How should you dress your baby for sleep? While it sounds like a simple question, any new parent knows that even the most mundane infant inquiries come with potentially scary consequences to weigh. (Who among us hasn’t painstakingly googled every hard-to-pronounce ingredient listed in every diaper cream on the market?)
Something as banal as selecting a pair of PJs for your pint-size peanut can feel like a daunting decision when you’re a newly minted and utterly exhausted parent. Fortunately, we’re here to help take the stress out of this process with some practical tips and basic guidelines. Wishing you and your baby a comfy and safe night of uninterrupted slumber — you’ve got this.
Perhaps you’ve heard about the general rule of thumb for dressing your baby for sleep: Put them in one additional layer than you would wear at night. This makes sense, as a baby should not sleep with a loose sheet or blanket. Generally speaking, a two-piece cotton PJ set or footed onesie plus a muslin swaddle should suffice.
However, this rule is just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll also need to judge if this generalization applies to your baby’s sleeping environment. The ideal room temperature should be between 68° and 72°F, so if your house tends to run cool or warm, you’ll want to adjust accordingly by adding or removing a layer.
It’s better to have baby slightly underdressed than heavily overdressed. While older generations are often quick to bundle little ones in lots of layers, the danger of overheating is real and has been linked to a greater risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). While this peril is most pronounced through 6 months of age, it remains a concern for toddlers as well.
A home thermostat or indoor thermometer can help you feel confident in your nightly pajama-picking procedure. Plus, in time, you’ll learn to trust your instincts and use common sense. Basically, if you feel good in your own cotton jammies, chances are your baby does too.
Newborns generally respond well to being swaddled. The snug bundling technique can help young infants feel safe and soothed, like they’re back in the womb. A cotton or muslin material is a good choice, as both are lightweight and breathable and offer ample flexibility for easy wrapping and tucking.
That said, parents who aren’t quite confident in their baby-burritoing skills can choose a swaddle sack or suit that offers Velcro and zipper “cheats” (No, you’re not failing as a parent if you can’t ninja-swaddle a baby like a maternity nurse).
Do note that once your baby starts to roll over, it’s time to lose the swaddle, as it’s no longer considered a safe option. Baby can graduate to a sleep slack or wearable blanket instead. These are also great options if your munchkin didn’t take to the swaddle from the get-go.
If neither swaddling nor sleep sacks work for you, that’s fine as well. Choose footed sleepwear or slightly warmer fabrics to increase warmth when needed.
If you’re the type who prefers a concrete example to follow, check out the following suggestions for warm or cool nights, along with additional tips on hats, snug fits, and snaps.
Lighten up on summer nights
On warm nights, keep it light and breezy — a basic short-sleeve cotton or organic-cotton bodysuit or T-shirt with a muslin or cotton swaddle or sleep sack layered on top is fine.
A bodysuit or tee on its own is also OK if it’s particularly sweltering. Of course, if you have the air conditioner pumping, you can probably stick with cotton long-sleeve pajamas with footies.
Prepare for a winter chill
Get your little one ready for a chilly winter night with appropriate gear. Either a pair of snuggly fleece pajamas or heavier microfleece swaddle or sleep sack over standard cotton jammies should do the trick. Just remember: no loose blankets.
But what about a hat?
Save the accessories for your Instagram photoshoots. While we adore those cute knit hospital caps, they’re not meant to be used for sleep once you leave the maternity floor.
You want to avoid all loose articles, and a hat could slip off your baby’s head and cover their face, inhibiting free breathing. Furthermore, a baby self regulates by releasing heat through that newborn noggin, so a hat can actually lead to overheating.
Stick with a snug fit
Some brands begin to offer flame-resistant pajamas starting at the 9-month mark. These are made with materials that have been chemically treated to decrease the risk of catching fire.
However, some pediatricians question the potential health effects of these chemicals. As an alternative, you can stick with PJs made from cotton or natural-fiber materials that are labeled as “snug-fitting.” These are not treated with a flame retardant but instead fit close to the body to minimize flammability.
Moreover, snug PJs are always preferable, as loose clothing or materials can ride up and dangerously cover a baby’s face during sleep.
Functionality over fashion
One more thing to keep in mind: convenience. You’ll most likely have to perform a few diaper changes throughout the night in the early days of infanthood. No one wants to fumble with tricky buttons at 3 a.m., so strategically placed snaps and zippers can make these groggy nappy changes more efficient.
In other words: Save the elaborate ensembles for daytime hours.
Given that babies can’t talk, it can feel like we’re left to decode their every coo and cry. Sometimes we get it right. Other times? Not so much. But parents quickly learn to pick up on their baby’s cues and look to them as insightful clues.
If your nugget is fed and changed but still acting distressed, they may be uncomfortable or too hot or cold. Of course, there are some noteworthy physical indicators to look for too.
Perspiration, rash, wet hair, red cheeks, and quickened breathing are a few signs that a baby is potentially overheating. Note that a baby’s extremities might remain cold to the touch, as their tiny circulatory system is still developing.
When in doubt, feel the skin on your baby’s neck, tummy, or chest. If these areas are hot or sweaty, you’ll want to take immediate action to get them cooler. Remember, overheating has been linked to SIDS, so lower the room temperature and/or remove one layer and check back in a few minutes.
While overheating is certainly the bigger concern, you’ll also want to make sure that your wee one is not too cold. If you notice that your infant’s hands and feet are looking slightly blueish, it might be time to turn up the heat or add a layer. Don’t panic — those cute fingers and toesies should return to their regularly rosy state in no time.
While pajamas are important, there are many other safety tips to keep top of mind when it comes to your baby’s nap time and bedtime.
- Per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), your little one should always be placed on their back on a firm surface for sleep. Once a baby can roll over, you need not worry if they flip to their side or belly.
- Remember, once your infant learns to roll, the swaddle has got to go. Swaddles restrict the movement of their arms, which they might need to safely flip over.
- The crib or bassinet should be free of loose-fitting sheets, bumpers, blankets, pillows, wedges, positioners, and stuffed animals. In short, nothing other than your baby and a pacifier are allowed. Yes, a pacifier is fair game and may even reduce the risk of SIDS.
- If possible, it’s best to have your baby sleep in your room — in their own crib or bassinet — for the first 6 to 12 months of life. In fact, the AAP has stated that sharing a room can reduce a baby’s risk of SIDS by up to 50 percent. Note that co-sleeping in the same bed is not recommended.
- A fan can not only keep your baby cool but also circulate air in the room and reduce the risk of SIDS.
Take age into consideration
Of course, you’ll have to reevaluate your baby’s sleep situation as they get older and bigger. What worked at 3 months might not work at 6 months, and things will continue to evolve as your child becomes more independent.
For example, you might need to rethink using certain sleep sacks once a suddenly active infant pulls up and stands, or when a toddler attempts the great crib escape.
When your baby hits the big 12-month milestone, you may even get the green light to add a small thin blanket. That said, make this decision with thoughtful consideration, and when in doubt, talk to your pediatrician.
Determining how to dress your baby for bed is just one of many daily decisions you’ll have to make as a new parent. While there are lots of variables to consider, it’s certainly not something you should lose sleep over because — let’s be honest — parents need all the sleep they can get.
Prioritize safety, and don’t be afraid to experiment with new swaddles or PJs to see what works best for your little lovebug. A restful night of zzz’s for both baby and you is likely just around the corner.