Winter weather has been marching across the country with new LOWS being posted in so many cities. Not only do flu viruses prefer cold, less humid temperatures, but the cold weather often makes us stay indoors where we are also more likely to come into contact with other sick people.
But, cold weather doesn’t always mean you have to stay inside. If the temperatures are not bitter cold, you can dress for the weather and still get outside. The AAP just released tips for dressing your child in cold weather. Winter activities are often a great way to enjoy snow and cold temperatures and also encourage some exercise (and less screen time).
When dressing your child for outdoor activities use layers…as several thin layers keeps them dry and warm. There are so many new products to “wick” moisture and ensure warmth. Children need to wear warm boots, gloves and always a hat. Keeping the head warm is so important as children lose a great deal of heat if their heads are not covered. I found this it for myself when we all started wearing helmets for skiing….so much warmer!
Parents often worry about taking an infant outside when it is cold, but some fresh air is also good for this age group. Remember to dress them in one more layer of clothing than and a adult would wear in the same conditions. It is funny to hear parents say to me “ it is too cold to take a walk with my baby”, but it is 40 degrees and sunny outside….we southerners don’t know cold weather! A cold sunny day is perfect time for a short, brisk walk and some fresh air. I would prefer my “babies” are dressed appropriately and out in the fresh air than being around crowds in malls where mothers like to walk.
One of my patients parents was concerned because her 2 year old son would wake up crying in the middle of the night, (at about the same time each night) and she was convinced that he had hypothermia as his temperature would be 97 degrees every time she took it. He was talking to her and wanted to go sleep in her bed. He had NOT been outside or exposed to extremely cold temperatures and was wearing pajamas in a heated house. I think he was probably having nightmares or awakenings not related to hypothermia which occurs when children are left playing outside in very cold weather without wearing proper clothing or when their clothes get wet. It does occur more quickly in children than adults. A child with hypothermia may shiver and become lethargic or have slurred speech. Hypothermia is a medical emergency. Call 911 and while waiting take off any wet clothes and wrap the child in warm blankets if possible.
Frostbite may also occur on exposed areas when the skin and outer tissue layers become frozen. This typically occurs more often on the extremities like fingers, toes, ears and nose -(wear that hat). Children may complain that their fingers or toes feel numb or may burn. Make sure to immediately bring the child inside and warm the frostbitten parts in warm but NOT hot water - usually about 104 degrees F (like a hot tub). You may use warm washcloths for nose and ears. After warming then cover with warm clothes or blankets and give the child something warm to drink. (this may be why they invented hot chocolate). The numbness should subside in a few minutes. If there is no improvement you should seek medical care.
Lastly, if putting infants and children in car seats it is preferable that they wear thin, snug layers rather than thick bulky coats…you may need to warm the car before putting your child in their carseat. A thick bulky jacket does not allow the carseat harness to fit tightly enough against your child’s chest. You may take off the jacket and put their arms thru it backwards on top of the harness or use a blanket over the carseat harness…but never under the child.