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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Deep Breath of Cold Air Or Mouthful of Wool?

As the British Airways flight from London to Moscow neared its destination a furious family discussion broke out about whether a babies' lungs freeze up in extreme cold weather (as I recalled reading) and how to get our new 3-week-old baby from Sheremetyevo 2 to the car without condemning him to instant death.


Sasha, being Russian, naturally thought that a few deep breaths of Moscow's first real winter for years could do nothing but good. I resolved on suffocation, in these circumstances, as the lesser of two dangers and instead swathed his head in a woolen blanket before dashing across the snow. This policy has the advantage of also protecting him from his first breath of real Russian exhaust fumes -- if being born is supposed to be the most stressful thing that ever happens to you, landing at Sheremetyevo at the age of three weeks must surely rate a close second.


Anyway, he survived that encounter. But when temperatures plummeted soon after that, I was assured by hovering Russian helpers, itching to parade him round the park, that the newborn will definitely expire if he doesn't get some fresh air. While I'm still doing the blanket-headed dash to the car when I have to take him out, they're recommending a quiet doze on the balcony, if I really won't let him out in the pram.


As any foreigner bringing up children in Russia with the aid of either Russian nannies, housekeepers or in-laws knows, The Weather is perhaps the biggest battleground of all. You spend the summer hiding woolen jumpers so they won't slip them on when you're out. Or you shock unexpected Russian visitors who catch your child running around barefoot in temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius. You insist that woolen hats are not necessary on balmy autumn days and then come the real cold the babies are meant to lie swaddled rigid in layers of lovingly knitted scratchy woolen straight jackets so that the one thing they can't do is run around and keep warm.


The advice from one British doctor is the following: Running-around toddlers can go out, well wrapped up, as long as they do run around and don't just sit blankly in their pushchairs. But, back to what I vaguely remember reading, very cold weather around minus 10 Celsius and below causes the airways to constrict, which is all right in older children and adults as the airways are wide enough, but can make them close up completely in babies -- dangerous.


"Having said that," the doctor sighed, "you will of course see Russian babies being pushed around in prams." Of course. So what is going on here: Is it something in the genes? Can my children, being half Russian, take a few more degrees of cold than their wimpy 100 percent Western-blooded counterparts? Or are all these prams full of babies quietly expiring from constricted airways?