Having a newborn in the dead of winter can be nerve-wracking, especially for first-time parents. Our overprotective instincts are in gear, desperately wanting to keep the tiny, fragile, brand-new lives warm and safe. While some parents fear that exposure to the elements will cause hypothermia, frostbite or pneumonia, Dr. Swanson says the biggest and most common concern for infants is preventing illness – and that has nothing to do with going out in the cold.
- Remember: being cold does not put babies (or anyone) at more risk for a viral infection. The reason there are more colds and coughs in the winter is because we’re all spending more time indoors, breathing in stale, recycled air and being in contact with sick individuals.
- It’s normal for an infant to have 6 – 10 colds a year, mostly between the months of October – May. However, infants are most susceptible before the age of 6 months and especially before 2 months, so be extra careful to stay away from people who are sick.
- The best winter safety tip for infants is simple: Wash hands and get influenza shots, now recommended for everyone between 6 months and 18 years. Also, get outside and breathe fresh air. There’s nothing to fear out there.
Winter Safety Tip #1: Don’t over-bundle.
“Our instincts say that keeping [babies] warm means we’re keeping them safe, and that’s a good thing, but we actually have to be careful to not over-bundle,” Dr. Swanson said.
- When outside: A good rule of thumb is babies should wear one more layer than adults. So if you’re wearing a hat and a coat, they should be wearing that plus a blanket wrapped around them. While we can pretty much gauge their comfort level using ours, babies’ bodies can’t regulate heat the way adults do so they need a little extra warmth.
- When inside: Babies are most comfortable and safest sleeping in temperatures between 61 and 67 degrees. All they need on top of pajamas is a sleeper blanket to be comfortable, not layers of clothing and definitely not loose blankets.
- The real danger isn’t outside, it’s when babies are sleeping at night. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, over-bundling and overheating can increase the risk of SIDS.
Winter Safety Tip #2: Keep an eye on your child.
Because infants can’t verbalize what they’re feeling, parents need to check in even when baby’s not crying:
- Don’t assume red cheeks mean they’re cold; check to see if they’re sweating. Don’t assume pale cheeks mean they’re fine; frostbitten skin turns white.
- When babies are cold (especially when dealing with hypothermia), they tend to get lethargic and tired. Look for fatigue and unusual behavior, not just crying.
- There’s not a specific timeline for babies to come indoors, but when parents are uncomfortable, the baby is usually uncomfortable too. Luckily, babies naturally need to be changed and fed every couple of hours, so long continuous exposure to the winter weather isn’t likely.
Winter Safety Tip #3: Don’t use certain appliances.
Being prepared for power outages in the winter months may sound simple, but it could be a matter of life or death for your little one. Dr. Swanson sees major boosts in carbon monoxide-related deaths when there are power outages because people sometimes use outside equipment to heat the house. Never use:
- Cooking stoves
- Charcoal or gas grills or hibachis