Getting the temperature right for your baby

Is my baby too hot or too cold for sleep?

So the seasons are changing and the weather is too. Time to turn our attention to what our little ones need to wear to bed to ensure a blissful and safe night’s sleep. Like us, our little people need to be comfortably warm for a sound night’s sleep. Overheating has long been linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and being too cold can disturb a baby’s sleep and inhibit weight gain.

All babies are different, just like adults. Some guys like to sleep in boxer shorts all year round whereas in cooler weather your partner may opt for long pyjamas and a singlet with extra layers of bedding.

Kids are also different – perhaps your son takes after you more and feels the cold, whereas your daughter runs hot and takes after her Daddy.

Is my baby too cold?

We lose body temperature through exposed body surfaces, this is called “radiated heat” by Mayo Clinic. Basically, exposing your skin typically causes you to lose heat. Babies in particular CANNOT regulate their body temperature as well as an adult because:

1. babies have a high body-surface to weight ratio A baby’s body surface is about three times greater than an adult’s, relative to their weight, so they can lose heat rapidly – as much as four times quicker than adults.

2. babies don’t have the physical skill or mental awareness to self-regulate like adults do.
Our first instinct may be to check the baby’s hands and feet but this is not a good way to tell if they are too cold. This is because a baby’s hands and feet are often exposed and as such normally will feel cold! If your baby’s hands and feet are cold, this does not necessarily mean that he or she is too cold!

The best way to check your baby’s temperature is to feel your their chest which should feel warm. A lot of development is happening in the core of newborns so blood is naturally diverted to this area.

When babies are cold, they use energy and oxygen to generate warmth. By keeping your baby at his or her optimal temperature, they can conserve energy and build up reserves. When your baby’s temperature is regulated and maintained, a baby is more relaxed, they sleep longer and gain weight. This is especially important when babies are sick, premature or of low birth weight.

Babies that act like babies are more than likely not to too cold. You should stay in tune with the baby’s behaviour. Is your baby eating, sleeping, crying, and being a normal baby? If so, they’re probably fine but if you have any concerns then seek advice from a healthcare professional..

Is my baby too hot?

When dressing your baby for sleep, it’s easy to get carried away in some instances and cause your baby to overheat, which is a serious threat to your baby’s health. Overheating a baby has been linked to an increased risk of SIDS . The signs of overheating in a newborn are easy to detect.

Touch your baby’s head and neck to check for dampness, if your child is damp this is a sign that they are sweating and overheating. As advised, if your baby’s chest is warm this is also a sign that the child is too hot. You should also listen to their breathing, or watch the rise and fall of her chest. Rapid breathing is another sign of overheating. There is some suggestion that overheating could play a role in SIDS. Put simply SIDS is the inability for a baby to wake when something else is going wrong physiologically. Studies have found that higher room temperatures makes it more difficult to rouse the baby therefore increasing the chance that they won’t wake if something is going wrong.

Gwen Dewar provides scientific discussion in her article “What is SIDS? An overview for the science-minded parent which you can read by clicking the link provided.

It seems that the brain may have more trouble awakening when overly warm. A hotter room may mean that baby is less likely to arouse from sleep than lower temperature rooms.

If your baby has any signs of overheating, remove some bedding or clothing. This may be necessary if your baby is unwell, in which case you should seek medical attention from a health care professional.

How can I make sure my baby is kept at the right temperature for sleep?

Babies control their temperature predominantly through their face.

Sleeping your baby on their back with the head and face uncovered is the best way to protect them from overheating. Once the child is rolling, using a baby sleeping bag ensures they don’t become entangled in blankets and sheets, therefore minimising the risks of overheating and suffocation.

A sleeveless baby sleeping bag allows for airflow through the arm holes.

It is not necessary to monitor the room temperature or to leave the heating on all night as long as the baby is dressed appropriately for the room temperature. Somewhere between 16-20⁰C is an optimal temperature.

As advised above, if your baby has any signs of overheating, remove some bedding or clothing. This may be necessary if your baby is unwell, in which case you should seek medical attention from a health care professional.

Remove baby’s hat if you’re returning home and putting them straight to bed, even if it wakes them up. Never use electric blankets, wheat bags or hot water bottles for babies. Keep the baby’s cot well away from heaters and radiators. Do not use cot bumpers as these prevent air flow.

Newborns and babies not yet rolling independently can be swaddled for safety and comfort until their startle reflex settles down but definitely stop swaddling once they begin to roll from their back to their tummy.