A toddler sits in a car seat inside a car and holds a stuffed animal.
Spectrum Health’s child car seat specialists frequently remind parents about the importance of ensuring the car seat straps are properly set.(For Spectrum Health Beat)

When I went to Minnesota to attend a Vikings football game a few weeks back, the cold weather quickly became one of the most memorable parts of the whole trip.

Cold is a bit of an understatement. The temperature dipped to minus 20 degrees, not including wind chill. I carried a backpack and I had to walk a ways, and at some point my jeans became frozen stiff. (Lesson learned: Don’t try to bring bags to pro sports games.)

At one point, however, I noticed some families had brought their babies and small children out into the cold with them.

Of course, it got me thinking: How safe is the cold weather for such little ones? At what point is the temperature simply too cold to have them out and about, even when properly bundled?

Safer seat

Did you know the belt on an infant’s car seat can give up to several inches? This means the great fit the belt previously had on your baby can change if you’ve outfitted them in a jacket or cute little snowsuit.

Several years ago, I read about a case in Maine where a mom lost control on icy roads and the entire car seat came out of the vehicle—and the baby came out of the car seat. Now, thankfully the baby wasn’t hurt. But what happened was the baby had on a snowsuit, which created more slack in the belt. This caused the child to come out of the harness.

Spectrum Health’s child car seat specialists frequently remind parents about the importance of ensuring the car seat straps are properly set.

The recommendation I found is that if it’s below freezing, you don’t want your baby out for long periods at all. To and from the vehicle is about it.

“Young babies aren’t able to regulate their temperature well and can lose heat quickly,” said pediatrician Jennifer Shu, MD, coauthor of “Heading Home With Your Newborn.”

While Dr. Shu referred specifically to babies ages 6 months and younger, slightly older children—6 months to a few years old—are also susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia.

That being said, many people also tend to overdress their baby.

Have you ever seen someone bring a baby to a gathering, and when the blanket comes off everyone finds the baby dripping in sweat? I’ve seen it happen. It’s easy to overheat, so keep this in mind when you’re getting your baby ready to go outside.

Car seat technicians talk about this during the car seat safety section at Spectrum Health’s childbirth classes. They jokingly ask, “Do you wear your snowmobile suit when driving down the road? You’d be sweating! So think about that with your new baby.”

Here are some useful tips as you prepare your little ones for winter:

  • Wear your baby. Baby wearing is great outdoors as well as indoors. It’s an excellent way to keep your baby close, snuggled in and cozy. Depending on the carrier, you could also tuck your baby’s arms and legs in for additional warmth.
  • Put a hat on your baby. Quite simply, this helps avoid heat loss. Also, don’t forget about the baby’s feet—a lot of new parents don’t put their baby in shoes before they’re able to walk, but there are still booties and other types of slippers to keep baby’s feet warm. You should always make sure your baby’s feet aren’t cold.
  • Layer your baby’s clothes. A baby in layered clothing can be undressed to cool down if he gets too warm. Even on short trips, I take my coat off in the car—the vehicle temperature is easily programmed for comfort. It’s always much easier to take a baby’s layers off, as opposed to finding additional layers to put on when needed.
  • Backwards baby jacket. Yes, you can put your baby’s jacket on backwards. This is one I didn’t know about when my children were babies, but it makes sense because it makes it easier to layer for cold and warmth. The most important point here is that it doesn’t affect the “fit” of the car seat straps and harnesses. (Car seat technicians will spend a lot of time discussing this issue.) The jacket is placed backwards over the correct fitting car seat straps.
  • Get a car seat cover. Purchase one or ask for one as a baby shower gift. It goes over the car seat, and it comes in handy if you can’t find a blanket. Just make sure you get one that’s the same brand as your car seat. This way, you know it has been safety tested by your car seat manufacturer.

I also found a great piece at CNN.com about “winter-proofing” your baby. To see if your baby is dressed warmly enough for the weather, it recommended checking your baby’s toes and belly as soon as you come indoors.

“The toes should feel slightly cool, though not chilly, and the belly warm,” the article stated. “If the stomach is also cool, the baby is struggling to warm herself. If the belly and the toes are equally warm, she could be overdressed.”