Is anyone else absolutely freezing right now? Seriously, this cold is the REAL DEAL. In addition to facing unbearable temperatures, parents have the extra challenge of entertaining their kids—and themselves—during the long and dark months of winter.
Heading outside is such an awesome activity for newborns through adults—but what happens when it is absolutely freezing? Can you still take your sweet little bundle outside?
The answer is: maybe.
Children, especially babies, are more sensitive to temperature changes than adults. “Because they are less able to regulate their body temperature than adults, children can quickly develop a dangerously low body temperature (ie, become hypothermic). Newborn infants are prone to hypothermia because of their large body surface area, small amount of subcutaneous fat, and decreased ability to shiver,” says The American Academy of Pediatrics.
So, you are not overreacting by being nervous about taking them outside! The good news is there are ways to do it safely.
How to dress your baby
To keep warm, layers are the key (for adults and babies). But, it’s very important not to overheat your baby by putting on too many layers—since overheating is dangerous for babies, too.
The general rule of thumb is that your baby should be dressed in one more layer than you feel comfortable in. If you are good with one long sleeve shirt, your baby should probably have a long sleeve onesie, plus another shirt on top of it.
When playing outside, in addition to a winter coat and warm pants or snow pants, don’t forget a hat and mittens. The most vulnerable parts of a little body are their chin, nose, ears, fingers and toes.
Remember, babies should not wear a winter coat, very thick clothing or blankets under the straps of their carseats—the straps will not cinch tightly enough around the baby if they do, which is unsafe in a crash.
Extreme cold starts to become a factor when the temperature drops below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit). You can still go outside, but it should not be for very long.
Once temperatures start to drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s best to stay inside if you can. Be sure to factor in wind chill when you’re checking the weather—the wind can feel much, much colder, especially on sensitive baby skin.
When you’re inside, the ideal temperature for your thermostat to be set at is 68-72 degrees. Remember that babies cannot have blankets (or anything) in the crib with them as it poses a risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. If you’re concerned about baby being cold at night, we recommend sleep sacks!
What to watch out for
Keep a close eye on your baby (we know you always do) when you’re playing outside. If you see any of these symptoms (from the Mayo Clinic) develop, give your pediatrician a call right away (or just call 911):
- Shivering (note, babies don’t shiver!)
- Slurred speech
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Weak pulse
- Sleepy or very low energy
- Confusion or memory loss
- Loss of consciousness
- Bright red, cold skin (in babies)
- Cold skin
- Prickly, pins-and-needle feeling
- Red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin
- Hard or waxy skin
- Clumsiness and stiffness
A few other tips
- Have an emergency kit in your car in case you break down. Edmunds has a great emergency kit list of things like blankets, flashlights, granola bars and bottled water. You’ll also want to make sure your gas tank is near full and the car’s maintenance is up to date to avoid issues.
- Consider pre-warming your car, but NEVER in a garage—even an open one.
- Protect everyone’s skin with baby-safe lotion or balms
- Consider using a cool-mist humidifier to keep baby’s air moist
The bottom line
You can still go outside, you just have to be aware. Dress babies in layers, follow safe carseat guidelines, and watch closely for any signs that baby is too cold. Don’t stay out for too long, and if it’s less than 20 degrees out, avoid going outside at all (a quick walk to a preheated car is okay).
Hang in there, mama. This season can be hard. Go into hibernation mode, focus on some real self-care and snuggles, and before you know it, the flowers will be in bloom and you’ll be spending every waking second outside.