How do you protect babies from the cold? And other questions

Baby outside

The UK is being hit by the first major cold snap of winter, with overnight lows of -10C expected in northern Scotland and a cold weather alert in England.

This comes against a backdrop of rising energy costs. So how do you stay safe and warm in these conditions?

How can I keep my baby warm?

Babies and children under five are more at risk in cold weather.

One of the best ways to keep babies warm is to use nappies, the NHS advises on its website.

At night, it is best to adjust the temperature using a number of light blankets.

Above all, babies do not need warm rooms at night – a room temperature between 16 and 20°C (61 and 68°F) is ideal. Indeed, babies can also be at risk of overheating, which is one of the causes of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Remember heads and hands during winter, says the NCT charity. It’s important to keep your baby’s head warm when outside, and mittens are a good idea.

In the car, for safety reasons, you should keep nappies to a minimum, so that there is not too much padding between your child and the car seat straps.

If you’re still concerned that your baby might be cold, you can lay a blanket over it once it’s securely fastened, advises the NCT.

How can older people stay safe?

People aged 65 and over are another group at risk when temperatures drop dramatically.

Again, using layers is one of the best ways to stay warm. Charity Age UK advises you take extra layers with you when you go, even if you don’t need them immediately.

woman with radiator

woman with radiator

It’s good to stock up on food, medicine and other essentials, especially if you can’t go out in bad weather. It also helps ensure that you continue to eat well.

You need to make sure your home is warm enough, which is difficult for many households with soaring energy costs.

British authorities have said people should focus on heating living rooms during the day and bedrooms before sleeping. Keeping the curtains closed also helps keep the heat in.

More than 11 million pensioners are eligible for the Winter Fuel Payment, which is worth between £250 and £600 this year.

Another unrelated benefit is the Warm Home Discount, which is a £150 discount for certain pensioners and low-income earners.

The NHS is reminding people to check in with family and elderly or vulnerable neighbours.

How do I protect my pet from the cold?

If you have pets, it is very important that you take care of them during the winter months. Like humans, animals can be at risk of hypothermia if they get too cold.

Dogs and cats like to snuggle indoors when it’s cold outside. The veterinary charity PDSA advises giving pets a few extra blankets for their beds during the winter months to keep them warm. Raised beds for older dogs might keep them out of drafts, while cats may like high up dens.

The charity also recommends extra playtime for pets to ensure they stay active. New toys to play with indoors can help, especially if they go out less during the winter.

Providing cats with indoor litter boxes will also mean fewer trips outside in the cold. It is also advisable to keep them indoors overnight.

A dog enjoying the snow at Chalkwell Beach in Southend-on-Sea in February 2021

A dog enjoying the snow at Chalkwell Beach in Southend-on-Sea in February 2021

Dogs still need walks in cold weather. Usually their fur will be enough to keep them warm.

But the RSPCA advises buying a winter coat or jumper for your dog if he’s sick or elderly, or has thinner hair, which means he’ll feel the cold more.

It’s important to check your pet’s paws if they’ve been in snow and ice because cold temperatures, sand and salt can make the pads very painful, says PDSA.

Daytime walks are advised, but if you can’t stick to daytime walks, make sure you and your dog can be seen with high-visibility leads, coats, and LED collars.

A sudden drop in temperature can have a big impact on outdoor pets, such as rabbits and guinea pigs. It’s important that they get extra bedding for their outdoor enclosures, but the PDSA says you may want to consider bringing them indoors or to a sheltered space.

It is important that when indoors they still have enough space to exercise in a safe environment, according to the RSPCA.

How to dry clothes (cheaper)?

Drying clothes indoors on radiators is a common practice in winter.

But that may mean turning on the heat in parts of the house that you don’t use. You also risk making your home damp, which can lead to mold.

A humidifier running next to drying clothes in a bathroom

A humidifier running next to drying clothes in a bathroom

One option is to use a dehumidifier – which extracts water from the air – to dry your laundry. This can be done by running the machine for several hours next to clothes hanging from a drying rack.

Money-saving expert Martin Lewis points out on his podcast that it costs around 7p an hour to run a 200-watt appliance, which is usually ‘much, much cheaper’ than switching it on heating in a room.

Of course, you still have to buy the dehumidifier, but it could be a good investment.

Are additional winter payments available?

The government is expected to confirm later Wednesday whether the current cold snap will trigger cold weather support payments.

This is a supplementary government benefit to help pay fuel bills during periods of exceptionally low temperatures.

Vulnerable households in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can receive aid of £25 a week when an average temperature of 0°C (32°F) is reached over a seven-day period between November 1 and March 31.

To get the payments, you must already qualify for one of five specified benefits and meet other criteria set out on the government’s website.

In Scotland, people on low incomes and benefits can receive the Winter Heating Payment worth £50.

How long will the cold snap last?

Forecasters believe we will likely experience freezing temperatures until at least early next week and possibly beyond.

Temperatures in the UK have been about average for December so far – with daytime highs between 8°C (46°F) in southern England and 5°C (41°F) in Scotland – but they are about to cool down.

By Thursday and Friday, some northern locations will struggle to rise above 0C during the day.

The cold weather is particularly shocking as we had a very warm autumn – the third hottest on record in the UK.

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