Raising a Baby in Freezing Temperatures…Why?
My family was preparing to move off grid when I was pregnant with our second child. We planned to live in a travel trailer until we could find property and build a home. We didn’t know how long that would take, but one thing we knew for sure is that we would spend the winter in our little trailer. We were a little crazy (okay maybe a lot)! One of the many challenges we faced was how to stay warm. We tried many solutions to get our trailer’s heat to work without an electric hook-up, but we were never successful. It was a long cold winter with only a little propane camp heater to take the chill out of the air. This was certainly not what we had planned, but I learned a lot that winter about how to keep my family warm.
My little Kaleb stayed the warmest of all of us. I kind of envied him because his feet never had to touch the cold floor! Now, I look back and realize that my family can conquer anything. Was that winter uncomfortable? Absolutely! But Kaleb grew and thrived. He was never sick, not even with a little sniffle. He didn’t get his first cold until much later when he began to toddle and explore. As long as he was bundled up, breastfed and held by mommy, he was perfectly healthy.
From Birth to Rolling Over
I’m a pretty organized person and I had all of our necessary baby supplies ready when Kaleb arrived. He was only seven weeks old when we moved into the trailer to begin our off grid adventure, but all of my preparation did not prepare me for the cold that was to come. It’s difficult to imagine the reality of living in cold weather when all you have been used to is a house with heat. I held and nursed Kaleb so much that winter. Wearing a baby and co-sleeping definitely works for warmth, and there are times when I did those things. But co-sleeping is not my favorite thing and I’m here to tell you that it is possible to keep baby warm without sharing a bed. And even baby-wearing and co-sleeping do not provide enough warmth for little ones to stay warm in freezing temperatures.
It is pretty easy to bundle up your baby in a lot of layers and blankets before they can move around very much. I layered Kaleb in a long sleeve onesie and socks (on both hands and feet) inside two footed sleepers, the smaller one inside a bigger one. Then I put him in a 3-6 month size baby snowsuit with legs. If he needed more warmth, I put him in a baby snowsuit sack that was a 6-9 month size. I made sure to tuck the hoods down over his head and ears. One snowsuit inside the other was often necessary! If it was an even colder night, I swaddled my snowsuited baby in quilts and blankets. He couldn’t move, but he stayed warm! This layering may seem extreme, but many nights we were dealing with temperatures that dropped below freezing. Kaleb was always warm and slept 10 or more hours at that time.
The best thing about baby snowsuits are the hoods and hands. Babies heads and hands stay really warm tucked inside all the layers and they can’t pull them off! Kaleb wore his little pooh bear snowsuit all the time that winter. He wore it so much that he did not learn to roll over until he was seven months old. He just laid there wiggling his arms and legs when I wasn’t holding him. But that was okay with me! It’s much easier to keep a baby warm when they can’t move around. If you are curious about his development, he caught up quickly when the spring came. He learned to roll over and then sit up within a few weeks of each other. He was crawling a couple months after that and walking around a year old.
Cruising to Toddler-Hood
The next winter, Kaleb was a year old. Warmth was not as big a factor because we had moved into our house with a wood stove. Life is good with a wood stove! But inside temperatures would still drop into the low 50’s over the course of the night. Swaddling does not work for an older baby. They can get out of anything! I ended up using the same layering technique that I did when he was younger, except that I did not cover his hands. I knew any mittens that I tried to put on him would be pulled off, but he didn’t need them anyway in 50 degree temperatures. I then used two, three, or four toddler size sleep sacks layered on top of each other. My mom made them from baby blankets that I had stored, but the one to the right is very similar.
If I had needed to bundle him up for colder temperatures, I could have put him in a bunting bag or toddler size snowsuit. Some of the bunting bags I found while researching this article, look really warm. But they are also very expensive! When you consider the difficulty of washing and getting it dry in the winter, a few bags are necessary. A thick quilted item can be difficult to hand wash in a grid goes down situation, and it can take days to dry in the winter.
The advantage to snowsuits is that they are cheaper and more readily available. The disadvantage is that they have open hands and feet because they are made to be worn with gloves and shoes. If I was prepping for an older baby today, I would hit the Goodwill or other thrift stores and look for toddler snowsuits. I would stock at least two and three would be even better. You never know when a baby is going to leak through their diaper and you are going to have snowsuits drying on the line in winter. I would purchase a larger size and sew the arms and legs closed to keep the toddler’s hands and feet warm.
Kaleb is now two and he is sleeping in his twin size bed with regular sheets and thick blankets piled on top. After some training, he knows how to stay down in his blankets. I’m grateful that I don’t have to do all the work of bundling him anymore, but I’m here to say that it is possible to keep your baby warm off-grid in freezing temperatures. Like anything else in prepping, it just takes some knowledge and preparation.