The toughest thing about Wisconsin life for me is icy winter days that keep me indoors. We’ve had, on the whole a pretty mild winter, and last week February seemed to forget that it was winter all together and we hit 70 degrees Fahrenheit–an all time record! But we’ve gone back to our regularly scheduled winter with some snow this weekend. I have a handful of daily routines that keep me healthy and happy, and my daily walk is one of my most treasured. So whenever possible, I try to get out and walk. Having a 15-month-old baby is an extra challenge, but most days, even in Milwaukee in winter, we can make it out.
Everybody has a different comfort level when it comes to taking their kids outside in Winter. For me, 20 degree Fahrenheit (-7C) is a rough cut-off, much colder than that is sort of an exercise in everyone being miserable. If it’s really too cold for a walk then I sacrifice writing time and walk on the treadmill or do a walking dvd workout. Figuring out when to stay in depends not only just on temperature but on wind and ice: a windy, icy, cloudy day where it’s technically 30 degrees, but feels like 10, we might stay in; but a clear-sidewalk, sunny, windless 15 degree day, and we might go out.
The challenges with really cold days are serious: hypothermia and frostbite from the cold, overheating and difficulty breathing from too many layers, and falling on ice. Navigating these challenges means having the right gear, used in the right way, and knowing when to stay in.
Baby-wearing. The great thing about baby-wearing on a winter walk is that your body is keeping the baby warm, and you can monitor baby regularly. For really young babies, ideal winter baby-wearing has baby close to mom, each wearing a thin base layer, but having the warmer layers around them together. Hands, feet, and ears are fairly good indicators of overall warmth. We love our ergo!
For that thin inner layer, you might wear a long-underwear shirt and baby might have a pair of footie jammies on. Baby will still need a hat and a pair of warm socks or booties. I like to put the socks under the footie jammies to help them say on. Then, over baby and carrier you’d have a warm coat that goes at least 6 to 9 inches below baby’s feet, which hopefully are tucked up against baby’s body and mom’s body. The trick here is to get a coat that is big enough to comfortably go around both of you, and long enough to keep baby warm. Think XL men’s thrift store coat…or steal your husband’s.
You’ll probably want a burp cloth or clean pre-fold diaper on your chest to act as a pillow for baby and a scarf for you, and to keep you both clean. Likely one side of your coat unzipped to your sternum will be able to cover the back of baby’s head, and baby will have lots of room to breathe air that’s been warmed up a bit by your body. (And for older babies, I find that if it’s much below 40 degrees F (5 C), it works a lot better to have the baby facing in, not out…if you have a sweet ergo 360.)
If your baby is old enough that his or her feet are dangling down, then you want to make sure they are wearing enough layers on their feet, and possibly adding a warm pack. When you walk, your feet are moving to keep warm, but dangling baby feet aren’t, and they get pretty cold. I put 2 cups of uncooked rice in an old pair of socks (one cup of rice per sock…make sure the socks don’t have any holes in them) and tie the top of the sock closed with a metal-free hair tie. Then I pop the socks in the microwave for 90 to 120 seconds. You want to have the baby have plenty of warm layers to keep his or her feet from having any direct contact with the warmed rice sock. So have baby wear a couple pairs of thick socks, or socks and shoes and a light bunting might be needed. Before you use the rice packs on your baby for the first time, heat them up and place them on your own feet for at least 15 minutes over the same number of layers you’ll use on your baby to test them out.
Overall I think that layers are more economical and versatile then a really warm down expensive baby bunting…but then again if someone gave me one, I’d probably use it. But until then, I’ve loved our inexpensive fleece bunting a couple of sizes bigger (24 months that we’ve used since he was 9 months) so that it can accommodate layers and be comfortable in the ergo.
I bought a down XL men’s coat at a thrift store, and while that technically works for Jackson at 13 months, it’s not great option. I probably should have gone for an XXL. In the current coat, we’re pretty squished in it all zipped up (and squished down isn’t as warm). He doesn’t mind if he’s going to fall asleep pretty quickly, but he’s pretty cranky about being smooshed in the coat while he’s awake for more than a few minutes. So, in that case, we use a down vest and a scarf and my down coat completely open if we’re using a baby carrier or the stroller.
With the down vest option, I have him in several layers: Then I tie (with looped hair ties) a down vest over the back of the carrier on a button or the strap of the carrier, and tie a scarf around my jacket and the down vest to keep the whole thing closed.
If it’s 40 and not windy, then this set up also works for letting him face out. (P.S. you will not be at your most attractive in this set up…but you’ll be warm.)
Jackson wears the same layers as in the down vest option: cotton pants or pajamas, wool long underwear (I made his out of a sweater, there are fancier diy instructions here or premade options) sweatshirt with hood, a light fleece bunting over hat and wool booties and wool socks.
Once he’s all strapped in, I put that XL men’s down jacket that I bought over him, upside down, with Jackson’s feet in the sleeves. (I put the warmed rice socks by his feet and then tuck the rest of the sleeve up underneath his body and the stroller seat.)
The jacket I got has a zip-off hood and I put the hood on Jackson. (I do bring the ergo carrier and the down vest with us in the stroller in case Jackson really wants to be carried…because sometimes he decides a mile away from home he hates the stroller.) He often falls asleep, so I’ll create sort of a wind barrier with the coat in front of him, while leaving plenty of room for him to breathe unencumbered. I’ll also sometimes put some thick lotion on his checks to help protect them from the wind.
For what I wear, check out this post on winter walking gear for all the details, but I like long underwear and yoga pants for bottoms, a head band and hat for tops, and mittens and liners for my hands. I’ve also added some New Balance boots which are not quite wide enough to wear thick socks with, so I often wear tights which are thin enough for my feet in warm boots and add another layer for my legs. I also got a lovely long eddie bauer down jacket, and some ice cleats (which I’ll often put in the bottom of the stroller just in case, but having the stroller actually keeps me pretty steady on a bit of ice here or there.)
For the days that are too cold or too icy or too windy, I use the precious nap time for a treadmill walk in my dark and cold basement. (Last winter, I just walked Jackson in the carrier on the treadmill, but he wouldn’t really appreciate that as much now.) Or I can also use my walking dvd on mute while I listen to a pod cast in my light and warm living-room. Those options aren’t as good as getting out for a walk outside, but some days they are the best option in keeping everyone happy and safe.
Sometimes even a short walk helps everyone feel a little less trapped, so sometimes we’ll take a shorter walk just to the library, and I’ll finish up my walk at home. Also if you’re just getting started trying to do winter walks, try walking with someone else, and near shops where you could pop in and regroup. Or try it when you could call someone to come rescue you if you get too far out and the baby decides it’s too much. I think a key to long walks is being able to nurse in the ergo; it makes everyone a lot happier. (But for years I nannied babies and didn’t have that option, and we did a lot of cold weather walks too!) Really it’s about believing you can do it, being prepared and smart, and knowing how much getting out can make the day a lot better.
How do you manage winter and movement?
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