This week, the midwestern United States will experience a "deep freeze" due to a storm moving through that is bringing snow and dangerously low cold temperatures, up to -51° F.
For anyone, this kind of weather is alarming. For those who are pregnant or have children, especially a new baby, there is an extra layer of fear and concern. While parts of the country are more than accustomed to dealing with cold and even really cold temperatures during the winter, few are familiar with the kinds of precautions necessary when temperatures dip down to arctic levels.
Read up and prepare yourself and your family to stay safe in this week's extreme winter weather.
Safety Tips for Pregnancy & Newborns in Extreme Low Temps
Limit time outside. Of course, this is the most obvious, most simple way to avoid danger from extreme cold. Exposure to temperatures below zero can quickly cause frostbite or hypothermia, both of which can be deadly. A person who is pregnant tends to run warmer than average, but that doesn't mean there is any less risk of frostbite. To reduce your time outside, plan ahead: get groceries in advance or call for delivery; venture out only if/when necessary; if you have to travel for longer distances to get from your car or a bus/train station to your office, consider asking if you can work from home or take the day off, if possible. If you have a newborn, avoid going out during the cold snap, if at all possible. If not, consider the following additional tips.
Dress for success. Successfully surviving the cold, that is. Dressing for below-freezing temperatures requires more than slapping on a winter coat and hat. Layers are key. Plan to wear at least three layers, even if you're just going out for a brief period of time, and even if you're entering into a warmed up car (at some point, you'll have to get out). Thermal clothing is your friend, but if you don't have any, layer what you do have. Your base layer should be breathable, wick away moisture (cotton is not the best for this, as it retains moisture and takes a long time to dry) and be worn close to your skin. The next layers should help keep heat in -- they don't necessarily need to be big and bulky, but rather should be tightly woven and warm. Outer layers should be waterproof or repellent and windproof. Be sure to look for gaps at the wrists, neck, and ankles. Wear mittens instead of gloves, as your fingers are warmer when they're together. Perhaps your most important piece of clothing is your hat, as 40% of your body heat is lost through your head. Don't forget your ears, neck, and face! Essentially, you want to make sure that nearly every inch of your body, save for the openings of your eyes, is covered and protected. For more specific cold weather clothing tips, check out this quick read on Gear Junkie.
Since babies, and especially newborns, are more susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia, it's best not to take your baby out in the elements unless it's absolutely vital. When possible, stay indoors. If you must go out, be sure to dress your baby in as many layers as you have, covering all vital areas except the nose and mouth, plus one more layer. Consider purchasing a winter car seat cover to help keep out the cold. If not, use a heavy blanket. If you're moving from your house to your car, be sure the car is properly warmed up before placing your baby's car seat inside. Once safely inside your car, it's important for you to remove the thick layers from your baby so that her car seat straps can fit safely against her body and protect her in the event of a crash. Thick layers, like that of a winter coat or blankets underneath car straps can compress in a crash and allow baby to move too much, putting the head, neck, and spine at additional risk of serious injury. Keep a close eye on baby when venturing out in the extreme cold -- both for signs of hypothermia as well as overheating. Hypothermia signs in a baby include red skin, skin that feels cold to the touch, and low energy (difficult to determine in a sleeping newborn, of course). The most common and obvious signs of overheating include skin that feels hot to the touch and is red. When layering and covering baby up, it's also critical to make sure that baby's airways are free from blankets and clothing, and that baby does not overheat, both of which are risk factors for stopping breathing, also known as SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome.
Car safety. If you must travel anywhere, do it safely. Warm your car up in advance of leaving, but be sure to never run your car inside a closed garage due to the deadly dangers of carbon monoxide. If you haven't already, winterize your vehicle by checking fluid levels, air pressure in tires, and if your battery power. For more specific and in depth tips, either call your mechanic, or take a look at this checklist from the Chicago Tribune (a place that knows a thing or two about cold weather). Also, if you're traveling any distance by car, be sure to have on hand extra layers, blankets, and a phone charging brick in case your car breaks down and you need to wait and call for help. Go one step further and prepare a car winter emergency kit to keep in your trunk at all times.
Preventing falls. Of course, the other risk in extreme cold is ice, which is responsible for accidents and falls. When you're pregnant, you're already at an added risk of falling because your center of gravity and balance is off. While a fall during pregnancy can be worrisome, you should know that generally, your body is well designed to protect your baby, even in the event of a fall. That said, you can help protect yourself by: limiting or avoiding time outside; wearing appropriate non-slip winter weather shoes or wearing ice/snow grips on the bottoms of your boots for extra security; and by moving slowly and extra cautiously while outside, using handrails when available. If you do fall, call your midwife or doctor and let them know what happened, and schedule an in-person visit if needed. Seek emergency care if you experience bleeding, contractions, abdominal pain, or can't feel baby move or feel reduced movement after falling.
Extreme cold during winter can be frightening. Take time now to learn more, prepare, and take necessary steps to safeguard yourself and your baby before the weather hits this week. When you're prepared, you reduce your risks and your worries.