As winter approaches once again, I’m reminded of the time when I was a nervous new parent. I was hesitant to bring my little one outdoor into the cold. The cold dark winter seemed to me to be too harsh for my little one. I wasn’t sure whether he was ready to be outdoors in the winter and was afraid he would catch a cold easily.
Dressing my baby up for winter also seemed like a daunting task at the beginning. But despite my woes, I didn’t think it was a good idea to be stuck indoor for the entire season…
In fact, it is important to go out to get some fresh air and exercise. But you need to be well-prepared.
Is Your Baby Too Young To Be Out In The Cold? When Is It Too Cold To Go Outdoors?
When deciding if it’s too cold to venture out, what’s important is not just the exact temperature. You also need to check the wind chill as the perceived temperature by our exposed skin would be lower when the wind is stronger.
Here’s a handy guide, adapted from https://www.ok.gov/health2/documents/weatherwatchforchildren2.pdf:
The National Safety Council does not recommend anyone (adults and children alike) to spend much time outdoors at or lower than 20°F. Avoid letting young kids play outdoors if the windchill is 10°F or lower as frostbites can set in very quickly.
If your baby is prematurely born or has a medical condition, you might want to consult your paediatrician first. Otherwise, as a general rule, it’s safe to be outside when wind-chill is 32°F and above. Between 13°F and 31°F, parents should exercise caution and there should be indoor breaks every 20-20 minutes.
Newborns below 6 weeks should be kept indoors when the windchill drops below freezing temperatures or when non-freezing temperatures are coupled with wind or rain. If travel is inevitable, they should only do so in the comfort of your family car.
Young children below 5 are not able to regulate their body temperature as well as we adults do. They can lose heat very quickly because they have a smaller body mass compared to their skin surface area and their smaller muscle mass can’t generate body heat for as long as adults.
Hence, they tend to be more susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite. They need more protection from the cold weather and should not stay out in the cold for too long.
Observe them, use your judgement, and bring your child indoor as soon as they display signs of discomfort. If the kids are out playing, have them go indoors periodically to warm up. Serve them hot beverages to keep them warm and also so that they will visit the washroom more often.
What Signs To Look Out For?
It is important that parents constantly check in on your baby when you are out, even if he/she isn’t crying. This is because he/she is not able to verbalize how he/she is feeling… feel his/her hands and cheeks to make sure that they are not chilly…
Toddlers on the other hand may insist that they’re feeling okay because they are enjoying their playtime and do not wish to shorten it. Hence, it is important to observe them and not base your judgement solely on their words.
Beware if your baby starts becoming fussy or teary-eyed. This probably means that he’s had enough and it’s time to head indoors.
Also, look out for these early signs of hypothermia and bring your child indoors as soon as he/she displays any of these signs:
- Blue lips
- Pale nose, ears or fingertips
As hypothermia sets in and your child’s temperature drops, your child may also display signs of fatigue, clumsiness, loss of orientation/confusion and even slurry speech in more severe cases.
Parents also need to watch out for signs of overheating due to over-bundling. Feel the back of your baby’s neck to check if it is warm or sweaty, and watch out for any rashes on his chest or tummy.
Frostbites refer to frozen skin tissues, and it tends to happen on extremities such as fingers, toes, ears, cheeks and nose to varying degrees. Toddlers are often so absorbed in their play that they may not even realize that they’re getting frostbites.
At the very initial stage of frostbites, the skin may look bright-pink or red with white spots and the child may complain of numbness or ‘pins and needles’ tingling sensations. As it progresses, the skin may become pale yellow but remains soft.
At this stage, no permanent damage is done yet. Quickly bring your child indoors, remove any wet and cold clothing, and place the frostbitten parts in warm water (or use warm washcloths for frostbitten nose and ears). Never rub the frostbitten skin as that will damage the skin further.
As the skin tissues get frozen, blood flow is reduced. At the intermediate stage of frostbite, the skin becomes white, hard and shiny or waxy-looking. This is getting pretty serious and can be very painful. Medical treatment needs to be sought at this stage.
Even after the skin is thawed, fluid-filled blisters may form. At the advanced stage of frostbite, the skin becomes very hard, cold and darkens quickly to a blue-black color as the tissue beneath the skin is also affected and died subsequently.
How To Dress Your Baby Up For Winter Outdoor Activities?
Always dress your child in layers to keep him warm and dry on the inside.
For the innermost layer, choose a material to keep the body dry. The material of the 2nd layer should be an insulator such as wool or fleece. The outer most layer should be wind and water-resistant.
While you want to keep your baby warm, you need to be careful not to over-bundle.
No matter what the age of your child is, always protect the head, ears, hands and feet. The head, if exposed, loses heat quickly while the ears, hands and feet have the highest risk of getting frostbites.
Babies 6 Weeks To 1 Year…
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as a general rule of thumb, dress your baby up as you are dressed up yourself, and then add an extra layer. This is especially so if your little ones are lying inactive in the stroller.
You can start with a long-sleeved onesie or bodysuit, followed by a fleece one-piece with feet. Alternatively, you can also opt for a top and pants with a pair of wool socks to keep the tiny toes warm. Then top it up with a sweater or a zip-up sweatshirt. Finally, if it’s really cold, tuck your baby into a hooded (polyester or down) snowsuit, cozy stroller bunting bag or footmuff, or layer a couple of blankets.
Avoid hooded infant snowsuits with drawstrings as that is a strangulation hazard. Always put the hood up or use a fleece hat if the snowsuit does not come with a hood. Most snowsuits would cover the hands, but if your child’s do not, you will need a pair of wool mittens over the tiny hands.
Stroller bunting bags or footmuffs have slits to allow stroller safety straps to be threaded through so that it can be installed to the stroller. They are lined with cozy and insulating materials, and the top can be easily unzipped or opened for easy temperature control. They are typically lined with fleece or faux, so choose one that suits the temperatures you are in.
Using multiple layers of blankets allow you to add or remove layers for temperature control but the downside compared to a footmuff is that the blankets may loosen, come off, and end up dragging on the ground.
Before your baby can walk, a pair of warm cozy fleece boots to protect the little toes would suffice as there’s no need for a sturdy sole.
A rain shield will protect the baby in the stroller from rain and wind, and also traps the heat inside as well. You need to bear this in mind to avoid over-bundling your baby when using a stroller rain cover.
For Babies And Toddlers Between 1 To 4 Years Old…
When dressing up older babies and toddlers, you’ll need to be mindful of the fact that they’re more active and place greater emphasis on water resistance.
Now that your little one has started walking, he will need a pair of waterproof and insulated boots with good gripping sole. They will also need water and wind resistant gloves or mittens to protect their little fingers.
A snug-fit wool or polyester fleece hat with a chin strap is a good bet to cover the head and ears. Use a neck gaiter instead of a scarf as the scarf is a strangulation risk if it gets caught on things.
Choose water and wind resistant outer jackets made of thin materials such as Quallofil or Thinsulate. Down or cotton materials are now less suitable as it removes heat away from the body when it is wet. The overall fit of the jacket should be snug, including the wrist and ankle areas, and the neck should be high (but not suffocating) to block out the wind.
A good thermal underwear is also very important. Choose silk or polyester-rayon blends over cotton. Now that your child will be actively running around and perspiring, the cotton material will become dampened.
How To Protect The Baby’s Tender Skin During Winter?
The skin of young babies is still very delicate and tender. Their little cheeks or any exposed skin can easily become dry, wind-burnt and chapped as the dry chilly wind outdoors and the dry hot air indoors sap the moisture away.
Hence, you need to keep the babies’ vulnerable skin moisturized by periodically applying baby lotion (note: make sure you use lotions that are designed for the baby’s sensitive and delicate skin). Apply some mild lotion after shower, even if you’re staying indoors.
Be generous and spread it thick on exposed areas when you are going outdoors or if you noticed any area looking dry. Using a cool-mist humidifier in your home will also help.
Babies are highly prone to eczema and heat rash in the winter season.
Heat rash looks like small red pimples. It is typically caused by over-bundling and overheating. They usually appear on areas behind the ears, in the neck folds, in the groin or any other spots where there’s friction between the skin and the warm clothing.
Eczema is a condition whereby the skin is dry and looks like flaky red patches.
If you notice heat rashes or eczema flareups on your baby, dress him in loose-fitting, lightweight and cotton layers. Avoid over-bundling and heavy layers.
Under dressing may also cause a further drying of the exposed skin, hence aggravating the problem. Keeping your baby’s nails trimmed or covered with mittens is also helpful to prevent secondary infections due to scratching of the itchy area. Do see a doctor to check if your child needs to apply any medication on the affected skin areas or not.
Car Seat Safety
Car seat straps need to be fitted very snuggly around your baby in order for it to work properly in a crash. Hence, bulky and squishy coats, snowsuits, blankets, buntings and sleeping bags should not go in between the baby and the car seat straps. In the event of a car accident, these may compress a few inches and increase the risk of injury.
Instead, dress your baby up in thin layers and clothes that allow the safety harness straps to go between his legs. You may add another layer of sweater if it’s cold. Otherwise, pile the layers of blankets on top of the harness after your child is all buckled in. Instead of using blankets, you can also use his jacket by putting his arms into the coat backwards.
You might also want to consider car seat covers that attach to the car seat, just like a shower-cap, as these do not affect the clash dynamics since it does not go in between the child and the harness strap.
Final Tips: If You’re Bringing Your Child Out In The Snow…
Sunscreen and sunglasses are important as the sun rays reflect strongly off the snow.
Waterproof gloves are important, and if you do allow your baby to remove the glove temporarily to touch the snow, do remember to dry and warm them quickly afterwards.
To keep the little toes warm and dry, layer a wool sock over another layer that resist moisture.
Bringing your little one outdoors during winter may seem like a daunting task at first. But it will get easier with more experience. As parents, we need to be observant and watch out for any signs of discomfort to ensure that we have a safe and fun outdoor time and holiday season together!