Winter is here in north central Pa. and as a parent you may be wondering if it’s safe to take your baby outside. The short answer is yes. Babies and parents need fresh air and being outdoors can help your baby acclimate to the seasons while offering a change of scenery that is stimulating and healthy for development.
However, before you bring the baby along for your next snowy adventure, consider the following precautions to ensure your baby is warm and safe.
It can be tricky to find just the right balance of warmth, comfort, and convenience for your baby when heading outside. Babies are not able to keep their bodies warm like older kids and adults. They also are not able to cool themselves down as quickly. When dressing baby, consider:
- Layers: Layers are key this time of year. Look for layers that are easy to add and remove. Consider zippers over snaps. Additionally, a good rule of thumb is to dress baby in one more layer of clothing that what an adult would wear in the same conditions. Fit the clothing like what you would wear as an adult. The bottom layer can be snug, like leggings and a bodysuit. On top of that, you can put another layer of pants and a long sleeve shirt. Finish up with a jacket, hat, mittens, warm booties, and a blanket to keep hands and feet warm. The goal is to have minimal skin exposure. Remember to choose breathable fabrics for base layers to help baby regulate their temperature.
- Carriers: Carriers are a great way to use your body heat to provide extra coziness for baby in the cold weather. No matter how close your baby is positioned to your body in the carrier, always keep their head and feet covered as that is how they lose heat. Make sure the baby’s face is not pressed against your chest or clothing as it can obstruct their airway. Be mindful of overheating and check on your baby regularly to see how your body heat is affecting them. Additionally, be careful when wearing baby in a carrier as the added weight can throw off your balance and center of gravity which can increase your risk of slipping and falling on icy, snowy, or unstable surfaces.
- Weather: Winter weather can change rapidly so prepare accordingly. Pack an extra layer of clothing for baby as well as extra outerwear as you’ll want to change any layers that are wet as soon as possible. Consider the wind chill as it can significantly change how cold the air feels. Infants will lose heat faster than adults as small babies lack the ability to increase body heat by shivering. Remember, babies do not have the same tolerance for cold as adults, so even on nicer days remember to limit time outside.
Regularly check on your baby to look for signs that he or she is too hot or too cold. Check fingers, toes, and ears, which should be slightly cool. If your baby’s fingers look white, that’s a sign of frostnip, and you need to warm them right away. If your baby looks red, flushed, or sweating, it’s time to remove some layers and let them cool down.
Winter Car Seat Safety
Bundling up baby in their car seat to keep them warm when outside is safe, however, you need to remember that some extra rules apply to car seat safety in winter.
- Don’t dress your baby in a bulky snowsuit or heavy winter coat. Your baby’s car seat straps will not fit safely with coats, snowsuits, or buntings on underneath. It adds extra time, but you need to put on outer layers after you take your baby out of the car seat. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that padding could flatten in a crash, allowing baby to slip through the car seat straps.
- Fit the straps of the car seat snugly over your baby’s chest. If you can fit more than two fingers underneath the straps of the harness, it’s not tight enough.
- You can add a blanket over the top of the harness straps or put your baby’s winter coat on backwards over the buckled harness straps after the baby is buckled up. Keep in mind that the top layer should be removable, so your baby doesn’t get too hot after the car warms up. Use a car seat cover only if it can fit over the baby once they’re buckled in. A blanket or cover can help block cold winds or snow, keeping your baby toasty and protected from the wind and elements when outside the car. Make sure the blanket or cover does not cover their face.
Heading outside in winter can help break up the winter doldrums for parents and babies. Cold weather requires a lot of extra gear in your diaper bag, but if you keep regular checks on your baby and adjust according to your comfort level, you’ll make it through just fine. If you have any questions, reach out to your pediatrician or family medicine provider as they can help with any questions related to baby’s safety.
Jessica Osman, DO, is with UPMC Pediatrics and sees patients at UPMC Susquehanna Pediatrics at South Williamsport, 6 East Mountain Avenue. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Osman, call 570-321-1665. For more information, visit UPMC.com/PediatricsNCPA.