Dressing a baby for nighttime sleep can be a surprisingly stressful task: Will they be too hot in this or too cold in that? Since professional advice across the board warns against putting a blanket over an infant to sleep, deciding on the right sleepwear is the only factor you can safely control. So with warmer days on the horizon, what should your baby wear to sleep in the summer?
The best summer sleep environment for baby
Before you figure out what baby should sleep in, it’s important to consider the temperature of the room they’re in, whether they’re in their own nursery or still bunking with the parents. There’s an unfortunate lack of data that shows an exact right temperature range to keep babies in, “which makes giving one-size-fits-all guidance even more challenging than usual,” Dr. Rebekah Diamond, M.D., board-certified pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, tells Romper.
That said, she recommends doing your best to keep baby’s room at a temperature that’s comfortable all year-round. “Exact temperature ranges are less important to worry about, and instead focusing on what feels comfortable to you — especially for exposure that's for a longer period of time — will keep your baby safe without adding needless stress,” she explains. “Common sense is key, and make sure to call your pediatrician if you're worried at all about how your baby is acting, how they feel, or the environment around them,” she adds. While there’s a lack of hard data on an exact temperature standard, try “keeping the temperature in your home between 68 to 72 degrees [Fahrenheit], which is a comfortable range for a baby,” Dr. Preeti Parikh, M.D., board-certified pediatrician and executive medical director at GoodRx, tells Romper.
Something to keep in mind as you’re dressing your baby for summer is that it’s actually more dangerous for them to overheat than to be a bit on the chillier side. “If I had to choose between a baby being a little too cold or a little too warm, I would choose the cooler option,” Diamond tells Romper. The dangers of a baby being too cold are similar to that of adults, she says, “but with little babies being sensitive and more susceptible to the effects of cold.” When a baby overheats, on the other hand, “it increases Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) risk when a baby is unsupervised and sleeping, and also can be hard to differentiate from a fever, which often needs a bigger infectious workup,” she explains. Diamond also notes that most long-term health issues (which are rare) are a result of prolonged exposure to heat or cold rather than fleeting exposure.
Of course, it’s simply not always possible to keep their room within an optimal temperature range. If baby’s sleeping environment is well below or above the ideal temp, you may need to add or subtract layers of clothing. Most monitors have a handy temperature gauge so you can stay informed about the temperature in baby’s room at all hours of the night.
Dressing baby for safe sleep in the summer
Parikh tells Romper that a good rule of thumb is to dress your baby in one layer more than you'd wear if you were sleeping in the same room. Although, there is a bit of nuance to the recommendation, according to Diamond, who favors “dressing babies in more or less the same clothing that [you] would be comfortable in.” This is taking into account a swaddle if you’re using one, which adds an extra layer of warmth. “The exact number of layers will be different in each room and is also less important to focus on — just using common sense is the way to go,” notes Diamond. Again, the main concern is making keeping your baby cool enough so they don’t overheat.
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Parikh recommends reaching for summer cotton or muslin baby blankets, “like sleep sacks or wearable blankets that have an inverted front zipper,” she says. You want to dress your baby in appropriately fitting clothing, as loose cotton blankets or swaddles can get tangled and could cover their face and cause choking. “Also, avoid loose ribbons and strings that could knot up or unravel around the neck to cause choking hazards,” Parikh tells Romper. “Look for stretchy fabric and avoid tight bindings around arms, legs, and neck.” Other choking hazards to avoid include any teething necklaces or teething toys and anything loose or dangling.
Swaddling in the summer
If your baby is a newborn, you might still be choosing to swaddle to help contain their startle reflex, in which case lightweight swaddling blankets are popular and easy to find. Because these swaddles add an extra layer, you may want to skip the footie pajamas and instead dress baby in a lightweight, short-sleeved bodysuit to ensure they don’t get overly warm.
When they start showing any signs of rolling, it’s time to drop the swaddle. They could roll face-down while sleeping, which is dangerous. “Once the baby starts rolling over, they can get trapped in the swaddle, which can choke and entangle them and be very dangerous,” explains Parikh.
How to tell if baby is too warm
If you think you might be piling too much material on your baby, you're not alone. “It is common for parents to overdress their baby because there is a misconception that the baby has to stay warm,” says Parikh. “They are worried that their child could get sick.” But in reality, parents should be more cautious of excess warmth than cold.
Whether you’re in the hottest part of summer or you’re blasting the heat in the dead of winter, it’s important to make sure your baby isn’t getting overheated. “Some signs to look for that your baby is too warm include if they will feel warm to the touch, have redness or flushed skin, there’s dampness on the head and neck, or an increased heart rate,” Parikh explains. “They may also be sleepier or not as arousable, or they can be very irritable, [or] there may be a heat rash developing on their body.” As previously mentioned, increased temperatures have been linked to an increased risk of SIDS, so staying vigilant is about more than simply comfort.
If your baby feels warm, take their temperature to rule out a fever — if you notice one, you’ll need to contact your pediatrician. If there’s no fever, Diamond suggests babywearing. “If a baby is warm or cold because of temperature exposure, they are usually able to get back to normal when they get some quality skin-to-skin,” she says, “because holding babies tight is the best way to keep their temperature.”
Dressing your baby for summer sleep should be determined by your regional climate, temperature of your house, and presence of an air conditioner, so there's no one-size-fits-all answer for every family. But according to the professionals: When in doubt, less is more. As overheating can be dangerous for babies, you should err on the side of fewer layers — you can always add more if your baby seems chilly or uncomfortable.
Dr. Rebekah Diamond, M.D., board-certified pediatrician, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University, and author of Parent Like a Pediatrician
Dr. Preeti Parikh, M.D., board-certified pediatrician and executive medical director at GoodRx
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