The weather has turned a little chilly, and every caring parent’s mind turns to how to keep their baby warm in the cold air. Out come the snuggly snowsuits and the hooded jackets, out come the warm cosy scarves, all aimed to keep you and baby toasty warm. At sling library sessions I can often be found encouraging parents to undress their babies, and often themselves! But why? Surely warmth is important?
Indeed it is, and it is good to be aware of your child’s needs. But there is often still a question about the best way to keep warm when you are using a sling… are the snuggly snowsuits really the best option? Are they safe to use, especially with the current advice about avoiding thick coats in car seats (see link at the bottom).
I see a lot of parents with small babies in snowsuits or thick jackets who are then settled into a carrier, be it a stretchy wrap or a mei tai or a buckle carrier. Problems can arise at this point; baby is often too warm, and may be rather sleepy as a result, or irritable, and the parent may be finding the carrier uncomfortable.
1) Be aware of OVERHEATING
Too many thick snuggly layers can be a risk of overheating. Babies are by nature warm little creatures (carrying them can feel like having a delightful wriggly hot water bottle on your front) and it is their extremities and their heads that need protecting much more than their middles. They are not yet able to regulate their own temperatures in the way that adults can (which is why skin to skin contact from an adult for a feverish or cold child can be so very useful) so being close to your body will rapidly warm a child up anyway. As you walk you will warm up, and your extra heat will warm up the child on your front even more.
Being too hot is not good for babies; it makes them sleepy and overbundling a sleeping baby is a risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). It makes sense to avoid this overheating in slings just as much when baby is sleeping in a bed or a car seat. Furthermore, being too bundled up reduces their ability to sweat (the drops of sweat need to be able to evaporate to carry heat away) which means even older children who can regulate their temperature better will also struggle with being too hot. Hot babies are at significant risk; it is relatively easy to add extra layers for warmth if you misjudge slightly and to remove them when you come in out of the cold.
2) Be aware of AIRWAY
Sometimes the weight of baby inside the snowsuit can mean they sink down inside it, due to gravity, and end up with their faces buried inside the body of the snowsuit. This may pose a risk to airway and breathing; the same goes for hooded jackets or thick cardigans that can “ride up” the back of the carrier.
Too much fabric around the chest and upper body will also make it hard to achieve a fully supported back and a tight carry. This may increase the risk of too much space between baby’s head and your chest, allowing his chest to curl and compress and his heavy head to slump forwards, potentially compressing his airway, or burying his face into fluffy fabric, reducing airflow. Thick snowsuits really can be a significant risk.
Always ensure good airflow. Be aware of your own clothing too; a cowl or a scarf may prove problematic if your baby snuggles his face into the fabric, reducing free airflow. This is more of a risk with smaller babies than in those who have head control and are able to move themselves independently.
Make sure your baby’s face is not obscured by scarves or fabric that could be problematic if they fall asleep.
3) Be aware of POSITION
Increased bulk can affect positioning considerably. It is hard for joints to bend easily in thick, stiff trousers or multiple layers of clothing, so the M shape with bent knees higher than bottom that encourages healthy hips can be hard to achieve. Baby may end up being “starfished” into a carrier, rather than being comfortably seated.
This will affect how his pelvis and spine are positioned and may mean that his neck is not naturally supported by the J shaping that is achieved by ergonomic carriers. (This is why many narrow-based high-street carriers need prominent neck support or headrests, as baby is held straight and the head can more easily fall back).
Baby will feel heavier as he is not resting against the parent/carer’s body in the same way, and the weight distribution will change.
Too much bulk around the top may also affect the support to baby’s upper body, meaning that baby’s weight is pulling back away from your shoulders, rather than resting on your chest, and may be more uncomfortable.
Too much padding around the nappy region (especially in those babies wearing cloth nappies) could cause a reduction of blood flow to the lower limbs.
OK, so this is good to know. But it’s cold out there! My baby needs to be warm, what can I do?! Here are some suggestions how to ensure your chilly weather carrying is safe and still snuggly warm.
1) LAYER LAYER LAYER – carrying under coats
This is key to virtually all carrying, as the sling is in itself a layer of clothing, and sometimes more than one, depending on its type. A stretchy wrap is three layers, and some are thicker than others. Some buckle carriers are double layer panels, some are three.
In hot weather, you need as few as you can manage safely, whereas in cold weather you need more layers. Layers trap air in between them, so can often be more effective at providing warmth than one or two thick items of clothing, while still allowing flexibiity.
Thin all-in-one fleeces (such as Hoppediz or Lenny Lamb fleeces, to name just two) are warm, while still being breathable and allowing good joint movement for positioning. It may be worth considering a size up to protect little toes with the riding up you get with a sling, however, too large a fleece could mean too much fabric around the face and neck.
It is best, if possible, to keep baby as close to you as possible, and add layers on over the top. These layers can be undone/removed easily if baby is getting too hot (flushed, very warm chest skin, sweating, unexpectedly sleeping, for example), or if you go inside into a warm shop from a cold outside.
Wearing a large (maternity or oversized) coat which you can then wrap around your baby on the front will add warmth, as will a mac in rainy weather.
If you are creative, you could knit yourself a panel insert which would button onto your favourite button coat, making it wider to fit your baby and the sling inside. You can do the same with a zip insert (see this pdf for a comprehensive guide how to make one), or get one from the company ZipUsIn. If you are innovative, you can use a large oversize hoodie or cardigan with a very big neck or a zip that can be undone to go over both of you, or wear an oversized coat backwards if you can get someone else to do up the zip. Others may use a large shawl to wrap around themselves, or a home-made fleece poncho.
There are many “babywearing coats” or ponchos or vests and other items of clothing on the market which have been specifically designed for this, such as the MAM coats/ponchos, Boba hoodies/fleece vests, Lenny Lamb and Lilliputi coats, Momawo, Mamalila Kindercarry, to name just a few, and many are suitable for back carrying. You can see some reviews of a few here. Some can be expensive; for many they are invaluable especially if they are used frequently and are stylish enough to be worn as normal coats. Some will have hoods for both parent and baby, some won’t – its worth doing your homework and trying a few before your splash out
There are also some babywearing covers, similar to pushchair covers, that can just go over baby and sling but not parent, which may be useful if the parent prefers less warmth (such as Bundle Bean, Close Cocoon, or MaM).
In rainy weather, some will use large anoraks over both baby and parent. There are several waterproof ponchos on the market which can go over the sling on the top and umbrellas are very useful.
2) PROTECT EXTREMITIES
So if your baby’s body is nice and warm, heads and limbs need to be kept warm too.
This is where things like babylegs, tights and socks can be very useful indeed, layering up over the feet. Some people find boots helpful as well, such as Stonz or Thinsulate boots (varying price ranges) or wooly booties that can be tied gently on to avoid falling off. Some fleece onesies have feet that can be folded over to make a closed foot.
Heads can be kept warm with hats…(of which there are many gorgeous options). Some opt for balaclavas with neck covers (elephant hoods) to keep necks warm and prevent removal!
Hands can be kept warm with gloves with ribbons sewn in to stop them from falling off, or socks worn on the hands. Many fleece onesies have sleeves that can be folded over hands.
3) MANAGING CARRYING OVER COATS
This can work well in some circumstances, depending on the coat, the carrier and if you have anyone to help you. It can be hard to get a sling snug over the top of a bulky or slippery coat, and hard to get a snug fit on the back without help, but for many this works well.
Taking some care when planning the coat you use will make a big difference, (one that is thin and grippy, for example may be easier to work with, and hoods may get in the way of unobstructed breathing). Selecting the sling you use matters too; what you choose for normal use for maximum comfort may prove too complex over a coat. Pick one that is easily adjustable, and easy to get on and off.
This style of carrying over coats on the back may be much more convenient for toddlers who prefer to be able to get up and down again in quick succession. They are more likely to get cold on your back as they cannot snuggle into your body heat in the same way, so will need to be much more warmly dressed than a smaller baby on the front. This is especially true for framed carriers that hold children high up and separate.
It is fantastic to be able to explore in freedom with your child in all weathers. One last word; if carrying in the snow and ice, Yaxtrax that can go over shoes and boots can be enormously useful to prevent slipping… and if you do slip, your baby will be much safer in the sling than she would be loose in arms.
Here is some more information about cold weather carrying in much more detail!