Did you know that babies cannot regulate their own body temperature until they are about 1.5 or 2 years old? In a recent poll of new parents, one subject that came up repeatedly was baby body temperature and figuring out whether they were too hot or too cold. So today, we’re going to tackle baby temperature regulation. Let’s get into it!
They’re so tiny when they are born, and then lose more weight in the first few days! Babies average at about 3.5 kilograms, with preterm and premature babies weighing even less. Their bodies don’t have much fatty tissue yet, so they lose body heat up to four times faster than we do. Babies also can’t shiver to increase their body temperature. In addition, being too hot or too cold can affect your baby’s breathing and oxygen use, using up their precious energy that much faster.
The ideal body temperature for babies is 36.5°C (97.7° F). The ideal ambient temperature for babies is 20°C to 22.2°C (68° F to 72°F 9).
How to prevent overheating
In hot weather, dress your baby lightly and try not to cover their heads, especially while sleeping. The head acts like a little radiator, giving off excess heat so covering it, even in a sun hat, can make your baby overheat. Rather keep your baby in a shady place, than use a hat and stay out in the sun.
On hot nights, don’t be afraid to let your baby sleep in just a nappy and a light, muslin swaddle (if they like to be swaddled). Don’t direct a fan directly at your baby’s bed, but a fan in the room can help to reduce the overall heat level if it is very hot.
Signs your baby is overheating are:
How to cool an overheated baby
If your baby seems to be overheating, immediately remove them to a cooler place. If outside in the sun, go indoors to a cool room. Remove any excess clothing, and wipe your baby down with a cool, damp cloth. If your baby is able to drink, offer them fluids, either breastfeeding or a bottle, or if old enough, some cool water.
If symptoms don’t improve, take your baby to the emergency room or consult a doctor.
How to prevent a chill
Getting too cold is also problematic. Experts advise against over-bundling and overdressing babies, as they are unable to remove clothing themselves if they get too hot. Dress your baby in layers — the rule of thumb says to add one more layer than you are wearing to feel comfortable.
To check if your baby is too hot or cold, feel their tummy, back and neck. As these are closer to your baby’s core, they are a truer measure of their actual body temperature. Your baby’s skin should feel warm, not hot, to the touch, and not cold or sweaty. If their hands and feet are feeling cool, they could be getting too cold, so you should keep an eye on them and consider adding another layer.
Also, as we advise not to put a hat onto a baby when it’s hot, feel free to dress your baby in a hat when it’s cold! Just make sure that they don’t sleep with one on, especially during the night, as it can slip over their face and smother them.
How to warm a chilled baby
If your baby has gotten too cold — their torso is cold, and they are uninterested in feeding, as they are too busy trying to get warm — there are things that you can do.
If your baby has gotten too cold and is floppy and unresponsive, they need medical attention immediately and will need to be warmed up carefully and gently at the hospital.
Balance the room and the baby warming
Studies have shown that when babies are either too hot or too cold, they sleep poorly. That can be restlessness or sleeping too deeply, which increases the risk of SIDS. The same studies show that the optimal room temperature for an infant to sleep in is around 20°C to 22.2°C (68° F to 72°F 9). At this temperature, babies sleep peacefully but do tend to wake up to auditory signals, rather than sleep through it which can cause SIDS.
If, however, you have the room at the right temperature but your baby still feels cold, you might be tempted to use blankets. Other than a fitted swaddle — on babies under 2 months old — experts don’t recommend blankets or duvets. However, you can use a baby sleep sack which buttons on at the shoulders and allows their arms to remain free. This helps to keep their body heat in and warm them, without posing the smothering risk that loose blankets do.
In general, aim to keep your baby at Goldilock’s temperature: not too warm, not too cold, just right. This can be a matter of learning your own baby’s tendency to run warm or cold and adding and removing layers frequently, especially during season changes. To check your baby’s temperature, check the skin on their body and neck, but also ensure that their hands and feet are not too cool, as that can be a sign of heading towards being too chilled.