Even when the weather is chilly, it’s very possible to spend outside time with your little one. It’s a wonderful way to bond with your baby while enjoying fresh air and nature.
To learn how best to go about it, we sought advice from Dr. Susanna Block, who works as a pediatric hospitalist and provides urgent care at Kaiser Permanente in Seattle. Dr. Block says that you can go outside with your baby in the winter, but you should be careful about keeping them properly clothed and fed and have the ability to get out of the cold quickly if needed. Spending time in nature when children are young can instill a lifelong love of the outdoors, and also helps parents stay healthy and active.
Babies, however, are more vulnerable to hypothermia, which is when your body temperature drops because of prolonged exposure to cold. Babies have a more difficult time regulating their body temperatures than older children and adults, Dr. Block said. They lose body heat more easily than adults, in part because they don’t have the same amount of body fat or the same stored energy that older children or adults do, she said. Also, babies aren’t able to shiver, which is one way our body keeps us warm.
Dr. Block says there are some instances when it may not be safe to take your baby outside, such as when temperatures really drop, if hypothermia is a concern, or if you’re too far to get to a warm place quickly. Pick a place to recreate where it’s easy to get out of the cold quickly to warm up, or choose a day outside when it’s not so cold. Dr. Block offered other tips for keeping babies (typically those one year and under) warm.
(Be sure to consult your pediatrician for advice specific to your baby.)
Dress Your Baby in Warm Layers
“We want kids to have fun with winter sports and get outside in the winter and it’s really only fun if everybody is warm and dry,” said Dr. Block. Warm, dry kids are happy kids, she added.
Dress your baby in several thin layers rather than thick bulky coats, sweaters or outfits. This makes it easy to add or remove layers as needed:
- Base layer: Start with a thin layer worn next to the skin and made of material that can move moisture away from the baby’s body. A long-sleeve bodysuit would work. Choose fabrics (wool, silk, bamboo or synthetic materials) that hold heat better than cotton, which absorbs moisture and takes longer to dry.
- Insulation layer: Choose a middle layer to help retain heat and provide extra warmth. Consider fleece or microfleece pants and sweatshirt, fleece footed pajamas, a thin jacket, or bunting.
Outer layer: The outer layer should be waterproof or water-resistant to protect your baby from wind, rain and snow. A bunting or snowsuit would work here.
Cover Their Extremities
Make sure you cover your baby’s ears, fingers and feet to help protect them from the cold. Be cautious about exposed body parts. Make sure babies wear warm hats that cover their ears, mittens for their fingers and warm booties for their feet. For more tips, read Tips for Dressing Your Kids in Winter.
Make Sure Baby Doesn’t Overheat
There’s also a risk of overdressing a baby. Overheated babies will feel hot to the touch or look flushed. If they feel hot, you can adjust their clothing.
Don’t Forget the Sunscreen
Try to keep babies younger than six months out of direct sunlight if possible. For infants under 6 months, you can apply a small amount of sunscreen to small areas such as their face, according to advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Make sure to use sunscreen with at least 15 SPF (sun protection factor). Remember that UV rays can also be reflected off snow.
Check in Frequently with Your Baby
Whether you’re taking them snowshoeing or on a stroll around the neighborhood, “always check in frequently with children to get a sense of how they’re doing,” Dr. Block said. “Are they still enjoying their outside time?”
Babies aren’t able to tell you that they are cold, so you’ll have to look at other clues. Do they feel hot to the touch, perhaps indicating that they’re overheated? Or are they cold and flushed? As a child gets older and more verbal, they can begin to tell you when they’re cold. Or you’ll know that they’re cold because they’re not happy.
Make Sure Baby is Well Fed and Hydrated
Our bodies use a lot of energy to keep us warm when it’s cold outside. Babies will need to nurse more frequently when it’s cold.
Check the Diaper Frequently
You’ll also want to do frequent diaper changes so they’re not sitting in something wet and cold.
Be Aware of the Danger of Hypothermia
You should be aware of warning signs of hypothermia and have a plan for getting out of the cold quickly if you see them, said Dr. Block. Signs of hypothermia include if your baby is flushed or pale, has blue fingers or toes, or acts lethargic. They may have bright red, cold skin and low energy. If you are worried about hypothermia, you want to get them into a warm area immediately. But you’ll also want to be able to call 911.