Warmth and Temperature Regulation
Babies can't adjust to temperature changes as well as adults. Babies can lose heat rapidly, nearly 4 times faster than an adult. Premature and low-birthweight babies don't have much body fat. Their bodies may be too young to control their own temperature, even in a warm environment. Even full-term and healthy newborns may not be able to keep their body warm if the environment is too cold.
When your baby gets too cold, he or she uses energy and oxygen to generate warmth. If his or her skin temperatures drops just one degree from the ideal 97.7° F (36.5°C), your baby's oxygen use can increase by 10 percent. By keeping your baby at the perfect temperature, neither too hot nor too cold, he or she can hold onto that energy and build up reserves. This is especially important if your baby is sick or premature.
Ways to keep babies warm
Ways to keep your babies warm are:
Drying and warming your baby right after delivery. Wet skin can cause your baby to lose heat quickly by evaporation. He or she can quickly lose 2° to 3°F. You can warm and dry your baby right away using warm blankets and skin-to-skin contact. You can also use another source of warmth such as a heat lamp or over-bed warmer.
Open bed with radiant warmer. An open bed with radiant warmer is open to the room air and has a radiant warmer above. A temperature probe on the baby connects to the warmer. This tells the warmer what your baby's temperature is so it can adjust automatically. When the baby is cool, the heat increases. Open beds are often used in the delivery room for rapid warming. They are also used right away in the NICU and for sick babies who need constant attention and care. Babies on radiant warmer beds are usually dressed only in a diaper.
Incubator/isolette. Incubators are walled plastic boxes with a heating system to circulate warmth. Babies are often dressed in a T-shirt and diaper.
Once your baby is stable and can maintain his or her own body temperature without added heat, he or she is placed in an open crib or bassinet. Your baby will likely be dressed in a gown or T-shirt, a diaper, and a hat. A baby can lose large amounts of heat through his or her head. Often, a blanket is wrapped snugly around the baby. This is called swaddling.
To lower the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents and caregivers avoid overbundling, overdressing, or covering an infant's face or head to prevent him or her from getting overheated.
- MMI board-certified, academically-affiliated clinician
- Trevino, Heather M., BSN, RNC