Cold-weather tips

December 16, 2013

706176-tn_Baby019Winter is here in the northeast….brrrrr! I had a question from a parent, when is it too cold to take your child outside? My gut response is not to take them out when it’s too cold for you to be out! Here are some suggestions for clothing and temperature guidelines:

What should your child wear?

Layers are key! Multiple thin layers are better than one very heavy coat, that way layers can be removed if your child starts to overheat. Check the back of your child’s neck- if it’s warm or sweaty, he/she might be too hot. The rule of thumb is that older babies and young children should wear one more layer than you would wear. Turtlenecks, thermal underwear, and tights are good options for little ones. Try to avoid 100% cotton for the inner layer, as it can absorb perspiration and can cause your child to get wet and then cold.

Don’t forget warm boots, hats and mittens/gloves. Try a neck warmer instead of a scarf to reduce the strangulation risk. Your child’s coat should be water and wind resistant.

What is hypothermia?

It’s a condition that develops when your child’s body temperature falls below normal, due to exposure to cold. It happens when your child is playing outside in extreme cold or when their clothing gets wet- whether from melting snow or perspiration. It happens more quickly in children, especially under 2 years, than adults. The first signs include shivering and clumsiness. Next your child may begin to slur their speech and become lethargic. If you notice any of these signs, call 911 and get your child inside- remove wet clothing and wrap them in warm blankets/clothing, you can pre-warm them in the dryer for a few minutes.

What is frostbite?

Frostbite happens when the skin and outer tissues become frozen. It is usually seen on fingers, toes, ears and noses. Initially the skin may feel numb or it may burn and may look pale and grey. If you notice these signs, get your child inside, soak the area in warm (not hot) water. Do not rub the areas. Give your child a warm drink and cover them with warm blankets and clothing.

1st degree frostbite or “frost-nip” is very common in children. They’ll have red skin with white patches and the skin may itch or feel prickly. Treat with soaking in warm water.
2nd degree frostbite is more dangerous, with white or blue, hard-feeling skin. The areas often blister and you should seek medical care to avoid further injury to the skin.
3rd degree frostbite is the most dangerous, we usually hear about this with mountain climbers needing fingers/toes amputated due to the tissue damage. Fortunately this is very rare in children.

Don’t forget sunscreen when your child is playing outside! The sun can reflect off the snow and cause sun damage, even on cold days.

Don’t be afraid to get outside and enjoy playing in the snow! It’s ok to go outside as long as it’s not uncomfortably cold or windy outside. Just use caution with staying outside too long and keep an eye on your child for signs, such as blue lips or pale nose/fingers/ears, that they are ready to go back inside to warm up! Take lots of breaks to let your child thaw- there’s nothing better than a cup of hot chocolate!

Here is a very helpful table from the Iowa Department of Public Health that shows dangerous temperatures, both hot and cold (with wind chill and heat index), for your child to go outside. Clink on image twice to enlarge it:

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