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Infant Safety: Car Seats, Puffy Coats and Other Tips

5 important ways to protect your newborn’s safety

Major baby-proofing typically kicks into high gear just before a little one becomes mobile and is starting to show signs that they may be able to roll off an elevated surface. Prior to this point, keeping baby safe mostly revolves around the infant’s tiny world, which is a crib or bassinette with a firm mattress and without pillows, positioning devices, bumper pads, blankets, or stuffed critters.

However, there’s more to the story. Here are five safety tips new parents need to know.

1. Never cover a stroller with a blanket— not even the thinnest blanket — to protect your baby from the sun. It can get extremely hot under a blanket, due to lack of air circulation, and the blanket could prevent you from seeing that your baby is overheating. A Swedish newspaper, the Svenska Dagbladet, tested this. A stroller without a blanket cover was left out in the sun for 90 minutes, and the temperature reached about 73 degrees F. Then, a thin blanket was loosely draped over the stroller. Within 30 minutes, the temperature reached 93 degrees, and after an hour it hit almost 99 degrees.

Solution: Purchase a stroller or car seat approved for newborns that has an extendable canopy or a manufacturer-approved clip-on umbrella.

2. For maximum protection, always keep the infant car seat harness as close to the baby’s body as possible. That means resisting the urge to swaddle your baby in a puffy blanket or coat before buckling them into a car seat.

According to Car Seats for the Littles®, Inc. an education-oriented organization staffed by child passenger safety technicians from the United States and Canada and EU Advocates, “The more layers of padding or clothing between a child and the harness, the harder it is to properly fit the restraint to the child. The harness can end up fitting to the thick coat, and in the event of a crash, all that extra air is forced out between the layers, leaving the harness too loose to protect a child.”

To see for yourself how a puffy coat or blanket affects protection, Car Seats for the Littles suggests this test:

  • Swaddle your newborn in a puffy coat or blanket.
  • Buckle your baby into the car seat.
  • Tighten the harness enough to remove slack at baby’s collarbone.
  • Unbuckle the baby from the car seat.
  • Remove the coat or blanket and then buckle your baby back into the car seat—without adjusting the harness.

If there’s slack in the harness and you are able to pinch the harness straps at the baby’s shoulder, then the coat or blanket is creating a dangerous situation. When the harness is appropriately tight enough, your fingers should slide right off the straps, passing the “pinch test.”

Solution: If possible, try to warm up the car ahead of time. When getting into the vehicle, put your baby in a close-fitting fleece jacket, buckling the car seat harness and then placing a blanket or coat over the baby. This also makes it easy to remove layers once the car heats up. Car seat covers are also available that fit over the whole seat, but nothing should ever be placed underneath the infant.  With either option, make sure baby’s face is always visible.

3. Do not use any infant support insert, headrest, pillow or another comfort item that isn’t approved by your specific car seat manufacturer. Why? Even when the maker guarantees that their add-on item was “safety tested,” if it wasn’t tested with your specific car seat, the test results are irrelevant and the add-on could impact your seat’s safety, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Solution: Contact the manufacturer of your car seat and ask if they sell or endorse specific safety-tested add-ons for your model.

4. Parents and caregivers don’t always know the full list of car seat checkpoints that must be routinely inspected and adjusted.

Solution: Carefully read your vehicle and car seat owner’s manuals before installing the seat. In addition, stay on top of these AAP tips.  

  • The pinch test: Pinch the harness at the infant’s shoulders. If there’s slack, the harness is too loose and needs to be adjusted.
  • The harness chest clip should rest at the center of baby’s chest, even with baby’s armpits.
  • When using a seatbelt to secure the car seat in your vehicle, if you can move the car seat more than an inch side-to-side or front to back, it’s too loose.
  • Double-check your instruction manual to make sure the seat belt or lower anchor webbing is routed through the correct belt path.
  • All rear-facing seats have built-in angle indicators or adjusters. Check your seat owner’s manual for the correct angle and instructions to adjust accordingly.
  • If you still have questions, the APP urges you to contact a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST) through the National CPS Certification Program. 

5. Stay alert when your baby is in an infant carrier to prevent suffocation. Infant carriers keep baby snuggled against your body, where every newborn wants to be, while freeing the parent’s arms. However, as your little one drifts off, you need to stay awake and alert. Until around 4 months old, an infant’s weak neck muscles cannot move the head away from loose, floppy fabric that might cover the baby’s nose or mouth.

Solution: The carrier and baby are properly positioned if you can tip your head forward and easily kiss the top of the baby’s head.


Need a pediatrician? Find one at https://www.inova.org/physicians.

RELATED: To learn more about safely caring for your newborn as well as groups and classes for new moms, visit inova.org/inovawell/childbirth-education.

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