How to protect the children from frostbite, hypothermia

December 29, 1993|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Staff Writer

While it was snowing hard yesterday, 4-year-old Matthew Smith got ready to hit the Baltimore slopes. He donned snuggly wool socks from Santa and new waterproof mittens that would prolong his wintry frolic.

"He seems to like the idea of these new mittens," said Matthew's mom, Pam Griffin-Smith.

"There's some sort of specialness about them that helps."

Her other son, 16-month-old Andrew, braved the weather in a two-piece quilted snow suit. "I'm sure he'll be fuss- ing about that," Ms. Griffin-Smith said as the snow came steadily down.

There's heavy weather out there, and no matter how squirmy kids are, they must be attired properly to withstand it.

"The major risk in winter is frostbite and hypothermia," says Dr. Richard Layton, a Towson-based pediatrician.

His rule of thumb for dressing children in the coldest season is "not the actual temperature, but the wind-chill index."

Dr. Layton advises keeping children 5 and younger inside when the wind-chill factor registers below zero. Aside from that word of warning, "Common sense is really the key, depending on what the weather conditions are."

A blustery, snowy day warrants "winter clothing with some undergarments. . .and good protection for hands, feet and face," he says. However, "You don't want to overdress. If a child sweats, that can potentially be a problem in terms of getting sick," Dr. Layton says.

Layers of clothing do work to keep kids warm, the doctor adds. Although children in general are more tolerant of extreme weather conditions, care givers should take into consideration how prone children are to infections or whether they have chronic medical conditions such as asthma, Dr. Layton says.

When kids come inside from the cold, they should warm up gradually, the doctor advises. And yes, hot cocoa is a nice warmer-upper.

As for what to bundle up in, say goodbye to the straitjacket of baby-boomer childhoods: the snow suit. "We stopped carrying the old-fashioned snow suits that make kids look like marshmallows," says Gail Mangell, owner of But No Bunnies, a children's clothing store in Roland Park.

"What I really do a big business in is polar fleece," she says. This fuzzy, synthetic material is ideal for Baltimore winters. When it's extra cold, a sweater underneath gives added protection.

For kids who sled, ski and snow board, there are polar-fleece jackets covered in water-resistant nylon, Ms. Mangell says. Sweat pants, covered by rain pants, are cheaper and less cumbersome than full-fledged ski suits, she says.

In Maryland's moderate climate, parents can downgrade their children's winter apparel, Ms. Mangell says. "Start with what they like. Don't make it all puffy and awkward and scratchy and then you're OK."

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