Column: The dressing game
Earlier this week, as I walked into town with my five-week-old baby, I was reminded of the importance — and the art — of dressing babies in the winters of New England. I had my daughter under my jacket in a front carrier, with two hats, a sweater, two long sleeve shirts, stockings and pants, when I passed a woman carrying an equally young baby with what appeared to be a cotton zip-up outfit, a hoodie and a bald, wind-blown head. The temperature that day: 30 degrees.
Dressing your baby for the winter is not as easy as picking out a cute top and bottom to match those oh-so-adorable socks you got at the baby shower. It is a process that takes a combination of common sense, forethought about the day ahead of you and lots of layering options.
To take the guesswork out of baby dressing for new parents, I teach families to have the baby wear one more layer than you put on yourself. With this rule in mind, you can easily adjust the baby’s clothing throughout the day by putting on and taking off layers based on your own comfort.
However, like everything, there are a few exceptions. Here are two: You may layer up yourself when you run out for errands and keep those layers on as you get in and out of the car, but the extra layer rule is not safe in this situation for two reasons.
First of all, adults tolerate the heat inside of the car, tough out the cold when they’re outside, and take off layers when needed. A baby can’t regulate its temperature so easily in the first months of life; it can’t sweat in the heat and it can’t shiver in the cold. It may take a baby hours to warm back up on its own once it has chilled. What’s more, car seats are not designed to accommodate bulky snowsuits — the suits prevent the seat from protecting the infant properly in the event of an accident.
What’s the solution? A fitted infant car seat cover, designed to fit under the buckles, ensures a warm ride for the baby and can be used as a cover from the wind when out in the elements. Count the cover as a jacket layer so you don’t overheat the baby when driving in a toasty warm car.
Another exception to the simple “one extra layer” rule is nighttime. You may be comfortable in a simple cotton pajama set and hop under a thick comforter with flannel sheets, but such bedding is unsafe for a newborn’s sleep environment. Instead, dress a baby in the pajamas of choice, plus one layer (an extra onesie shirt with leggings under a full-body onesie or two full-body onesies layered together), making sure feet are covered with leggings or socks that won’t fall off at night. Then swaddle or put on the sleep sack, and be sure to not overheat the room (68-72 degrees is ideal).
Then there’s the argument for a hat: I tell my clients to keep a hat on their babies’ heads until April, inside and outside, day and night. Why does this matter so much? Because a baby’s head is about one-fifth of the surface area of the body. That means going hatless is like you or me walking around with only half a shirt on. Even a baby with a full head of hair doesn’t have as much protection as she’ll get from a simple cotton hat. And any parent knows that there are enough random hats floating around in baby world, so put them to use and keep your babe comfy.
While dressing your infant may seem simple, it takes extra time to prepare your baby for the changing temperatures of any given day and may require a few extra articles of clothing in your already full changing bag (how does someone so small need such a big bag?). And, this dressing game doesn’t end at a month or two.
An 18-month-old may not be able to tell you if he is hot or cold, so fill up that bag and be prepared for lots of on-and-off in the season ahead.
Sarah Bay, who writes a women’s health issues column every other month, is a nurse practitioner and certified nurse midwife caring for women of all ages. Her office is located in downtown Peterborough, with care also available at offices in Keene and Milford. For more information, call 801-9485 or visit www. sarahbaymidwife.com.