There is a bit of a dilema for parents of a winter baby- how to keep their baby warm and cozy in her car seat without having a negative effect on how the car seat harness operates. Yep, that's right; when not used wisely, winter coats and snowsuits can interfere with a car seat's performance.
It is possible to test your winter wear and accessories to make sure they can be used safely. However, some parents are turning to other products to keep their baby warm. It is important to note that many of these products are not tested by the NHTSA, so be sure to scrutinize each product and test how it works in your car seat.
One of the most popular alternatives to heavy winter coats are car seat buntings, such as the JJ Cole Bundle Me. A warm layer goes between the car seat and your child's back, allowing the harness to be directly next to your baby's chest. The warm, soft overlayer then zips over top the harness.
The drawback, noted by many Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPST), is the layer that goes against your baby's back is too heavy and remains under the harness. JJ Cole counters that all their prodcuts have undergone voluntary testing. "Tests performed on car seats with the products installed found that the car seats complied with the Restraint System Integrity and Occupant Excursion portions of the FMVSS-213 requirements."
Many CPSTs prefer car seat covers over buntings, like the Bundle Me. Unlike bunting-style products which does add a layer of fabric between your baby's body and the harness, car seat covers do not add any fabric or material between their baby's body and the restraining straps at all.
A good example of this is the Baby's Cozy World Carrier Cover has elastic edges which wrap over the infant car seat carrier (think of it like a showercap for the car seat). Two zippers and a facial flap can completely enclose your baby when you must be out and about in frigid temperatures, and the product remains completely free of your baby's harness.
Another "shower-cap style" cover is made by NoJo (Compare Prices).
The Zoomby Car Seat blanket is a creative product from a mompreneur who was looking for a blanket for her son's car seat. Her quest led her to design her own, the Zoomby Car Seat blanket.
While you'll notice that a layer of fabric does come between baby and harness, what is important to note here is that the material is a warm fleece. Fleece is often recommended by CPSTs as a good alternative to heavy winter jackets. Though warm, it is thin and not subject to the great degree of compression as other fluffy, stuffed materials and fabrics.
Detailed directions on how to use the Zoomby Car Seat Blanket is provided at the website.
So you might look at this and think - but it's a snowsuit, and snowsuits are dangerous! The difference between this one and your traditional heavy snowsuit is that it's made from a soft fleece. Fleece is known for being a thinner material, but still quiet warm. Often CPSTs will identify that polar fleece products are the better choice because they lack the thickness and padding of traditional baby winter coats.
The car seat poncho is a great option for slightly older babies and can be used for children as well. The Car Seat Poncho is not just for infant car seats but also can be used in any 5 point-harness convertible seat too.
Your child can stay warm as she toddles (or is carried) out to the car, unzip the poncho front, and place your child in the harness lifting the back of the poncho up and over the back of the seat. Zip the poncho back up overtop the harness of the seat. No material interferes with the function of the harness with this clever design of two layers of 400-weight fleece. This product is exceptionally warm, essentially you are wrapping your baby in two heavy blankets.
Be sure to include one of these items in baby's hospital bag.