How to Bundle Your Baby: Winter Safety

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child with big brown eyes with a cozy hat and scarf

During the winter cold, it can be difficult to keep yourself warm and healthy, let alone the little ones in your care. Deb Oldakowski, RN, BSN, UnityPoint Health, offers tips to keep babies safe throughout this season.

Keeping Baby Warm While Sleeping

Infants aren’t able to regulate their body temperature like adults, so it’s important to anticipate baby’s needs in their sleep environment, while keeping him/her safe.

“To check if baby is too hot or too cold, feel the back of the neck,” Deb says. “If the hair is damp, then baby is too warm; if the neck is cool, he/she is too cold. Babies’ hands and feet are almost always cool to the touch and not accurate for determining their temperature.”

It’s extremely important not to let baby become overheated while sleeping, as keeping baby too warm at night can increase the risk for Sudden Infant Death (SIDS). Deb offers this advice for sleeping:

  • Dress. Place baby in his/her onesie or undershirt, add a light sleeper, then place him/her in a safe sleep sack. Always place baby on his/her BACK to sleep on a safe sleep surface (no bumpers, loose blankets, stuffed animals, etc.).
  • Room. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants sleep in the parents’ room, close to the parents’ bed, but on a separate safe sleep surface designed for infants. This is ideal for the first year of life, but at least for the first 6 months. Babies should NEVER sleep in a parent’s bed due to risk of accidental suffocation, strangulation or entrapment. Evidence suggests that sleeping in the parents’ room, but on a separate safe sleep surface, decreases the risk of SIDS by as much as 50 percent.
  • Temperature. Keep the baby's room temperature between 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

Keeping Baby Warm While Traveling

Bundling baby up for going out in the winter cold is a process. Deb breaks it down in these steps:

  • Layers. Start with a base layer of clothing like long-sleeve onesies or undershirts with tights or leggings. Add a layer of pants and a warmer top, like a sweater or thermal knit shirt. For preparation for going outside in the car seat, add a light jacket made of fleece, which keeps baby comfortable without bulk when placed in their car seat.
  • Car seat. Infants need to be placed in their car seat, the straps adjusted to fit snuggly, with the warmth of a blanket or cover placed over the straps. Nothing should go between the baby and the car seat straps. Don’t place baby in a bulky bunting or thick sleeping bag style bunting, as these create too much space between baby, the car seat back and the strap. Their use is strictly prohibited by most car seat manufacturers.
  • Covers. Car seat covers can keep baby warm without overheating. Blankets may be placed over baby, or car seat covers, such as shower cap, pouch, canopy or poncho styles, can be used. Don’t forget to unzip or remove the cover once in the car to prevent overheating.

“Don’t forget baby’s hats, mittens, socks and booties, too! Also, once you get home, make sure to store the carrier portion of infant car seats in the house when not in use to stay warm,” Deb says.

Keeping Baby Healthy in the Winter

Protecting baby from germs is another common battle this time of year. Ways to keep babies healthy during cold and flu season include:

  • Everyone washes hands before touching baby.
  • Screen visitors for illness and exposure to illness prior to contact with baby.
  • Avoid crowds where people might be sick (grocery stores, church, pharmacies, etc.).
  • Wear baby in a sling to prevent people from touching or asking to hold baby.

“Breastfeeding also adds another level of protection for infants. Healthy babies who are breastfed can remain healthy due to mom’s amazing ability to have her body produce antibodies against environmental bacteria and viruses,” Deb says.

RSV in Babies

RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is a highly contagious illness, which can be particularly dangerous for some babies. In adults, it may only produce symptoms of a common cold. But, RSV infections can lead to other more serious illnesses in premature babies and kids with diseases that affect the lungs, heart or immune system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly all children will get RSV by the time they turn 2 years old. The CDC describes RSV symptoms in infants as:

  • Runny nose, decreased appetite
  • Coughing, sneezing
  • Fever
  • Irritability, decreased activity, or breathing trouble (young infants).

Approximately two out of three children younger than 1 year old, will become sick with RSV. RSV can also include bronchitis, croup and lower respiratory infections, like bronchiolitis or pneumonia. Of every 100 infants and young children with RSV, 25 to 40 percent will show signs of pneumonia or bronchiolitis. Most healthy babies with RSV do not need hospitalization, and those who do get hospitalized will improve with supportive care in a few days.

If you believe your baby is experiencing RSV symptoms, or you have other questions related to his/her overall health, contact your UnityPoint Health provider or pediatrician.