Anyone who knows a mother who has given birth in the winter has seen a baby layered to the point of not being able to move. It seems to be a compulsion of mothers to swaddle their babies in as many blankets as they can possibly fold around them, and then pull their hats down tight over their tiny ears. I saw this first-hand when I recently visited the new baby of a coworker. This spring baby was sleeping in a room with an extra space heater, wearing a thick fleece sleeper and tucked in tightly with a comforter. He seemed cozy, but I was having trouble resisting the urge to open a window, yank off the blanket and air the baby out a bit. I could barely breathe, and I am an adult with a firm grasp of the concept of breathing and the ability to adjust my clothing when I was getting too warm. Fortunately, another friend with us did almost that - she turned off the heater, opened the window and removed the baby blanket. “No blankets,” she said firmly, “you have to keep the baby cool.” That’s right! I thought, but why?

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is something every mother fears. Many find themselves uneasy for the first year of their baby’s life, constantly wanting to check to make sure their little one is breathing. This may seem like just another example of overly-protective mothers, but the reality it SIDS is called “sudden” for a very good reason. This condition takes babies that were seemingly perfectly healthy, killing them inexplicably within a matter of minutes. A true cause of death is rarely found. Many behaviors, however, have been linked to higher instances of SIDS, and the medical community has become quite verbal about warning mothers about these behaviors in an effort to protect more babies.

One of the most important ways mothers can protect their babies is by keeping them cool. Of course, babies need to be warm and comfortable, but it is critical they never become overheated, and especially do not sleep in a room that is too hot. SIDS has been shown to increase dramatically among those babies who sleep with any type of bedding, or who sleep in environments that are routinely warmer than 65 degrees.

Parents are urged to keep their babies’ rooms cool and to have a fan nearby to encourage continuous air circulation, as this has been linked to decrease instances of SIDS. Parents should dress their babies in comfortable clothing to sleep, but never such warm pajamas that the baby is sweaty or hot to the touch. Babies tend to stay warmer than adults, which means even if you are a bit chilly, your baby is likely comfortable.

Source: Ponsonby, T. Thermal environment and sudden infant death syndrome: case-control study, BMJ. 1992 February 1, 304 (6822): 277-282.

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