Monday, October 13, 2008

The Children Are Nestled All Snug in Their Beds...

The twins at 5 months old, all cuddled up together.

Crunchy Chicken's Freeze Yer Buns Challenge is getting close, so despite outdoor temperatures of nearly 80 degrees (!), I've been thinking warm thoughts. One of the questions that seems to be asked every year for the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge is how to keep infants and children warm when you've decided to turn the thermostat down to 55 degrees at night. The twins, my first children, were born in November when we lived in a drafty apartment. I quickly began to look backwards, into history, to see how babies were kept warm in the days before we could set our digital thermostats at whatever temperature made us most comfortable. Here are just a few of the strategies I used (and still use) to keep our little ones nice and snug:

The best source of heat in cold weather is body heat, in my opinion. It works quickly, doesn't require artifical and possibly dangerous energy sources, and creates family unity. That said, my first recommendation for keeping any infant or child warm is to welcome them into your bed. This is called co-sleeping nowadays, and there is plenty of information available about how to do so safely. This can be very scary for someone who has been conditioned to think that co-sleeping is dangerous, and I understand. But remember: "According to the National SIDS Alliance, approximately 2,700 babies die each year from SIDS; the vast majority of those sleeping alone in a crib. In the CPSC study, 515 died between 1990 to 1997 directly as a result of poor safety in co-sleeping." Both mom and dad, but especially a breast-feeding mother, are specially designed to help their infants regulate their body temperatures. That's something a blanket just can't do.

Co-sleeping is also often the most frugal sleeping option for baby. The purchase of a crib, bassinet, or cradle can be delayed or put off altogether. I purchased cribs and was given bassinets for the twins, but I rarely used them at night. (There are those times when you just need some time in bed with your partner to... bond ;-) If your child(ren) has a separate room, you can shut off the register to their room at night and funnel all the heat to the room you're sleeping in together.

As an offshoot of parental co-sleeping, there's also sibling co-sleeping. All those renditions of The Night Before Christmas with a bedful of sleeping children are more than quaint, they're practical. Again, body heat is best for keeping everyone snug. It is not wise to keep an infant or very young child in bed with older siblings. The Bean has only started sleeping with Annie this winter, and The Bean is now more than two years old. Annie and Airius did sometimes sleep together as infants, but as toddlers they preferred separation from each other, even when they were in Mommy's and Daddy's bed. There may be squabbling between children who share a bed, but there's a lot of bonding and closeness too. When the girls are just getting under each other's skin, the threat of having to go to their own beds is usually enough to quiet them. Airius's main reason for wanting a baby brother was because he wants someone to share a room with. Since the twins are only 4 (soon to be 5... boo hoo!), we do not discourage him from sleeping with his sisters if he wants. It just seems to be that they segregate themselves from sleeping together.

Get out your knitting needles because suggestion #3 is to wear a hat to bed. Are we seeing a theme emerge here? "And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap..." Okay, you don't have to knit your own. Just grab a stocking hat from your winter stash and keep it on all day and night. Be sure both your infants and children have them too. Though the exact percentage is debated, most scientists agree that a high percentage of your body heat is lost through your head. The head of an infant is large in proportion to the rest of its body, so this is especially true for them. Keep those baby beanies on your little one! Most children I know absolutely love hats of all types, so I've never had one balk at wearing a nightcap. Make sure they fit snugly on those little heads so that they don't pose a choking hazard. There are so many cute hat patterns for kids and babies that you may have a whole slew of them by the end of winter! Try to stay away from hats with strings around the neck. These could be a choking hazard for children while they sleep.

After your littles have donned their night caps, make sure their feet are covered. Have you ever put your feet in warm or cold water and felt a temperature shift in your whole body? Exactly. I'd recommend a thinner, daily wear sock go on the feet first. Cover these with a thick woolen sock. It's best if both pairs of socks go to at least mid-calf. This will prevent kids from kicking their socks off in their sleep and add a little warmth to the legs where pajama pants or nightgowns can hike up and leave skin bare. For infants and small children, footed sleepers are a blessing. You can put socks either underneath or over top of the footies. I've had better luck putting the socks over top. Somehow, my kids always manage to kick the socks off if they're inside the footies. Then they just have big, lumpy socks rolling around in their jammies all night. Not comfortable. My kids have never seemed to need more than two pairs of socks, but use your best judgement.

Layering pajamas and blankets is an easy enough solution. This doesn't have to be layering pajama on top of pajama. Simply adding a t-shirt under a nightshirt or a pair of body hugging thermal underwear underneath can be enough. With infants, I recommend a long-sleeved onesie underneath their pajamas. If they're sleeping with you, this should be more than sufficient (it may even be too much). If your baby is on its own at night, I'd suggest adding a sleep sack over the pajamas. It is both more dangerous and more likely for your baby to be too hot than too cold. Don't feel extremities to test for warmth. Touch their bare chest instead or their bare head. For children over a year old, layering blankets is a no-brainer. Do not put loose blankets atop your infant. We used to tuck flannel receiving blankets into the sides of the crib when the babes were napping during the day, but at night they only used sleep sacks when they weren't sleeping with me. In bed with me, I'd layer tight-fitting clothing over my chest and simply keep the blankets tucked around my waist, legs, and feet. This way, the baby was in no danger of suffocation from our bulky blankets.

Flannel sheets don't create warmth, but they seem to retain it better than the cotton sheets of summer. If you compare climbing into a winter bed dressed with flannel sheets to one dressed with cotton sheets, well, there really is no comparison. It's just not as cold. In my area, flannel sheets are difficult to find in thrift stores, freecycle, or garage/yard sales, but you can often get them at the various discount stores in all kinds of cute prints. My goal (yet to be reached) is to have two sets of flannel sheets for each bed in the house.

If you've got a rice pouch for easing tummy aches and breast woes, heat your rice pouch to a safe temperature and stick it in your infant's or child's bed before they go to sleep. With older children, you can leave the pouch in bed for them to tuck their feet against. With small children and infants, remove the pouch before they climb under their covers. Those flannel sheets will stay warm for quite awhile after baby is laid down, making it easier for them to keep that body temperature. You can also add various herbs to your pouch to soothe baby. Warming herbs, like cinnamon, ginger, or cloves can be nice as well but may keep baby awake. Have fun experimenting.

This is how I manage to keep my children (and myself!) dreaming of sugar plums each winter. So snuggle up those babies in their cute little nightcaps and hibernate for awhile. You will not want to get out of bed, I swear. :) What are your suggestions for keeping infants and children warm in cold weather?


Crunchy Chicken said...

Wow. Now that was comprehensive. I'll make sure that people come visit this post for your baby warming suggestions.

Mist said...

Thanks, Crunchy. I'm glad you stopped by!

Carmen said...

We love our sleepsack and use the Halo version - we have tried most of the others out there and like the design and quality of Halo's the best! good for you for telling people about Sleepsacks - so much safer than a loose blanket!