly in the back seat.

This topic has come up many times with me and my pediatrician. Each time I ask her, “Really, you still support no jacket?” And she’s told me some terrible stories and why so many child-related services stand so strongly against jackets in the car seat. She said as silly as it may be, you throw a few blankets on the baby in the car, wrap them up in them then run into where you need to be. For older kids she recommends having the jacket in the car then quickly putting it on before you get inside. But I’d prefer to have Evan zipped up in a tighter form of insulation against the harsh cold rather than wrapped in a knitted blanket.

Then I think of those stories. I can picture what has happened to children who have been involved in vehicular accidents and are in snow suits. I understand the precaution the experts take and why they are urging parents to use blankets and car seat manufacturers to display a clear warning. It makes total sense.

It’s been many months, and I still go back and forth. There are times I feel guilty about having a jacket on him, so I’ll leave it off. Most of the time lately, I am so worried about the cold that I bundle him up and cinch him in tightly. What is the difference between me in a jacket with a single cross-body buckle and Evan in a jacket with a double-chested buckle? I don’t know. But I’m doing my best with the information I have — even if I do make a different decision every day.

I’d love to hear how you feel about coats in the car seat. Do you skip coats or not worry about it? —Jennifer

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  1. Sarah says:

    There is no dilemma in my mind. Any jacket that causes the car seat straps to be raised off of the chest is unsafe for the child. I would rather my kid be cold for a few minutes, or to have to spend an extra minute bundling him up, than to have his neck snap in an accident. The same thing could happen to an adult, but our spine and neck are stronger and more developed, and we have the air bag for more serious accidents. Your kid is relying completely on his car seat straps, so every parent needs to be as vigilant as possible in following the recommended safety guidelines.

  2. Ashlea says:

    I just let him suffer the cold for a few minutes. When he was an infant, I bundled him up with blankets, so I do the same with him now. I’d rather not risk his safety.

  3. Jenna says:

    I am a sweatshirt or fleece shirt in the carseat…..NEVER a winter coat. You have to think about the way their straps work compared to and adults, the adult ones adjust, retract, lock, etc. All on their own. The kiddos’ do not, we tighten them. If you put the kiddo in the seat with a coat and tighten it and with out messing with it, unhook and take kiddo out, remove jacket, and put kiddo back in you should be able to notice a difference. I am hardcore with my kiddos carseat safety, even at 4 yrs. They are still in 5-pt harnesses and my daughter is still in her my ride 65.

  4. Samantha says:

    Hi, Jennifer

    Until I read your article I didn’t even know that kids weren’t suppose to wear jackets in the car seat. My son does every day, and so do my sisters kids. I see all the kids at my son’s daycare also in coats in the car. I have to say one thing my parents put me in a coat and yours probably did to, and were ok. I think that their are so many studies out their that scare parents about all the danger’s that can harm their children and I understand my son is my world also. I think what ever you feel is best for your son is always the right answer for you, and following your gut as a parent is always best. I know other’s have responded supporting the no Jacket and I’am not saying one way is wrong and one way is right, but I thought I give my thought on it as a mom.


    1. Jennifer says:

      Thanks for that Sam. This is a hot topic!