Saskatchewan winters... enough said?
I think everyone who lived through October to April in Saskatchewan has a real grasp of what it means when someone uses the term "Saskatchewan Winter". We had snow in September just last year (2016) while Florida was basking in the sun and still getting their tan on. Crazy, right? To have temperatures go as low as -42 degress (without the windchill) is extreme. You add an almost blizzarding wind on top of that and going outside is ill advised - going outside with children, ridiculous.
But we have to get through the winter and that does mean transporting children; an often times undesirable and even stressful task. Much like transporting them in +35 degree sweltering weather, tagging them along in the cold brings on its own set of complications. We of course want to keep our children toasty warm, but we also want to keep them safe. And before we go any further, we would like to address the term "safe". For the remainder of this post, please understand that the term safe is going to hold sort of a double meaning here. This post is geared towards proper child passenger safety, yes. But keeping your child from getting frostbite or hypothermia is also keeping them safe. So how do we get an equal balance of the two? How do we keep our children safe for the long winter months full of snow, ice, and sometimes extreme temperatures, while still making sure they are properly restrained in the vehicle?
Layers, blankets, and a preheated vehicle.
The issue that comes into play with winter time and car seats is that colder weather means bulkier clothing. The bulkier clothing is much thicker, has more material inside of it to contain your body heat, but much of it really isn't safe for the car seat. To ensure that children are properly secured in their car seat, one thing we look for is whether the straps on their seat are tight enough. To do this, we perform was is called the "Pinch Test". By making sure we cannot pinch and hold any of the webbing horizontally at the child's collarbone, we know that the straps are adequately tight on the child. When we add a bulky snowsuit or jacket to the mix, we are also adding a bunch of air, fluff, and fabric that can (and will) compress during a collision. So even if you are tightening to pass the pinch test with the jacket on, the straps likely won't remain snug in the event of a crash or sudden stop, which could result in your child being ejected from their seat.
To combat this issue of the jacket providing too much slack in the harness, we want to make sure that anything they are wearing passes the pinch test when it is on, and then again if we remove it without adjusting the harness. SaskSeats recommends that to keep children warm & safe, you dress in thinner layers instead of one big bulky outershell. For babies, this might be a full-piece onesie, a long-sleeve shirt, some tighter leggings, pants on top, thicker socks, and a fleece sweater on the outside. The multiple layers will help to trap their body heat while still making sure their straps are passing the pinch test and tight enough for travel. For older children/toddlers, you can double layer with their normal clothes and a fleece sweater but also adding some lined splash pants to their legs to help break the wind when you get out of the vehicle. On those much colder winter days, children might also benefit from:
- Preheating your vehicle. All though, yes, this does create more emissions in our environment, it really isn't avoidable for those of us who live in Saskatchewan but do not have a heated garage. In -30 plus weather, it is a wonder that our vehicles actually work properly. Preheating your vehicle in extreme temperatures isn't often enough to do much more than take the edge off inside (unless you are running it for 30 minutes), but it will help to warm up your engine and defrost the windows a bit if you are lucky.
- Purchasing and using a car seat poncho. These ponchos are designed without holes for their arms and just drape down over their neck like a big blanket. Some even come with hoods attached. The benefit to using a car seat poncho is that the back just flips up over the back of the car seat and won't sit in-between your child and their harness/seat. When you exit the vehicle, smaller children can then be picked up and carried feeling almost like they are wrapped inside a big blanket.
Infant riding rear-facing, using a car seat poncho for warmth
3-year old sleeping in her forward-facing car seat, using a car
seat poncho for warmth
- Carrying them out in a blanket. Sometimes half the battle is getting out into the car in the morning when the winds are gusting, the sun isn't out to warm anything up yet, and your morning coffee hasn't kicked in. You can make that process a bit easier by carrying the little one wrapped up in a nice fuzzy blanket and then tucking it in over top of them once they are all buckled in. This will help to keep their body heat inside and block the harsh wind until you get in the vehicle.
- Using shower cap style covers on rear-facing only "bucket" seats.
Shower cap style covers are great for bucket seats because they do not add any bulk in between the child and the seat/straps, but they do help to keep the cold air out, and the warm air in by eliminating the exposure to the environment outside. Because they aren't impacting the fit of the child in the seat, they are deemed safe to use as long as they aren't a barrier to a successful installation (think handle position or installing without the base). You may still want to add a blanket tucked in around your child inside of the cover to keep their body heat trapped and help to comfort them in the seat.
- Purchasing a compressible jacket for use in the vehicle. Jackets that are able to be compressed down to remove lots of the bulk are great for the car seat. Costco sells some that work well for this purpose, as do MEC, NorthFace, Patagonia, and Walmart. Dedicated options that are designed for car seat safety are also out there. The Road Coat is a fairly expensive option (sort of why we are listing it last) but has been tested and approved for use on your child in the car seat. It has a unique design that unzips to allow the harness straps to fit snuggly on your child without adding the bulk of the outer-layer. You can read more from their website here: https://onekid.com/
(2 year old, 36” and 30lbs rear facing, pinch test with the Road Coat, size 3T)
Bringing them with you Can Be hard, we know
Joshua recently had a discussion with a parent about leaving your children in the vehicle unattended that sparked some interesting dialogue and thought. It isn't safe to do this in the summer due to the risk of heat stroke and potentially death from how quickly a car heats up, but winter carries risks of its own - most notably freezing/hypothermia. Often times, running inside an leaving them in the vehicle is supposed to take a minute or five,but things beyond our control happen & that time has stretched to 10, 20, even 30 minutes. Leaving children unattended in the vehicle, regardless of the circumstances, presents unknowns when it comes to their safety. It is something we do not recommend doing. Although it is often times difficult, bringing them with you is what is safest. Think: safety over convenience.
What About The Other Car Seat Related Stuff?-
Winter is that one time of year (especially with our weather in Saskatchewan) where doing any sort of work outside is a task we all complain about. Add on the difficult task of "carseating" and the groaning begins. But there are some things that just have to get done and we want to address those here.
- With snow and cold weather settling in as early as September and October and not leaving us until mid-April some years, we are left with a long span of time in which your child will grow and maybe even outgrow their current seat (or the present configuration of it). Knowing the limits of your seat and keeping on top of your child's stats will help you avoid mishaps when it comes to the fit requirements of their seat. If you are unsure, don't spend a bunch of time outside in the cold, trying to figure it out - bring the seat inside and go through it with the manual beside you. With seats that don't have a no re-thread harness, moving it up to the next slots can be difficult in a tight space. Especially in the winter.
- Make it easier to transfer seats between vehicles by purchasing a second (less expensive) seat that isn't installed in your primary vehicle. Although not possible for everyone, and we totally understand that, having a spare seat on hand for that moment when Grandma comes to babysit, can be a game-changer. You avoid having to uninstall and then reinstall the seat in your vehicle by just installing the spare seat in hers. Have multiple kids? Consider switching vehicles and avoiding the extra-purchases all together.
- Car seat installation checks and clinics will likely be few and far between. Don't wait until it is too late to get your seat checked by a certified technician. Once things start to get colder, child passenger safety technicians often go into hibernation mode themselves. It is just so much easier to do our work in the spring, summer, and fall months. Not to say we won't be offering personal installation checks, but we will definitely try to help you out online first. Joining our SaskSeats: Car Seat Community is a great way for Saskatchewan families to get the help the need. Both from other parents and our certified team of techs. visit https://facebook.com/groups/saskseats and request to join. Don't forget to answer the questions though :) they are a requirement for getting approved.