Sweltering nights and sweaty blankets are no fun for little babies. They’re not as good as us at regulating their own body temperature and, of course, while we can get up, strip off and reposition a fan to cool down, that’s not part of their skill set yet. But it’s not just about being uncomfortable: overheating can be properly dangerous for babies. That’s because getting too hot can increase their risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
There are some simple things you can do to make sure your baby doesn’t overheat, though. And it all comes down to knowing what temperature is best for your baby’s room and how many layers your baby needs when sleeping…
What’s the best temperature for your baby’s room?
A room temperature of between 16-20ºC (60.8-68ºF) is recommended. In fact, 18ºC (65ºF) is just right.
It’s not easy to tell just by guessing how hot or cold a room is. Luckily, there are some really stylish, and not too pricey, room thermometers out there which might well be worth investing in.
How many layers does your baby need when sleeping?
* 12°C: A sheet and four or more blankets
* 16°C: A sheet and three blankets
* 18°C: A sheet and two blankets
* 20-22°C: A sheet and one blanket
* 23°C-plus: A sheet only
What if I’m using a baby sleeping bag?
Check the togs on the bag to give you an idea of what your baby should be wearing. The following advice comes from the Gro Company regarding their Grobags:
*14-16°C: A 3.5 tog bag with a long-sleeved body suit / sleepsuit / pyjamas OR a 2.5 tog with a short-sleeved or long-sleeved body suit a sleepsuit / pyjamas
*16-18°C: a 2.5 tog bag with a sleepsuit / pyjamas
*18-20°C: a 2.5 tog bag with a long-sleeved bodysuit
*20-22°C: a 1.0 tog bag with a short-sleeved or long-sleeved bodysuit
*22-24°C: A 1.0 tog bag with a sleeveless / short-sleeved bodysuit
*24-27 °C: A 0.5 tog bag with a nappy / sleeveless bodysuit
*27 °C and over: A 0.2 tog bag with a nappy
You can also check out the The Lullaby Trust’s guidelines for sleeping safely.
“Whatever the weather, the rule is the same,” says community midwife Anne Richley of Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust. “Put your baby to sleep on her back and be careful not to let her become overheated.
“If you’re feeling hot, then your baby will be, too. Sleep in whatever you’re comfortable, and add one extra layer for your baby.
“If you don’t need any covers, your baby probably only needs one. If you’re sleeping naked, then a sleepsuit and no blankets for your baby will be just fine. In very hot conditions, your baby may not even need this.”
Why do some babies get so sweaty – and is it safe?
Sweating is natural and is a way for our bodies to cool us down. [Interesting fact: The dampness on our skin actually helps us to pick up the coolness from any moving air]. But you’ll find some babies sweat more than others. If your baby feels very sweaty, check to see how hot she is.
“If your baby’s hot to the touch, wipe her down with a damp towel – on the face, neck, arms and legs – and open internal doors and windows, so a natural, flowing breeze is created,” says Chireal Shallow, psychologist and sleep expert at Baby Sleep Clinic. Avoid air conditioning, as it can be dehydrating.
A lot of night sweats can be avoided if your house is kept cool throughout the day. In the UK we tend to fling open curtains and windows when there’s sunshine, but in Mediterranean countries people keep the heat out with unopened curtains. This avoids a greenhouse effect, where the heat builds up and up inside. They also close doors and windows behind them.
Don’t panic if your baby is sleeping more soundly than usual. “The heat can make us lethargic, which is quite natural,” says Chireal. “I wouldn’t get too worried unless you have problems rousing your baby or he displays odd behaviour.”
Will overheating harm your baby?
As mentioned, there are well-known concerns that overheating increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
However, it doesn’t mean you should get overly anxious during hot spells. Research suggests that babies are more likely to overheat when they’re overdressed in cold weather.
“Although heat stress is undoubtedly a contributing factor in some unexpected infant deaths, heat stress seems, paradoxically, to be more of a problem in cold weather when parents may wrap their baby more heavily,” says Peter Fleming, Professor of Infant Health at the University of Bristol.
“With excess wrapping your baby may find it hard to cool down and can become heat-stressed. Babies don’t really need much more wrapping up or clothing than adults in hot conditions.
“And, most importantly, parents should ensure that there’s no possibility of the baby’s head becoming covered with bedding or clothing.
“Babies can lose heat effectively when necessary, particularly from the head. It’s unlikely a little one would come to harm from high ambient environmental temperatures that an adult could cope with.”
Peter adds: “One of the possible reasons why putting babies to sleep on the front leads to an increased risk of unexpected death is that it is harder to lose heat when sleeping on the front.
“When the weather is very hot, people will be much more likely to sleep on their backs as they can keep cool more easily in this position.
“This is not the only reason babies should never be put to sleep on the front, as this is a major risk regardless of the environmental temperature – but it may be helpful for parents to understand how to ensure their baby is neither too hot or too cold.”