How to Keep Your Baby Warm at Night

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Before you have a baby, you might not realize how much time you will devote to thinking about sleep. You will likely become laser-focused on making sure they fall asleep and stay asleep (at least for a few hours). And you may worry about whether your baby is safe, according to doctor recommended sleep guidelines, and comfortable—especially as the weather changes.

Summer nights have their own set of concerns, but perhaps the season that presents the most stress when it comes to baby sleep is the winter. After all, the coldest part of the day—from around 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.—is when your little one is asleep.

It's common for many parents to seek advice on how to keep your baby warm during the night, especially when there are so many rules surrounding bedding and sleepwear for infants. We'll also help you learn what temperature to keep your baby’s room—and maybe most importantly, at what point you will be able to loosen the rules when it comes to blankets and other coverings.

What to Know About Babies and Safe Sleep

As you likely know, regular blankets are not recommended for an infant, and the same goes for heavy clothing. These guidelines, and more put forth by doctors about infant sleep, aren’t arbitrary, and are based on the best practices to keep your baby safe. Most of the guidelines were adopted because, unfortunately, if a baby’s sleep space is not regulated, tragedy can occur.

As the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) notes, there are about 3,500 infant deaths related to sleep each year. This includes a combination of deaths from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), accidental suffocation and strangulation, and also deaths that do not have a defined cause.

These deaths are heartbreaking. The good news is that many of these deaths are preventable, and practicing the safe sleep guidelines devised by the AAP is an important step in reducing your baby’s risk.

The AAP’s guide to safer sleep includes the following basic guidelines:

  • Put your baby to sleep on their back until they are at least one years old.
  • Side sleeping is not recommended.
  • Put your baby to sleep on a firm sleep surface; softer surfaces are not recommended for the first four months.
  • Make sure you are using safety-approved cribs, bassinets, and co-sleepers (not older or broken hand-me-down cribs or bassinets).
  • Use a fitted sheet, and no other bedding for the first year, including pillow and blankets.
  • Toys and stuffed animals are not recommended.
  • The use of crib bumpers and sleep wedges/positioners are not recommended.
  • Never put your baby to sleep on a couch, sofa, armchair, or other seat; do not fall asleep with your baby in one of these.
  • Take steps to make sure your baby does not overheat; don't overdress your baby.
  • Breastfeeding your baby reduces their risk of SIDS.
  • Avoid exposing your baby to smoke, alcohol, and illicit drugs.
  • Take your baby for routine check-ups and immunizations
  • The use of a pacifier can be helpful when it comes to preventing SIDS.

About Bedsharing and Co-Sleeping

The AAP recommends that babies sleep in their parents' room in a separate space for at least the first six months of life, and longer if desired. This can be in a crib, bassinet, or co-sleeper bed (a baby bed that attaches to your bed for closeness and easy access).

At the same time, AAP acknowledges that sometimes babies do end up falling asleep in parents’ beds. This often happens when moms breastfeed their babies in the middle of the night and fall asleep while nursing. In this case, the AAP recommends transferring your baby to their bed as soon as you wake up. It also makes sense to keep your bed clear of pillows and blankets while nursing so that your baby is safe, should you fall asleep with them.

If you are going to sleep for a short time with your baby, an adult bed is always safer than a sofa or armchair. The AAP notes: “Even though it is not recommended that infants sleep on the same surface as the parents, there are times when parents may fall asleep while feeding their infant. Evidence suggests that it is less hazardous to fall asleep with the infant in the adult bed than on a sofa or armchair, should the parent fall asleep.”

Keeping your baby in the same room as you at night can aid in breastfeeding, and can prevent SIDS, so talk to your doctor about the best set-up for your family.

Room Temperature

Because overheating can be problematic for babies, you may be wondering what an appropriate temperature is for your home when you have a baby.

As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explains, the risks of SIDS actually increases during the colder months of the year, possibly because of overheating caused by trying to keep their babies warm. It strongly advises parents not to overdress babies, and to keep the temperature comfy, but not too hot.

As for what temperature to keep your home’s thermostat? It advises parents to “keep the thermostat at a comfortable temperature,” which usually means going by your own comfort levels. If the room temperature is comfortable for you, then it is appropriate for a baby.

You can speak to your pediatrician if you want to know more about the best thermostat temperature range for your baby, based on your particular climate and home.

How to Safely Dress Your Baby for Colder Nights

Given that creating a safe sleep environment should be a top concern for parents, what should you do about keeping your baby warm on those chilly nights?

First, it's important to know that overheating your baby at night is a problem, and is considered a risk factor for SIDS. In addition, blankets and any loose objects are considered dangerous during baby sleep. So what’s the best way to dress your baby? Luckily, there are several ways to navigate this, to ensure that your baby is both warm enough and safe.

In terms of how to dress your baby at night, you can go by how you feel and how you would dress yourself. So if you only feel comfortable in light pajamas one night, your baby may feel the same. Since your baby doesn’t have a blanket, however, you may want to dress them a little warmer.

But don’t go overboard. The AAP recommends that you only dress your baby in one more layer than you dress yourself. In general, it’s good to dress your baby in clothes that you can easily remove, should the temperature change (or should they need a diaper change).

Swaddles

The AAP recommends swaddling younger babies, as this can both keep them warm and help them sleep. Swaddling gives your baby a cozy, secure feeling and may remind them of being in the womb. However, it’s important that if you swaddle, you do so safely.

The swaddle should not be too tight, especially around the hips. Your baby should be able to breathe freely in the swaddle. In addition, your baby should always sleep on their back in the swaddle. Swaddling may reduce your baby’s arousal cues, so monitoring them is important. 

Most babies should stop being swaddled by the time they start to roll over, or around 2 to 4 months.

Sleep Sacks

In lieu of blankets, the AAP recommends placing your baby in a sleep sack or wearable blanket if they need extra warmth at night. These are usually made of breathable but warm material.

The top of a wearable looks like any baby top or pajamas, but the bottom half fans out almost like a sleeping bag or sack for your little one. There is usually a zipper at the bottom for easy diaper access.

Blankets and Bedding

Unfortunately, there is really no way around the fact that blankets, pillows, and any other type of bedding are not recommended for safe baby sleep spaces.

The AAP lists the following as unsafe; they should not be kept in your baby’s sleep area:

  • Pillows
  • Quilts
  • Comforters
  • Sheepskins
  • Blankets
  • Toys (including stuffed animals)
  • Crib bumpers
  • Sleep wedges and sleep positioners
  • Anything that attaches to crib slats/sides

All of these items increase your baby’s suffocation, entanglement, or entrapment. Thus, the safest sleep setup during the colder months would be a clear sleep surface with a fitted sheet, and using something like a sleep sac or wearable blanket.

Sometimes just dressing your baby in warm clothing is enough as well. Choose materials like muslin or cotton that are warm, but still breathable so your little one doesn't overheat.

When Can Your Child Start Using Blankets And Pillows?

Keeping your baby safe and warm at night can feel like a bit of a balancing act, and while it’s of the utmost importance to follow these sleep safety rules, you may be understandably wondering at what point you will be able tuck your little one into a bed with an actual blanket, a couple of cute pillows, and an assortment of stuffies.

The AAP advises that parents follow the safe sleep guidelines for their baby’s first year of life, or for about their first 12 months. After that, you will want to take care to make sure that your child’s environment continues to be safe, though.

Make sure that the blankets you give your toddler are breathable and small enough so that they can’t be easily tangled. Blankets with any loose string or decorative ribbons are not advised. Weighted blankets are not appropriate for toddlers.

Having an excessive number of toys, pillows, and stuffed animals can be problematic as well. It’s best to take the process of adding pillow, blankets, and objects to your toddler’s sleep space gradually, and under the advisement of your pediatrician.

A Word From Verywell

When you are a parent presented with so many “rules,” it can be very stressful. Baby sleep is one area where it can feel like perhaps there are too many rules, or the rules don’t feel like they will work for your family.

For example, what if your baby seems cold even with a sleep sack? Or what if you and your spouse disagree on what temperature to keep the house and what temperature is best for your baby? What if your mother-in-law is sure that giving your baby a blanket and a teddy bear will be just fine, because she did that and nothing bad happened?

Navigating these sorts of questions can be confusing and stressful. That’s one of the reasons it can be helpful to have an honest heart-to-heart with your pediatrician about any lingering questions you may have about something like baby sleep and keeping your baby warm at night.

Every situation is different. The silver lining here is that as irritating and downright overwhelming these sorts of issues can be when you are in the middle of navigating them, they really do pass sooner rather than later.

Right now, you may feel full of questions about how to dress your baby on cold winter nights, but before you know it, you will be focused on a completely different worry, and then another, and another. Your best bet right now is to stay educated, keep asking the important questions, and remember that you are a good parent doing the best that you can.

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Article Sources
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  • Safe Sleep: Recommendations. American Academy of Pediatrics website. Updated December 4, 2020.

  • Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths: Updated 2016 Recommendations for a Safe Infant Sleeping Environment. Pediatrics. 2016;138(5):e20162938. doi:https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2938.

  • The Science of SIDS and Safe Infant Sleep. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development website. Updated December 4, 2020.