I often am asked what to do about how to keep infants warm at night. With all my recent posts about swaddling, I am unsurprised that many of you worry that the baby is too cold at night.
And with that deep freeze that hit the country recently, the questions about keeping baby warm at night in a cold house have been flying in. Many of them came from those in Texas. One mama-to-be named Callie told me she was so happy she hadn’t delivered yet because she wouldn’t know what to do about keeping the baby warm at night in a cold house.
Whether it’s winter or you crank up the air conditioner in summer (guilty as charged), it’s fair game as a mom to wonder how you can be keeping your toddler warm at night. For babies and toddlers both, here are the things you need to know so you can all feel cozy and safe.
How do I know my baby is too cold?
Let’s jump right in and discuss. After all, no baby and very few toddlers can express themselves to the degree of saying they’re cold. So it makes sense to ask, how do you know?
There are a few things to look for. First, you’ll want to feel your hands and feet. They shouldn’t feel cold. If baby cheeks are cold at night, that’s another clue that your baby is too cold. You’ll definitely want to take steps to warm up your baby. Be careful, though, because overheating a baby at night is just as dangerous. My tips below will help with all of that, so keep reading.
Pale skin is another sign of being too cold, as is random fussiness. In fact, that fussiness might be your first clue your baby is cold. Experts recommend an extra layer for baby more than you’re wearing. But do be careful at bedtime as too many layers can lead to overheating.
And if things start getting bad, the baby may even sneeze, or worse, become quiet. Not the kind of quiet from sleeping but the dangerous type where they are lethargic. If you ever find yourself in a frigid situation without a way to warm up as many people recently experienced across the country, especially in Texas, please make sure you use your body heat to warm up your baby and get help as quickly as you can.
How to keep a baby’s hands and feet warm at night?
Ok, so by now, you’re wondering how do you keep your baby warm and safe at night without overheating them. These tips will help you know what to do.
- Use the right clothing
In any season, you want to dress your baby warmly enough so that they will sleep comfortably. Easy-on/easy-off layers are ideal. I used to love dressing my girls in footed pajamas during winter. However, be careful when you swaddle because it could make them overheat.
I had footed pajamas like these by Gerber, but I also had ones like these by Hudson Baby that were coveralls without enclosed feet. When swaddling, I’d use the ones that didn’t have the feet on them. As my girls got bigger, I would swaddle them with the footed pajamas but leave their legs out so they wouldn’t overheat.
- Get that room temperature just right
The room your baby sleeps in should be much like that intruding Goldie Locks finds soothing… “just right.” With that in mind, it’s between 65F and 72F, so set your thermostat accordingly.
When we lived in China, it was tough to regulate the room temperature in winter. That’s because they turned on the heat in the buildings in November. That’s right…they controlled it. You paid for heating, and then the building turned it on when they felt it was cold enough.
There was no way to control how hot it was, though. So often, I would feel like I was roasting. It was very common for me to open up a window to balance it out. Though I never left it open while either of my daughters slept.
In the states, I find something as simple as a thermostat so uplifting. Still, just because my thermostat upstairs reads a certain temperature doesn’t mean that every room is at that temperature. You may have drafty areas or leaks around windows and doors where cold can seep in.
One of the best things you can get is something like this LittleHippo device that helps you see at a glance if the room is too hot, too cold, or just perfect.
- Make use of swaddle blankets or sleep sacks
When it’s freezing outside in the dead of winter, those one-piece outfits on their own won’t cut it. So you want a good, thick swaddling blanket. Not too thick, though! But something just a wee bit thicker than what you’d choose in another season.
Something like this Halo fleece swaddle blanket is an excellent idea in winter because it’s a little warmer, and it also wicks away moisture. This one by Pesaat comes with a hat, too, though never put that on your baby when they are sleeping because it can overheat them fast. That will be great to use when they are awake, and you can use the swaddle at night.
For bigger babies, toddlers, or when your child can no longer be swaddled, try a sleep sack like this one by Baby In A Bag.
Here are some key differences between a sleep sack and a swaddling blanket in case you’re wondering what they are all about!
- Location, location, location
Sometimes keeping the baby warm at night is as simple as moving her away from the air vent. My friend Carolina lives in Florida, where winter is virtually nonexistent. But with her little Gloria, the baby was too cold at night.
Clearly, it had to be the air conditioning, so I asked her to show me the room on a video chat. Right away, I spotted the problem. The crib was right under the air vent. Once Carolina and her husband Gerard rearranged the room, their sweet baby never felt too cold (nor too hot) to the touch.
So, whether it’s air conditioning, windows, fans, and whatnot, make sure you’re keeping your baby away from a direct draft. Again, that thermometer can be a great help to let you know how cold it is in the baby’s room.
- Warm up the mattress
Hopefully, you bought the right firm mattress to put your baby to sleep on. The firmness keeps them safe, though softer mattresses also let more air in, which can make the mattress cold.
Regardless, a great hack for your baby’s mattress is to preheat the crib before she goes to sleep. You can use a hot water bottle or a heating pad. You’ll want to do this for 30 minutes before putting your baby to sleep. Ensure you remove these items before putting your baby into the crib, or you can overheat or burn her.
How to keep baby warm at night without using blankets?
I just touched on this with the last point I made about pre-warming the crib. It’s a really great trick that works. I speak not from experience here because I didn’t have a heating pad when we were in China. But my friend Jessa used that trick all the time. Living in Vermont, where the winters get beyond frigid, she said it was how they kept all 5 of their kids happy and comfy when putting them to bed.
Learn more here about how to keep a baby warm without swaddling!
This is important:
You can’t just add more bedding to a newborn’s crib because it is dangerous. Too much bedding can overheat your child or suffocate them, putting them at risk for SIDS. Keeping a toddler warm at night is a little easier because they can roll over and use blankets. However, layered clothing is ideal because it can regulate their temperature.
Babies and toddlers won’t need tons more clothing than we need ourselves. It will be one layer more for babies, but as they get bigger, which happens fast, think about how comfortable you feel.
I always think about how my youngest was born in the summer, and they kept turning off our air conditioning in the hospital in China because they worried it would kill us. After much yelling, they finally turned it on, and we were finally comfortable. Both of us slept wonderfully after that. Despite that being the opposite season, the same rule applies…if you feel uncomfortable by either being too hot or too cold, chances are your baby or toddler feels the same.
A space heater might be an option for you, though, like this one by Lasko. Once your baby is mobile, though, you want to keep something like this out of their reach. When I was in China, I remember one of my guy friends posting a video of his 8-month old daughter jumping out of the crib at night so please use these things with extreme caution.
How to tell if the baby is too cold (or too hot) at night
When your baby can’t keep warm, that’s very dangerous. Babies can’t shiver to generate heat, and if they’re too cold, they won’t have enough energy to cry. So take a feel of those hands and feet. If they’re cold, the baby needs to be warmed up quickly.
You can do skin-to-skin during feedings and add another layer to your baby after that. One of the most significant danger signs is swollen and bright pink skin that feels cold. At that point, you’re going to need to seek medical attention.
Likewise, overheating is just as bad. If the baby has damp hair, is sweaty on the neck or back, and has red ears, these are indicators she’s too hot. Remove a clothing layer and bring your baby into a cooler environment until she feels comfortable and isn’t sweaty.
Even with proper clothing, it’s up to us as parents to check on our kids. Don’t just assume because it’s freezing outside and you’ve bundled up your little bundle of joy that she’s comfortable. Touch her cheeks and see how she feels. Check the room temperature too. By doing so, you will most assuredly sleep more soundly, knowing your baby is just right!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.