When I had my first son, I remember that the midwives wouldn't let me take him home until they could see that he was strapped into his carseat. As it was winter, it was freezing so we bundled him up in his ultra-cute all-in-one puffy snowsuit and away we went.
I remember sitting next to him on the backseat watching him breathe, terrified that something might happen to him (I think it took me about 6 months to return to the front seat of the car).
Little did I know though that while I thought my baby was strapped in safe and snuggly warm, I was actually potentially putting him in danger. Here's why:
When you put your baby into a carseat wearing a thick coat or snow suit, you tend to tighten the straps as tight as you can to the coat, not the child. But in an accident, coats can compress (just sit on a puffy coat and see how much it squishes down to get the idea). If the coat compresses, the straps will be too loose which means your baby could get flung from their seat (which has happened in the US - hence the reason Americans seem to know about this but us Brits don't).
The reason I know about this is because a client of mine - www.morrck.com - has spent the last year researching it. We spoke to experts who specialise in car seat safety testing and they said that the fault didn't lie with the coats, but with the parents who don't tighten the straps enough. Apparently, 60 - 80% of all car seats are used incorrectly, with harness tension being the single biggest failing.
But how tight is tight enough? As parents we all know what it's like when you try and strap a child into a car seat in a thick coat and pull it super tight. The whinging starts immediately about being uncomfortable and hot. So you may be tempted to loosen the straps....
Morrck suggests that you do The Two Finger Test to figure out if a coat is too thick - like this:
1. Put the coat on the child.
2. Strap the child into the car seat and tighten to ensure a snug fit.
3. Remove the child from the car seat – without loosening the straps.
4. Take the coat off the child.
5. Strap the child back into the seat – but don’t adjust the straps.
6. Do the Two finger test. If you can fit more than two fingers underneath the harness at the child’s shoulder bone, the harness tension needs to be tightened or avoid using the coat in the car seat.
And if you want proof as to how much of a difference coats make to the harness tension, watch this video
Obviously this begs the question: how do I keep my child warm on cold winter days? There are a bunch of ways, from placing a blanket over your child to letting them wear a thin fleece.
Morrck also has an innovative product called the Baby Hoodie that lets you strap your baby in to the car seat in their indoor clothes and you then simply wrap the hoodie around them. It doesn't affect harness tension, is easy to open if the child gets hot, is easy to get to the emergency release button and has been tested in a crash test lab for safety (and passed with flying colours). In the interest of transparency, I repeat, Morrck is a client of mine so I would say their product is great, but if you want to see what other people say about it, click here
This is the hoodie in action below
You can find our more information on this issue by clicking here - there's also a second video that shows you how to use a hoodie. So please help spread the word about this relatively unknown safety issue - whether it's at toddler groups, NCT classes, the school gate, Twitter, Facebook or blog posts - particularly as it's getting colder and those coats are going to start coming out!