The weather is getting a wee bit chilly and every conscientious parent out there is looking for ways to keep their children warm. When it comes to newborn babies, it can be especially hard to get the number of layers right, as they can't tell us when they are too warm. Plunket, New Zealand's leading health support service for children under 5, warns that what you dress your baby in can lead to overheating. Polar fleece, a synthetic fabric that is soft, warm and affordable, poses a very real health risk.
A lot of the softest and cutest sleep suits around are made of polar fleece. Polar fleece blankets and clothing are made from plastic-based fibre which means the fabric doesn't breathe. This means babies can easily overheat and sweat, then get too cold because the sweat can't evaporate. The effect of this can be anything from an unsettled baby to sudden, unexpected death.
It seems that polar fleece itself is not to blame, but rather the fact that it contributes to the baby overheating, a fact that has been linked to an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (Sids). In addition, a majority of polar fleece garments come with a high rate of flammability, which is not something you want your child to be wearing in the case of a fire.
Plunket nurses assure parents that there is no problem dressing a baby or child in polar fleece when they are outside, as the risk of overheating is much less and the parent is usually there to supervise.
Experts recommend putting babies to sleep in natural, breathable fibres like cotton and wool. Light merino wool blankets and wraps are perfect choices. The other key thing to remember is not to overdo it with the heat pump.
Plunket recommends keeping a baby's room warm, but well ventilated and suggests using an electric heater with a thermostat, because fan heaters can overheat a room and gas heaters can release dangerous fumes.
Other recommendations to make sure your baby is not too warm in bed are:
• Use more clothing layers on your baby in cooler weather, rather than adding more layers of bedding. That way your baby can wriggle around in bed while staying safe and warm.
• If you use a blanket: make sure it's lightweight and securely tucked in under the mattress, and that it can't come loose or cover your baby's face.
• Place your baby near the foot of the cot to stop them slipping down under the covers. Keep their face clear of covers by tucking them in firmly.
• Once your baby tries to roll over, stop swaddling them or swaddle with arms free.
• If you use a hot water bottle, take it out of the bed before you put your baby in.
• Don't use wheat bags to heat a baby's bed, because they can overheat.