It's important to shield your infant from the elements, but overcompensating for frigid air isn't the answer.
"Babies aren't able to regulate their temperature as well as adults, so they can easily overheat," notes Michael Schoenwetter, M.D., cocreator of the Newborn Care 101 DVD.
Here's a simple guide to keeping baby safe in cold weather with tips on everything from protecting baby's skin, regulating her body temperature and even keeping her crib safe and warm at night.
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Build a light base: a footed romper — or socks, a one-piece, and stretchy pants.
"Cotton is best against baby skin," says Parents advisor Jody Alpert Levine, M.D., a pediatric dermatologist in New York City. Then add a middle layer with slightly heavier material like microfleece, followed by a water and wind-resistant outer shell made of nylon or a similar type of fabric.
Tiny hands and feet are particularly susceptible to frostnip. "Infants' skin is thin and their blood vessels are immature and sensitive to changes in temperature," says Dr. Levine. So protect extremities with soft mittens, plus socks inside shoes or boots or footed buntings or snowsuits.
"An infant's head has a larger surface area than an adult's in proportion to his body, so babies lose a lot more heat that way," says Dr. Schoenwetter. Hoods and soft fleece or knit caps with brims are great for shielding noggins from the elements. Look for ones with side flaps to keep ears insulated and that fasten under the chin so they'll stay put.
To gauge a baby's temp, don't check her hands and feet, which tend to be colder. "The nape of the neck is a better indicator," says Dr. Schoenwetter. "If it's hot and damp, remove a layer; if it's cool, add one."
Also remember to take off bulky pieces, like your child's coat or bunting, before buckling her into a car seat. "In an accident, thick material can compress, creating space between your baby's body and the straps, setting her up for injuries," he adds. "Once you've fastened the harness tightly, tuck the coat over the straps like a blanket."
If you're taking a walk on a cold day, you'll want a bunting that zips around your car seat or stroller and a waterproof (but well ventilated) weather shield.
Babies have fewer oil glands than adults do, so their skin can quickly lose moisture and elasticity in dry winter air -- particularly if they have eczema (extremely dry, red, scaly skin).
Cool tips: To help maintain indoor moisture levels, place a bowl of water in your baby's room each day (you can also use a cool-mist humidifier), suggests Susan J. Hubbard, M.D., a pediatrician in Dallas. Daily baths are fine for most infants — just keep them short and use tepid water and fragrance — and alcohol-free bath products.
"Then apply an unscented lotion like Eucerin to wet skin immediately after bathing and several times each day," Dr. Levine advises. If your baby has eczema, soap only the areas that need to be cleaned well, such as the underarms, backside, groin, feet, and neck folds. Follow with a moisturizer like CeraVe or Aveeno Advanced Care, both of which contain ceramides, lipids in the skin that kids with eczema have a tough time producing, Dr. Hubbard explains.
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Overdressing can cause a baby to sweat excessively, which can clog her underdeveloped sweat glands. This traps perspiration under the skin, resulting in a red, bumpy rash.
Cool tips: Heat rash most commonly appears on a baby's neck and chest area. To keep it at bay, dress infants in light, breathable layers and follow our tips for a just-right sleep environment.
"Heat rash usually resolves in a day or two on its own," says Dr. Hubbard, so if your infant gets one, focus on making sure she doesn't overheat again. If it doesn't clear up, ask your doc about using an OTC hydrocortisone cream, which is safe for infants over 6 months.
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An infant's constant drooling and runny nose can break down the top layer of skin around the mouth and chin, making these areas vulnerable to chapping -- and sore as well, especially when exposed to dry winter air.
Cool tips: If your baby's face is starting to look irritated, create a barrier between his skin and saliva and nasal secretions by rubbing on an ointment like Aquaphor, says Dr. Levine.
"A thin layer is all that's needed." The greasy stuff will both prevent and soothe chapping.
Even when it's not especially sunny or hot outdoors, UV rays can still do damage to your baby's skin, particularly when reflected off snow.
Cool tips: If you'll be outside for more than a few minutes, in addition to using a weather shield on your stroller or carrier, rub an SPF 30 stick containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide onto your baby's exposed skin.
According to the National Institutes of Health, infants are at higher risk for SIDS during the colder months, probably as a result of excessive bundling and too-warm rooms. Experts don't fully understand why, "but we do know that overheating is dangerous for infants," says Rachel Y. Moon, M.D., a pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., and coauthor of 14 Ways to Protect Your Baby From SIDS.
To be sure your infant stays safe (and comfortable), set your thermostat to about 70 degrees. Dress him in pj's — perhaps with a one-piece underneath if it's really drafty indoors. Babies can suffocate if they wind up face-down on bumpers or other loose bedding, so avoid using a blanket and bumpers, Dr. Moon advises. If you're concerned that your sweetie might be too cold without one, zip him into a sleep sack for a snug night's rest.
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