How to dress your baby for sleep. The parenting dilemma we all experience at baby’s bedtime.

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Dressing your baby for safe sleep is important and we’re taking the time to share safe swaddle and sleeping bag options so that you can feel confident about what your baby can safely wear whilst sleeping.

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    In today’s parenting world we’re lucky to have access to more research and information about babies than ever before. This even extends to the way we dress our babies for sleep… a topic that’s gained attention over the years as it can literally save a baby’s life.

    Red Nose Guidelines teaches us that overheating a baby is dangerous (rightly so). But we also know a cold baby won’t sleep well either.

    Welcome to the constant internal battle in every parent’s head each night…. ‘What do I dress my baby in for sleep? Should I tweak the room temperature or change up what they’re wearing?’

    It should be noted Red Nose Guideline’s doesn’t recommend a set room temperature for healthy babies, instead they recommend dressing your baby to the room environment.

    This being said, as a certified baby sleep consultant, I provide a room temperature guideline of 20-24 degrees in summer and 16-20 degrees in winter. This is a guide to ensure consistency in your room temperature rather than experiencing the plummet in room drop in the early hours between 3:00-5:00 am.

    What are the ‘must knows’ for a baby’s room temperature?

    A baby’s nursery temperature must take into account:

    • Where you’re based in the world – A parent who lives in one of the coldest regions of the world will approach room temperature differently to a parent who lives in a warmer region (and in warmer climates humidity needs to be considered too).
    • The size of the room and air flow – Recent research studies indicate the use of a fan can reduce the instances of SIDS.

    The research states, “With regards to the use of a fan in the baby’s bedroom, a case-controlled study of 185 SIDS babies and 312 controls found that the use of a fan was associated with a 72% reduction in SIDS risk. The reduction in risk was more pronounced in adverse sleeping environments. For example, when room temperatures were greater than 21°C, there was a 94% decreased risk of SIDS compared to no fan use”.

    For more research findings click here

    To set up a safe sleep nursery, check out our safe sleep blog where we talk about the products you need to create a safe sleeping environment and the ones you can do without. Read it here

    So how do you best monitor the room temperature in your baby’s nursery?

    Accurate room temperature monitoring

    Baby Monitors with inbuilt temperatures or even one of the many baby room temperature gauges on the market can be tricky and overwhelming when trying to figure out an exact temperature.

    The truth is so many give different readings. For instance, if we check the Gro Egg vs the monitor vs the air-conditioner or heating system, we’ll likely find they don’t give the same reading.

    We also need to take into account where the monitor is situated in the home vs where your baby is. For example, a monitor positioned up high on an external wall will read a different temperature to your baby who is on the lowest setting in the cot on the opposite wall.

    So how can we really get a feel for the temperature and what to dress our baby in?

    This might sound too simple but take a moment to consider what you wear to bed each night in the current season or climate you live in?

    Are you wearing a t-shirt and shorts with a sheet? or are you wearing flannelette PJ’s with your winter quilt?

    It may sound like a no brainer but using this simple method is a great way to help decipher what you may need to dress your little one in. We want to learn ‘to assess but not obsess’over their sleep environment including any minor fluctuations in the daily room temperature.

    Expert Tip: A good rule of thumb is to check your baby’s chest and the back of their neck. They should feel warm and toasty, but not hot, damp or clammy. Assess how you feel in the room and don’t get too caught up in a few degrees variation if your body feels comfortable with the temperature in your baby’s room.

    Two key things to keep in mind when considering the temperature in your baby’s room:

    1. We don’t change from a summer to a winter quilt on a nightly basis so we shouldn’t need to change up everything our baby wears every night!
    2. Different houses have different temperatures. I’ve experienced this first hand living in an old 1920’s house. When we’re hot, we retain the heat, but on the opposite end, once we are cold there is no warming up.

    If your little one’s room temperature is under control but your finding sleep is just plain difficult for your baby check out the blog on the Four Most Common Reasons Why Your Baby Isn’t Sleeping

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    How can you safely dress your baby for sleep?

    Swaddles and sleeping bags are the recommended go to for babies but why are swaddles and sleeping bags so important? 

    Four benefits of sleep sacks: 

    1. Safety – We want to follow Red Nose Guidelines Safe Sleep Guidelines especially once a baby is rolling and we can no longer use loose bedding such as blankets in the cot.
    2. Warmth – A swaddle and sleeping bag is essentially a wearable blanket and moves with your baby no matter what strange position they choose to sleep in.

    We know babies and toddlers are movers and groovers which means as they become more mobile they kick blankets off. No parent wants to be up tucking in a baby multiple times a night when we could be sleeping soundly knowing there’s no chance their warm layers will come off.

    If you find your baby is often waking early in the morning (before the birds are up) this can be a sign your baby is cold. For other common contributors to early rising check out the Early Rising blog

    1. Sleep Cue – A sleeping bag acts as a non-verbal cue for sleep. It sends a message that sleep time is approaching which in turn helps to create a predictable and consistent bedtime routine. It’s a positive sleep association that you can take with you whenever you leave the house. Whether it be grandparents’ house, holidays or childcare, this gives your little one a piece of home and familiarity.

    Learn all about sleep associations in the blog What Are Sleep Associations

    1. Reduces mobility – We know our babies and toddlers have some pretty incredible skills, but the cot is not the place we want them to be practicing them. For this reason, I recommend using a “bag” style as opposed to the ones with legs until your toddler moves to a big bed.

    Wearing a sleeping bag limits their ability to:

    • Get limbs stuck in cot bars
    • Crawl
    • Pull to stand
    • Cruise around the cot

    Expert Tip: Limiting a baby’s movement in the cot is a good thing as it prevents injury plus continuing to use a sleeping bag when they’re older can also discourage climbing out of the cot.

    When to start and stop using swaddles and sleeping bags:

    A swaddle is great to use from birth. If you feel clueless about how to wrap a newborn baby for sleep check out my Instagram post here which demonstrates a traditional style of swaddling.

    Swaddling is the winner as it re-creates the tight feeling of security from the womb and reduces a newborn’s startle reflex until the parasympathetic nervous integrates around 4-5 months.

    Swaddle Options include:

    • Muslin cloth- (using a traditional wrapping technique)
    • Miracle blanket
    • Or Swaddle sacksErgococoon and Love to Dream are my favourites.

    The transition from swaddle to sleeping bag occurs around 4-5 months or when your baby starts rolling back to tummy. Learn the when, why and how of transitioning from swaddling to sleeping bag in our blog on all things unswaddling your baby. Read it here

    Sleeping bag

    A sleeping bag can be used from 4-5 months (once your baby is rolling/unswaddled) through to big bed age (2.5-3.5 years) and provides a non-verbal cue for sleep as well as eliminates the need for any loose bedding.

    Expert Tip: Until your toddler graduates to a big bed, I recommend using a sleeping bag as opposed to a sleep suit with legs. This reduces playing in the cot, chances of limbs getting caught and ultimately climbing out of the cot.

    If your toddler is being cheeky (let’s face it they just are) and you find they’ve begun taking their sleeping bag off try these tips:

    • Turn the sleeping bag inside out
    • Put the sleeping bag on back to front
    • Pop a well-fitted t-shirt over the sleeping bag

    How to select the safest sleeping bag for your baby.

    I recommend always using a TOG rated sleeping bag. What does TOG mean? TOG stands for Thermal Overall Grade and is a unit of measurement for insulation and warmth of sleepwear and bedding.

    Essentially, the lighter the fabric the lower the TOG rating. The higher the rating, the more padded and insulated it is to keep your little one warm.⁠ ⁠

    How do you choose the right TOG?⁠

    It’s best to choose a suitable TOG based on the temperature of your little one’s room.⁠

    Ergopouch recommends:

    • 0.2/0.3 TOG between 24 degrees – 26 degrees⁠.
    • 1.0 TOG between 21 degrees – 24 degrees.⁠
    • 2.5 TOG between 16 degrees – 22 degrees⁠.
    • 3.5 TOG between 14 degrees to 20 degrees.⁠

    I recommend a TOG rated sleeping bag as other brands often have polyester filler which means your baby or toddler may sweat. Polyester fabrics aren’t breathable so the sweat sits damp on the skin and makes your baby cold. Cotton and bamboo clothing and bedding is best to wick away any moisture and provide optimal breathability.

    Bedtime can be challenging enough for parents, especially when we’re tired and don’t have the brain power to make any more executive decisions. By having safe sleep clothing and sleeping bags on hand, as well as monitoring the room temperature you’ll feel confident bub is dressed adequately for sleep.

    Searching for how to implement gentle sleep foundation for your baby? We create custom programs for you and your family lifestyle. Find out more on the Work With Us page.

    When it comes to temperatures dipping, winter is notorious for spiking cases of cold and flu and can leave our little ones feeling a little worse for wear. There are ways to keep your great sleeper whilst you wait for sickness to run its course. Find out more about sleep and winter sickness here

    Kelly Martin Sleep Consultant

    Helping babies get a good nights sleep

    Our mission is to empower parents with the knowledge and education about how they can help their little one develop and maintain healthy sleep habits. Are you ready to regain your sleep?

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