Question: With the temperature changing so often lately, how do you know how to dress your baby?
Answer: The quick and simple answer is to dress your baby in the same number of layers you’re wearing, plus one.
If you are wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt, then put a long-sleeved T-shirt plus a jacket or sweater, on your baby.
Babies also need socks because the circulation to their feet is immature.
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Babies do not have the ability to shiver. Shivering, or uncontrollable shaking, is how our body controls our inner temperature.
When our core temperature drops because we are cold, our body responds by quickly contracting and expanding our muscles. This then produces heat in our skeletal muscles which then provides warmth to our organs.
Another factor that impacts babies maintaining their body temperature is brown fat. Brown fat in the full-term infant is mostly located along the upper half of the spine and in the shoulder area.
The amount of brown fat a baby has depends on at what point in the pregnancy they are born. Preterm babies do not have enough brown fat to regulate their temperature. They are at great risk for hypothermia, a dangerous and sometimes fatal condition for babies.
We lose brown fat as we grow. However, there is new research that is suggesting that adults who have some brown fat are able to maintain an appropriate body weight.
The same researchers are finding that the more “white” fat a person has the less brown fat they have. White fat is important for the insulation it provides the human body, but too much leads to obesity.
What makes brown fat brown is that it is full of mitochondria cells. Mitochondria cells convert energy into forms that are usable by the cells. They ultimately generate fuel for all the cell’s activities.
The hypothalamus, located in our brains, is also very important in temperature regulation. It also controls hunger, thirst, fatigue and our sleep cycles.
Being born too early can create havoc on the baby’s ability to regulate her temperature. All of these things, the brown fat and the maturity of the hypothalamus, are more functional in the full term baby than the preterm baby.
This is why preterm babies have to stay in special beds that circulate warm air to keep them warm. In the Newborn Intensive Care Unit we celebrate when a baby can moved to an “open” crib. It means the baby has finally achieved the ability to regulate her own temperature. She still needs to be wrapped in blankets, but she can hold her own temperature in the blankets.
Babies also need to wear hats. In the winter they need to wear hats because they lose much of their body heat through their scalp.
Just ask anyone who has been bald during the winter and they will tell you how cold they were when there was nothing on their head. In the summer we all need hats to keep the sun off our faces.
So to answer your question again: Put on one more layer than you have on, and put socks on your baby as well as a hat.
Remember, everyone looks better in a hat anyway.
Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital’s Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Healthy Living in the Bradenton Herald. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.