Q&A: keeping a baby warm in the cold winter

MC writes:

"A semi-ridiculous question for you: How in the world does one keep a baby warm in the winter? I get that when we go outside for a walk we need to put our daughter, who's now five-and-a-half months old, in a snowsuit or some such thing once it gets really cold. In the meantime, we've been putting her in a sweater and a hat for the chilly Maine fall, and that seems to be working, although her hands and cheeks get quite cold. But I'm mainly wondering about keeping her warm inside the house. I tend to run cold, and I think she does, too; from November until March or so, I wear that silky long underwear pretty constantly. Is there a version of this for babies? If not, how do you keep their little legs warm? We can pile on the layers on top, but I have no idea how to keep her ankles and calves warm; they're already chilly and it's only October!

Other cold-weather related questions that make me wonder how humans have survived in the frigid north lo these many years:
~At what temperature should we keep the house? Last year we had the thermostat set to 65 when we were home and just piled on the sweaters and blankets. And it goes down to 57 at night. (We are cheap, and oil is expensive.) Is this too cold for the girl?
~What do we dress her in when we go out in the car when it's cold? I know she's not supposed to wear a coat when she's buckled into the carseat, so does that mean if we're out and about doing errands that we warm the car up, bundle her up, get in the car, take the coat off, put her in the seat, then put the coat back on before we get out of the car again?
~How much exposure to cold weather is ok for babies? If she could get up and run around I'd feel fine about taking long walks with her in the winter, but this year she is just going to sit in the stroller (we are having trouble transitioning to the front carry in our various slings...), which I would think means that we're going to end up with a baby popsicle before too long.

I feel like a complete moron for asking these questions, but in the hopes that I'm not the only moron out there thought I would run them by you."

I love winter, but it does present a whole new set of dressing questions for parents.

Bear in mind, please, that my answers are based on my experience living in NYC where it rarely gets below 25 degrees F (-4 degrees C), we have limited control over the heat in our apartment (it blasts all winter and the only way for us to control the temperature is to open or close our windows), and we don't have a car but use strollers or slings all the time. Those of you who live in cold houses, super-cold climates (MN, WI, the UP, ME, ND, SD, IL, and everyone in Canada except Vancouverites), and have cars are all specifically invited to comment on MC's questions.

Inside the house
You could do pants with feet on them, blanket sleepers, stretchy cotton sleepers with feet (sometimes called "sleep 'n' play"s so you won't think the baby can only be in them while asleep--Could we Americans be bigger idiots?). Or you could get those shoes/slippers that are like knit socks but with leather bottoms. I think if her feet are warm then her hands will be fine, and she's probably too old to accept having her hands covered, although for a tiny baby I'd use the cotton long-sleeved shirts with the cuffs that fold over to cover the baby's hands.

More suggestions than that, I do not have. Our problem has always been fighting the stifling heat from our landlord's overzealous cranking of the furnace. But I should be grateful because there are tons of people in this city whose landlords turn off the heat as much as they can.

Ideal house temperature
My dad is what some would term "frugal" with his money, so the thermostat in our house was always low while I was growing up. I was cold often as a kid, and all my dad said was "put on a sweater." Do you know what this does to a person? It turns her into the kind of adult who turns the thermostat down (if given the option) and tells the people living with her "put on a sweater."

What I'm trying to say is that she'll adjust to the temperature you have the thermostat on. Just make sure that you've got her layered up good. You do know the place to check a baby's body temperature is the back of the neck? (I'm mentioning this because I didn't actually know this until my second child--I'd been checking the hands. When I found out I felt like a cold-weather incompetent. But at least I can drive on ice.) If the back of the neck is warm, even if the hands are cold the baby is warm. If it's cold, she needs to be snuggled for a few minutes and another layer of clothes put on. If you're really worried about the cold, watch some soothing TV and snuggle under an afghan on the couch for awhile.

The general rule is that babies should have one more layer on than the adults in the same room do.

In the car
There are these cool down covers that you can pop over the carseat or zip up with the baby in them (there's a hole for the head to stick out). You put the baby in and zip it up in the house, then click the seat in and warm up the car, then take off the cover.

Of course you could get the same effect by putting a heavy folded blanket over her in the car seat to take her to the car. When the car is warm, take off the blanket.

Once she's old enough for the convertible carseat, you can dress her in a fleece snowsuit (you can get really nice LL Bean or Lands' End ones on Ebay--search in the "Baby" category on "snowsuit" and "bunting"--since babies grow out of them so quickly that people only use them for one season) over her clothes, then pop her into the carseat and cover her with a blanket. When the car's warm, take off the blanket. The fleece snowsuit is light enough that it doesn't interfere with the carseat straps and not so warm that you can't have the heat opn lightly in the car.

When you get out of the car, wrap her in the blanket or pop the quilted cover on again.

Being outside
Human babies are adaptable. Get a stroller bunting bag to zip her in, or dress her in a snowsuit and blanket, and go. As long as you're not replicating the Iditarod, she'll be OK for walks in the cold that are OK for you. If the hair in your nostrils starts to crackle, both of you should be in the hosue anyway.

One sling carry that I never see anyone else doing (but that both of my boys liked in that phase when they were too big to lie down but not big enough for the hip carry) was sitting and facing out. I'd put the baby with his back to my chest, and cross his legs so he was sitting Indian-style in the sling, facing out. The front edge of the sling was up over the tops of his feet so he couldn't roll out, and I'd shift the baby's weight so he was leaning back into me. The baby could look out, but was still sitting supported.

This carry also has the benefit of putting the baby's face right below your neck, so you can wear a baby this way under your coat, and zip the coat up just to under the baby's face and both of you will still be warm.

A note about snowsuits
Buy big, if your baby is under 15 months or so. You'll be using this thing for 4-7 months, depending on where you live, and even if your baby is swimming in it now, s/he will grow a lot this winter and you don't want to have to buy a new one in March. Check local consignment shops, thrift stores, and Ebay for good deals on newish snowsuits/buntings.

This post is making me want some hot cocoa.