There is snow on the ground, so every morning I ask my elementary school-aged son if he wears gloves and a hat at recess. Every morning I get back the same blank stare and the question, “Why?”
It’s an age-old battle between parents and kids. Parents insist the kids are underdressed and the kids insist they are overdressed. In fact, I remember in fourth grade many an embarrassing moment when my mother would suddenly appear with mittens at the bus stop. So how can parents decide how warmly to dress their children?
Infants are particularly poor at regulating their own temperatures. In general for cool weather, dress a baby in one more layer of clothing than you are comfortable wearing. Another good way to keep a newborn from losing too much heat is to keep the hat on for a couple of weeks. It’s not an old wives tale; people do lose a fair amount of heat through their heads.
However, beware of over-swaddling. Over-heating has been suggested as a factor in death from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). For more risk factors of SIDS please visit our post about SIDS. If your partner insists on keeping the house the temperature of a sauna and you are sweltering all year, then dress your baby in a simple onesie. Just as infants have difficulty regulating body temperature in the cold, they also have difficulty regulating their temperature in heat. In general, if you feel cold, your baby will feel colder. If you are warm, your baby will feel warmer than you do.
Sleep always seems to bring out red cheeks and sweaty heads in toddlers. Are they too hot or cold? As you peek in on them after tucking them to bed, feel their hands and cheeks. Warm (but not flushed) cheeks mean they will be comfortable even if their hands are a bit cool.
For older kids, simply dress them the same way you dress yourself. Make sure areas prone to frostbite such as toes, ears and fingers stay warm. Quick tidbit: do not re-warm nearly frostbitten areas by massaging. The rubbing action causes more injury. Instead, place the area in warm water. For more information on signs of frostbite and when to seek help, visit our post Baby It’s Cold Outside .
Sorry, for the older kids, you can’t use the rational, “Dress warmly or you will catch a cold.” Cold temperatures do not cause colds. Germs cause colds. However, there is one study on mice that suggests cooler noses allow the rhinovirus (a common cold germ) to grown more easily. Also, there is a phenomenon called nonallergic rhinitis which manifests itself as a drippy nose which can be set off by cold air. Likewise, inhaling cold air can set off coughing in kids with asthma. For more about the health benefits and hazards of cold weather for both kids and adults, please this article from Harvard Health Publications.
Why it’s not “cool ” to stay warm, I’ll never understand. But the tide may be turning. Although the older boys insist on wearing shorts even in near freezing temperatures, fuzzy lined UGGs, formerly a female accessory, seem to be coming into fashion for the boys.
Luckily, the groundhog says it’ll be an early spring.
Naline Lai, MD with Julie Kardos, MD
©2016, updated from 2010 Two Peds in a Pod®
(For a laugh: we love this tongue-in-cheek post about how kids dress for cold weather).