How to dress a baby for cold weather

Although babies can go outside when it’s cold, they shouldn’t be out in the elements for very long, and they should be dressed properly in cold weather.

Although babies can go outside when it’s cold, their bodies aren’t equipped to handle the extreme temperatures yet. They shouldn’t be out in the elements for very long, and there are some precautions to take when dressing babies for cold weather.

“Parents should keep in mind that babies aren’t able to regulate their body temperatures yet,” said Maria T. Bowling, M.D., a pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Windy Hills. “Infants, toddlers and young children also can lose heat faster than adults because of their small body size and lack of body fat.”

In freezing temperatures, most trips outside should not exceed 15 minutes, and the child should be bundled up properly in thin layers underneath a coat or snowsuit, with hat, mittens, socks and booties. Try to keep most trips just to the car and back, but if you have to be outside for longer than 15 minutes, seek shelter several times per hour to protect against frostbite or hypothermia.

Signs of frostbite include cold skin that turns white or pale gray for those with light skin. Dark skin may make it difficult to notice changes in color. Frostbite most commonly occurs on the fingers, toes, nose and ears. Signs of hypothermia are shaking, shivering, red skin (in light-skinned babies) and cold skin, bluish lips or unusually low energy levels. Parents should contact their pediatrician or visit an emergency room if symptoms do not improve after the baby returns to a warm environment.

In some temperatures, no amount of dressing a baby for winter weather will be enough. Parents should not allow their child outside at all when temperatures (including wind chill factor) reach 15 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. At these dangerous temperatures, avoid any unnecessary trips.

Norton Children’s Medical Group

Our pediatricians with Norton Children’s Medical Group are ready to help guide parents on how to keep their babies safe during their first winter.

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Bulky outerwear can be risky in car seats
Before traveling in the car when it’s cold outside, parents should take additional precautions. Dressing a baby for the weather can introduce safety risks when inside a vehicle. According to Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness, a baby should never wear a coat or snowsuit while strapped into a car seat. Large, puffy layers keep straps from fitting snugly, which can cause the child to slip out and be injured during an accident. Instead, the child should be dressed in a couple of lighter layers during car rides. After ensuring the child is strapped in the car seat properly, you may use a light blanket for warmth, but make sure the child’s face is not covered.

Dressing a baby for winter weather can depend on both indoor and outdoor temperatures. While inside, babies generally should wear what adults are wearing. If the house is at a comfortable temperature, then one layer, like a T-shirt or onesie, is usually enough. If an adult is wearing extra layers, like a sweatshirt, to remain comfortable, then the baby could wear footed pajamas on top of their onesie. Parents also can add socks and cotton mittens, if desired.

Although it’s important to ensure a baby is dressed properly for the weather, it’s critical to ensure infants don’t get too warm when they’re inside. The risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is higher during colder months because babies can overheat from too much warm clothing and/or temperatures. Therefore, don’t crank the heater too high; keep the thermostat set between 68 and 72 degrees, possibly a couple degrees cooler at night. Avoid heavy clothing and blankets; blankets should not be used before a child is 12 months old, and parents should never cover an infant’s face or head while sleeping. Any extra blankets or toys must remain out of the bed so they don’t inhibit the baby’s breathing.


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Norton Children's Medical Group – Windy Hills

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Norton Children’s Medical Group

Norton Children’s Medical Group, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, offers pediatric primary care at more than 20 locations throughout Louisville and Southern Indiana.
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