We know a lot more about reducing the risk of SIDS than we did even 10 years ago. But some of those safety recommendations don’t seem conducive to a long winter’s nap. No fluffy comforters? No puffy bumper pads? For a person like me, who sleeps cocooned in flannelette and down from November on, it seems cold comfort for a little baby.
But health professionals have a different and somewhat surprising perspective. They say babies are often kept too hot, and that overheating can increase the risk of SIDS.
“In such a cold country, it’s easy to make the mistake of overdoing it and bundling the child up,” says Calgary paediatrician Peter Nieman. “When little babies are overdressed, they sweat more and lose more fluids, and it changes their metabolic rates.”
“A lot of parents are not getting the message that they’re not supposed to have bumper pads or big bulky comforters,” adds Leanne Landriault, a nurse educator for newborn and postpartum with the Women’s Health Program at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg. “The goal is not to let them get their heads under the blankets, not to overheat them, and not to have anything in the crib they could bury their faces into and not get enough air to breathe.”
Can we manage all that and still have our babies sleep comfy and cozy? Sure we can. Read the tips Landriault and Nieman offer on the next page. Control the room temperature. Keep baby’s room at a comfortable room temperature — about 21°C (70°F) — so heavy blankets are not necessary. Baby should be comfortable in a sleeper and a light blanket. With an individual thermostat or a portable heater with built-in thermostat, you can still turn down the heat in the rest of your home.
Don’t cover your baby’s head. Babies sweat through their heads to control their body temperature, explains Nieman. If your baby happens to be too warm, he needs to be able to get rid of excess heat through his head — so no cute caps. Hats can also slip down over the baby’s face, posing a hazard, adds Landriault.
Know the signs of overheating and under-heating. A baby who is too cold may look slightly blue in the hands or lips, says Landriault. Also check the back of the neck: A baby who is too cold will feel cool there, and if it’s hot and sweaty, she may be too warm. Nieman says he doesn’t worry too much about a sweaty head, but if baby’s sleeper or bedding is damp from sweat, she is definitely too hot.
Put the baby “feet to foot.” Landriault thinks that the Brits have got this right: “They teach parents to place the baby on his back with his feet to the foot of the crib, so he can’t wiggle down under the blanket, and then they tuck the blanket around the crib mattress but just up to the baby’s chest,” she explains.
Watch the humidity. If you are keeping your baby’s room a little warmer, the air may become dry and irritating. In this case, says Nieman, a humidifier can make the room more comfortable. If the windows fog up, you’re overdoing it!