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Health & Safety

The Winter Car Seat Mistake Too Many Parents Make

Follow these car seat tips to ride safely this winter

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You know how important it is to strap your child into a car seat, but cold weather means that you have to take a few extra safety precautions. Here's what to know:  

Remove heavy layers. A thick fleece bunting or a down parka are great for stroller rides, but dressing your child in them isn't safe in a car seat in winter. "Too many layers can mean the seat straps won't be as tight or as close to your baby's body as they should be," says Gary Smith, MD, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, OH. The scary result: the straps may be less effective in protecting her in a crash.  

Dress her right. Infants and little kids have a harder time controlling their body temperature compared with adults and can gain or lose heat quickly, explains Smith. Too much clothing can raise the body temperature to an unsafe level. Choose thin layers (tights, long-sleeve onesies) and dress your child in one more than you would wear, along with a hat and mittens. For very cold days, you can drape a blanket or bunting over the car seat (taking care not to cover your child's face). Again, these items should go over the tightened straps-never under them.  

Double check straps. Use the 'pinch test' to make sure that car seat straps are tight enough, says Lorrie Walker, technical and training advisor at Safe Kids Worldwide. Pinch the buckled and tightened harness at the shoulder-if it's snug enough, you won't be able to grasp it. "But if you can pinch any amount, it's not tight enough," she notes.  

Nix accessories. Car seat covers, zip-up bunting and other products may seem like a good idea in winter, but they're not recommended. Don't ever place extra layers like blankets, sheepskin, or fleecy sleep sacks underneath your child or between her and the car seat's straps. "Only accessories that have been tested and approved by the seat's manufacturer are acceptable," reminds Walker.

Keep it inside if you can. An ice-cold car seat can reduce your baby's body temperature, so if the carrier portion detaches from its base, stash it indoors instead of in a garage. If the seat doesn't separate, however, leave it be. "Because it takes a lot of time and care to install a seat correctly, it's best to keep this type in the car," notes Smith. "You can always warm up your vehicle or lay a blanket over your harnessed child."