Parents have a very good reason.
Becoming a parent also means becoming a magnet for unsolicited advice. It can feel like every random person at the grocery store has an opinion on how you're caring for your baby, and that fact that certain safety recommendations have evolved in recent decades doesn't help.
That's why a post by reddit user MindyS1719 is going viral again. It was first posted last year, but as winter temperatures return, Mindy's message is resonating again: She wants people who haven't recently had a baby to understand why babies and little kids may not be wearing coats when families are unloading in parking lots this winter.
"New car seat guidelines avidly warn against children wearing coats in car seats—and this makes it really challenging for caregivers (particularly those with multiple small children) to get kids out of the house then in the car then out of the car again and into the destination," she wrote.
This reddit user is so right. It does seem counterintuitive. If it's cold out of course you'd dress your little one all warm and cozy before strapping them into their car seat, but safety experts say parents should take off kids' winter coats before strapping them into car seats. A coat that protects a kid from cold could prevent them from being protected in the event of a crash.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, bulky coats and snowsuits can compress in a car crash, leaving the straps too loose to keep a child safely in their seat.
With temperatures falling in much of the country, a video demonstrating just how this works is having a resurgence online. Back in 2015, Sue Auriemma from safety non-profit Kids and Cars took The TODAY Show to an official crash test lab in Michigan and strapped a child sized crash test dummy into a car seat while it was wearing a winter coat. During the crash, the coat compressed. Like the AAP warns, the dummy came hurtling out of the car seat.
In the video Miriam Manary, a safety expert in the University of Michigan's crash test lab, tells a TODAY reporter that parents should remove puffy coats before strapping kids in. “We want to see a nice tight harness to the child's body, you should not be able to pinch any webbing up the shoulder, and [the] harness clip should be at armpit level."
In the video, after Manary straps the dummy back in without a coat, the crash test is repeated and the dummy remained safely in its car seat.
In the two years since the video aired more and more parents have heard about the dangers of mixing car seats and bulky winter clothing, but first time parents or those from warmer climates may still be surprised to hear of the recommendation as it's not something they're used to dealing with.
In cold states or places like Canada, parents might worry about a child freezing in the event of a crash, but experts say you can still prepare your child for cold weather without preventing the car seat or booster from doing its job.
"Families can dress their babies and children in layers to keep them warm and safe—fleece is a good top layer for trapping heat without adding padding under the harness or seat belt," Katherine Hutka, president of the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada, told the Globe and Mail noting that just because a kid can't wear a bulky winter coat doesn't mean they can't wear a thinner fleece jacket as well as their boots, mittens and hat.
"When it's really cold, kids can wear their puffy coats over top of these layers on the way to the car," Hutka said. "After they are safely buckled, they can wear their coat backwards over their arms to stay warm."
Kids and Cars director Amber Rollins takes a hard line on the issue of bulky coats and snowsuits, telling the Washington Post that parents should never make exceptions, and shouldn't worry about how cold their backseat might become after a crash. “First you have to survive the accident. If you don't survive the accident, then this is not an issue."
Those are chilling words, for sure, but if we make sure to follow proper car seat safety and remove bulky coats before buckling up, the chances of coming home safe and warm go way up.
It's important for parents to know the guidelines, but it's also important that other people don't judge parents who are just trying to do their best in this situation. As Reddit's Mindy suggested, we all need to "cut parents some slack. We're trying. And we're doing everything we can to keep our kids warm while maintaining what's left of our sanity."
To all the mamas bundling and unbundling kids in parking lots this winter, we salute you.
[A version of this post was originally published December 1, 2017. It has been updated.]
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