By Dr. Jaime Friedman
Winter and cold weather brings back lots of memories for me. Sledding, hot chocolate, curling up on the couch with a cozy blanket, all fond memories from my childhood. Now as a parent and a pediatrician, all I see are the safety hazards. So I am here to pass on some tips to keep kids of all ages safe this winter.
Babies and young children are at higher risk for getting cold related complications. They lose heat more easily and more quickly than adults. That means you want them to be in one more layer than what you are wearing. However, there are risks with bulking up baby.
- Dress babies in thin layers if going out in the car. Make sure car seat straps fit normally and are right up against baby. Put blankets over the straps. Never put puffy coats or blankets under car seat straps as this loosens the straps and decreases the safety of the seat.
- At night, put your baby in warm pajamas or a warm sleep sack. Do not put loose blankets in a crib with a baby. The safest sleep environment for a baby is a bare crib. Even toddlers can be at risk with heavy blankets in the crib because they can bundle them up, step on them and fall out.
- Don’t forget that we lose heat from our heads and since a baby’s head is proportionately larger compared to the rest of their bodies, they are at greater risk for heat loss from the head. Make sure all babies wear hats when they go outside
Big Kids (let them go out and play!)
Playing in the snow is one of the most fun things for kids, and adults. Jumping in the snow, sledding, snowball fights, and building a snowman are all activities right outside the door if you live in a snowy location. Living in California I feel bad that my kids don’t get to grow up doing these things like I did. Besides fun, it’s also great exercise. But of course it is cold and wet out there so safety needs to be a top priority.
- Put kids in layers. Thin layers keep them warm and keep them moving. Don’t forget hats and mittens too. Try to find insulated boots and jackets, preferably kinds that prevent snow or water from getting in.
- Make sure to take breaks so they can warm up.
- Avoid playing in temperatures colder than -15 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Recognize the signs of hypothermia: shivering, slurred speech, slow movements and acting sleepy. If you are worried about hypothermia, go inside and warm up your child with warm blankets and warm fluids. Seek medical attention immediately if your child is not alert or does not appear to be improving.
- Get wet clothes off as soon as possible as the wetness draws heat from the body.
- Everyone who will be skiing or snowboarding should wear helmets. Many parents also put helmets on young kids who are ice skating.
- Keep up with hydration just like you would in the heat.
- Put kids in layers so they can shed some if needed while they are active.
- Again, go in and remove wet clothes as soon as possible.
- Don’t forget sunscreen while out in the snow. The snow will reflect the sun’s rays.
Sometimes the air is so cold that the skin, and even the tissue below it, can freeze. This happens most often on the thin tissues at the ends of the body like fingers, toes, ears and noses. Frostbite will feel painful at first but then the skin will turn pale and the area will be numb. If your child complains of pain, go inside and warm them up with blankets or a warm (not hot) tub. Do not rub the area. As long as the child is alert and feeling better, give them warm fluids to drink. However, if the numbness continues or the skin blisters, seek medical attention.
If you live in an area where there is potential to get trapped in a snowstorm, keep warm blankets, water and snacks in the car. These storms can also shut down power so keep flashlights handy and cell phones charged. Don’t use candles if you can avoid it and never leave candles or a fire unattended. Similarly, don’t leave space heaters unattended and watch young children around anything that is a potential burn risk. If you use a wood-burning stove, be careful about carbon monoxide poisoning and make sure to always have a working carbon monoxide detector and smoke alarm in the home.
For more on winter safety, listen to Dr. Friedman on the RadioMD Podcast.
Dr. Jaime Friedman is a Pediatrician in San Diego, California. You can see more from her on her blog DrJamieFriedman.com.