You’re home from the hospital and finally feeling energetic. You’re even ready to brave a beautiful, blustery winter day and get out and about with your baby. But before you pack up your little bundle of joy and venture out into the cold, there are some precautions you should take.
“In the first few weeks of life, there’s an advantage to keeping babies away from crowds and settling into a routine,” says Patricia Keener, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. This is true especially now, since winter and early spring are prime times for contracting respiratory illnesses.
One of the most common viruses is respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), affecting about two-thirds of infants during the first year of life. In some cases, RSV causes only a minor respiratory illness such as a cold; in other infants, especially those who are at high risk because they were born prematurely or have heart, lung or immune-system problems, it can lead to serious airway complications.
To guard against RSV and other infections, don’t take your newborn into crowded places such as supermarkets, shopping malls or restaurants. It’s also a good idea to limit the number of visitors to your home. “I’d invite anyone with a cold to stay away,” says Ed Glasser, M.D., F.A.A.P., clinical associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. Respiratory infections are spread through hand contact, so visitors (especially children), parents of newborns, and anyone who cares for the baby should wash their hands before preparing bottles and touching the baby. Also, keep your baby’s toys clean, and don’t let lots of other children handle them.
Cold and hot rules
When you do venture out, follow this rule of thumb: If you’re cold, your baby is colder. Infants and children lose body heat more quickly than adults do, and it’s harder for them to generate heat once they’ve lost it.
In cold weather, pay special attention to covering your baby’s head. “Infants lose about 50 percent of their heat from their heads,” Glasser explains. Keep your newborn warm and comfy with a thermal cap; in wet weather, put a waterproof cap over it. In fact, layering your baby’s clothing makes sense in general. Depending on how cold it is, put additional layers of clothing in between the thermal and waterproof layers.
Of course, babies don’t do well in excessive heat, either, so it’s important to not overdress them with too many layers of clothing. When preparing to go outside, put your baby’s sweater and/or jacket on last so she doesn’t overheat while waiting. Once you get where you’re going, remove her outer layer of clothing.
That’s a tip that applies even when traveling. “Babies can become overheated in the car when there’s sunlight coming in through the windows,” says Keener. Her advice? Take off the baby’s hat and outer clothing when in the car.
Above all, use your judgment and limit a newborn’s exposure to the outdoors if the weather is particularly cold, windy, snowy or sleety. Be sure to protect your baby’s face from the weather if you do go outside.
Winter sun and cold, windy air are hazardous to an infant’s tender skin. “The first priority is avoiding the sun,” says Glasser. “Use awnings, umbrellas, sun shades or clothing.” If you must take your newborn outside during midday and you don’t have a sun hat or other protective clothing, be sure to use a sunscreen specially formulated for babies, but watch for any skin irritation.
Another factor that can put an infant’s skin at risk is wetness.