Kids love to play in the snow — building snow forts, having snowball fights, and even eating snow — but how long is it safe for little ones to be outside in extremely cold weather? With a large chunk of the US facing record lows, more and more parents are asking themselves this question. POPSUGAR talked to doctors to get an answer.
How Long Can Kids Stay out in the Snow?
Board-certified pediatrician Amna Husain, MD, told POPSUGAR that smaller bodies have a harder time with thermoregulation, or body temperature regulation. "The younger the child, the smaller the ratio of body mass to the body surface, meaning more heat can escape through his or her skin," Dr. Husain explained, noting that the length of time a child can safely spend outside in the snow depends on both the child's size and their ability to communicate how cold they feel.
How Long Can Babies Stay Out in the Snow?
Primary-care physician Jaydeep Tripathy, MBBS, MRCP (UK), MBA-MPH, AFIH, told POPSUGAR that since babies' bodies lose heat faster than they are able to produce it, you should only take a baby out in freezing-cold weather when absolutely necessary, and in these cases, make sure you take proper safety precautions to keep the infant warm. However, Dr. Tripathy warned against taking an infant out at all in temperatures of -15 degrees Fahrenheit and below, "because it can quickly freeze the baby's skin within minutes."
How Long Can Toddlers Stay Out in the Snow?
Dr. Tripathy said toddlers can play out in the snow for 20 to 30 minutes at a time but never in temperatures of -15 degrees Fahrenheit and below. He added that they should be properly dressed in warm coats, gloves, hats, snow pants, and boots. Dr. Husain suggested checking in with toddlers frequently to see if they feel cold by asking them, feeling the temperature at the back of their neck, and watching for nonverbal indications that they are feeling cold, like shivering.
How Long Can School-Age Children Stay Out in the Snow?
"School-aged children can generally stay outside during winter longer than toddlers and babies," Dr. Tripathy said. "If they're physically active, dressed properly, and the wind chill or temperature is not below -15 degrees Fahrenheit, they can stay for around an hour to play." Dr. Husain said school-age children are generally verbal enough to tell you if they are too cold, but parents still need to check in frequently. Supervising adults should ensure kids wear enough layers and remain dry.
What Are the Warning Signs of Hypothermia in Children?
Hypothermia, or dangerously low body temperature, is the primary concern parents should have when it comes to monitoring how long their kids spend playing outside in the snow. Dr. Tripathy said babies are most vulnerable to hypothermia, and if their temperature drops below normal (between 96 to 100.4 Fahrenheit), you should call 911 immediately. He listed cold, pale skin or redness and unusually low energy level as the signs to watch for in babies and clumsiness, shivering, and slurring of words or disorientation as signs to watch for in toddlers.
Frostbite is another concern when it comes to kids being out in the snow for too long. "[Frostbite] happens in the extreme cold when the layer of tissue just below the skin starts to freeze. It will feel like it's burning before it goes numb, but babies and toddlers won't be able to alert you," Dr. Tripathy cautioned. "If you suspect frostbite, warm your child immediately, soak the frostbitten area in warm water, and feed them hot water or milk (or breast milk if possible). If the spot begins to blister, take your baby to the ER or to your pediatrician to be sure," he advised. So long as you're checking in with your little one, there's no reason not to have a little snowy fun!