Tips for dressing your baby in winter

You want baby to be comfortably warm when there’s snow on the mountains, and chill winds blow – but overheating can be harmful.

22 July 2019
By Glynis Horning

Dressing babies for cold weather can be tricky, when they’re too young to tell you how they feel. Many moms tend to err on what they think is the safe side, bundling little ones in heavy clothing and blankets when taking them outdoors or putting them down to sleep, but this is not a good idea.

“Newborns and infants aren’t yet able to regulate their core temperature, which means they lose heat faster than adults, as they may not be able to increase it by shivering, or have enough body fat to help warm them up again when they get cold,” says Cape Town paediatrician Dr Susan Annandale.But it also means they can’t cool easily when they overheat, either. And an over-hot baby will be uncomfortable and worse – they may come out in a heat rash (“often visible in the neck and nappy area, especially in chubby babies,” she says), become dehydrated if they sweat profusely, even have a seizure from heatstroke, and if left to sleep, they are more prone to SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome or “cot death”).

Focus on layering

Best is to dress your newborn or infant in layers of clothing (made of natural fabrics as synthetic garments trap heat and is non-breathable) – it’s easy to add or remove them as you move baby from a warmer to a cooler environment, and vice verse. Start with something like a thin onesie, then add long pants and a long-sleeved top, and if really necessary, a warm jacket when you go outdoors.

As a rule of thumb, dress baby in the same number of layers as you’re wearing, with one extra if venturing out.

Snuggle up with beanies, gloves and warm socks

Remember to cover their extremities – most heat is lost through the head, so they need something like a baby beanie if it’s chilly outside, gloves or mittens for their hands, and warm socks or booties.

Remember to take a blanket

When going out, make a blanket one of baby’s layers, or count in the stroller rain cover, which will also keep in heat.

Traveling safely when bundled up

If taking baby in a car, first remove any puffy or bulky jacket, as it can flatten under the baby seat harness, making this too loose to hold baby safely if there’s an accident. Rather cover baby with a blanket once you’ve strapped them in. You can leave on a hat and mittens, but if you’ll be putting on the car heating, take care baby doesn’t overheat.

When bringing baby back indoors, remove the warm outer layers straight away, even if they’re asleep – overheating when they sleep can be risky.

Signs of overheating

Check regularly that baby isn’t over-warm, especially if he or she is flushed, irritable, restless, breathing rapidly, and not keen to feed. Feel their neck, and put a hand on their back or tummy – if it’s very warm and damp from sweat, remove a blanket or garment. “Do this several times a day to gauge baby’s temperature,” says Annandale. “Babies come to the consulting rooms, and when I undress them, I get a hot flush because of how warmly they’re dressed!”

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