As parents, we work hard to ensure our baby’s ultimate comfort. We buy a plush swing with all the bells and whistles, research the best crib mattresses and the add the softest swaddles we can find to the registry. But one thing that’s easy to overlook is baby’s temperature. No, not just a fever (though that’s certainly important too!) but whether baby is too warm or too cold in any given situation.
Wondering what’s the ideal temperature for baby? We’ve rounded up our best tips from dressing baby to ideal room temperature. Plus, learn what to do if baby does spike a fever, despite your best efforts to keep her healthy.
Normal Baby Temperature
Fevers are fairly common in young children, and can occur for a variety of reasons, including illness, teething and vaccinations. The temperature that’s considered feverish for baby varies by age. According to the AAP, a normal baby temperature is typically between 97 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In a baby less than 3 months old, a fever higher than 100.4 degrees constitutes a possible medical emergency and must be seen by a doctor. Why? Babies this young still have weak immune systems and can quickly become extremely ill. Your pediatrician will likely ask you to take baby’s temperature rectally for the most accurate reading if she’s running a fever this high.
Most fevers simply run their course or can be treated with an over-the-counter fever remedy. Note that sometimes, babies can have a slightly increased temperature simply from being overbundled. Emily Scott, MD, pediatric hospitalist with Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health says, “If baby feels warm and is bundled, remove the extra layers first. If baby still feels warm after 10 or 15 minutes, take her temperature with a thermometer to make sure she doesn’t have a fever.”
If it’s your older baby or toddler who’s running a fever, a trip to the doctor isn’t quite as urgent. Take their temperature first. The best thermometer for older babies and toddlers is a temporal artery scanner. They’re non-invasive, simple and quick to use. If a quick scan of your older baby’s forehead indicates she’s running a fever, it’s fine to give her an over-the-counter fever reducer and see how she responds before taking action. If she’s responding well and seems content, it’s probably safe to let the fever simply run its course. However, a toddler temperature above 102 degrees that isn’t responding to medication warrants a trip to the doctor.
Ideal Baby Room Temperature
If baby is waking at night drenched in sweat or feels cold to the touch, and you’ve determined that fever isn’t the culprit, it may be time to adjust the temperature in baby’s room. Trust us, we know you’re trying to reduce those night wakings! But if baby’s too hot or too cold, she’s much more likely to wake at night.
In general, the best baby room temperature isn’t too hot or too cold. Scott says a normal room temperature between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit is a safe range for baby. There’s no need to kick up the thermostat just because there’s a baby in the house, and lots of blankets aren’t necessary either. In face, the American Academy of Pediatrics says soft bedding—from blankets to stuffed animals—should be kept out of baby’s crib altogether to protect against SIDS.
What about using a fan in baby’s room? Doctors used to think that using a fan in baby’s room would decrease the risk of SIDS, but there is no evidence to show that is true. It isn’t harmful to use a fan in your baby’s room, but it isn’t necessary either, Scott says. Just be sure to keep baby away from drafts and direct air flow, since most babies are easily disturbed by this.
How to Dress Baby for Seasonal Temperatures
Dressing baby during the day
Similar to baby’s room temperature, it doesn’t take much extra effort to achieve a normal baby body temperature during the day. The general rule of thumb for dressing baby is to add one layer more than what you’re wearing, regardless of season.
According to Margaret Buxton, a certified nurse midwife with Baby+Co, “It’s best to dress baby in layers of clothing you would be comfortable in. In a typical home setting with the temperature set at 70 degrees, one layer of cotton clothing will be enough. If you're outside and need a jacket, so will baby! It’s also important to remember that a baby's head is larger in proportion to their body and is a source of heat loss, so adding a hat on a cold day is always a good idea for your little one.”
We’ll be the first ones to admit that dressing toddlers for any weather can be quite the challenge. They tend to lean toward rain boots on sunny days and bathing suits in the middle of winter. And most kids at this age universally reject coats. But try not to sweat it (no pun intended). In general, toddlers play hard and may not need to be as bundled as babies. When it’s chilly, try dressing your coat-resisting toddler in layers, like an undershirt, t-shirt and sweater, in order to keep him as warm as he’ll allow.
Dressing baby at night
To maintain the best baby temperature for sleep, it’s best to dress baby in a onesie with a sleep sack if she doesn’t like to be swaddled, or is past the point of swaddling. Most babies are comfortable this way, but some are more susceptible to cold than others, so be sure to monitor baby. If baby’s hands are cold at night, she may need a heavier sleeper or a sleeper worn over a onesie in addition to being swaddled or wearing a sleep sack. “Simply touching your baby should let you know if she’s too hot or too cold,” Scott says. “Touching baby’s chest is the best place to gauge their temperature.”
For toddlers over the age of 1, Scott says it’s okay to turn the temperature up a little (if desired) because there’s not as much concern about SIDS from overheating. “Toddlers usually are comfortable in pajamas or a sleeper appropriate for the season, with a light blanket,” she says. ”It’s okay to start using a blanket for a toddler over the age of 1. Your toddler may start to develop preferences, just like adults, for how warm or cold they like their sleeping environment.”
Dressing baby for the car seat
One time you’ll want to be sure that baby’s not over-bundled is when she’s riding in her car seat. The AAP advises that as a general rule, bulky clothing, including winter coats and snowsuits, should not be worn underneath the harness of a car seat. This is because, in the event of an accident, the air from these puffy clothes can compress and make the straps too loose. This can cause baby to be thrown from the seat. Instead, dress baby in layers and add a warm blanket after you’ve strapped baby in securely. And if you’ve got your vehicle’s heat on high, remember that baby can’t remove her hat and gloves or take her blanket off, so check to ensure she doesn’t get too hot as the car warms up. Signs of baby overheating include flushed skin, sweating and fussiness.
Published April 2018