It’s Almost Winter: How Cold is Too Cold for Your Baby?
When day cares in Finland begin preparing for nap time in the infant room they often push their babies’ bassinets or strollers outside instead of lining up cribs and bassinets in the classroom. While most American parents appreciate a good, warm nap in the sun, they might be surprised to learn that Finnish babies take their naps outdoors even during the coldest part of winter when temperatures drop well below freezing. Finnish babies tend to sleep well in the cold, fresh outside air as long as they’re bundled up nicely.
While American babies would also likely sleep well in the cold, parents in the United States tend to be much more conservative about how much exposure their little ones have to cold temperatures. In the United States, there are a range of opinions about how much cold babies should be exposed to. Most parents don’t have a hard and fast rule on what temperatures they will or won’t take their baby outside in. But most have stories about a time they took their new baby outside in fall or spring and someone gasped and scolded them for leaving the house without socks or a hat for their baby.
So, who's right? The Finnish parents who let their tots nap outside in below-freezing temperatures or the grandmother you met at Target who loudly let you know just how freezing baby must be in their short-sleeved onesie even though it’s almost 70 outside?
As it turns out, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. Finnish parents (and babies) are clearly comfortable with their sub-freezing napper while American parents tend to keep their little ones indoors when the temperatures drop… and neither are wrong.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, cold tends to become a problem once the temperature drops below freezing. Your baby can still go outside but they should not spend long periods of time outdoors, should be appropriately bundled, and should have as little exposed skin as possible. Babies, particularly newborns, have more difficulty regulating their temperature than do older children and adults, making cold temperatures potentially more dangerous. As a general rule, babies should be dressed in one more layer than you. If you’re comfortable outside in a long-sleeved shirt and a coat, your baby should be wearing a long sleeved shirt, a coat AND another layer either underneath or on top.
Once the temperature drops below 20F, most pediatricians recommend that babies not spend any more time outdoors than is necessary, say to be carried in from the car or across the street to a neighbor's. When it’s this cold, being outdoors – even when properly bundled – can be dangerous and a baby is at risk of developing hypothermia or (if there’s exposed skin) frostbite.
So parents, in short, baby can happily play outside if they’re dressed appropriately until the temperature drops to around 20F. Once it’s 20 or below baby should probably stay cuddled up in your arms inside as much as possible. During the long winter months, I don’t know many parents who would complain about that!