It is very important to keep an eye on your baby’s temperature during the first weeks. Newborns can’t regulate their own temperature yet. They can’t shiver, neither can they move effectively to become warm again.
On the other hand, if they get too warm, they can’t effectively sweat. Only the glands on the head, neck, hands and feet are active in the first weeks after birth. Babies can easily get overheated, which is dangerous for them.
This is why we advise to check the temperature of your baby at least twice a day during the first week. Measure it with a rectal digital thermometer with a flexible tip; this is the most reliable measurement.
Tips for measuring the rectal temperature of your baby
- Place a diaper underneath your baby’s bottom to catch pooh or pee;
- Roll your baby on his side, place a hand on his hips to keep his legs from moving too much while the thermometer is in – to avoid damaging the anus and rectum;
- Use a little bit of vaseline on the top of the thermometer, so it slides in without harming or bothering your little one;
- Make sure the whole metal tip is inside the rectum; don’t push the thermometer in very deep though, to prevent hurting your child;
- Wait for the sign that the measurement is completed to get a reliable result;
- Clean the thermometer with a cotton pad and some alcohol, so it is clean and ready to use next time you need it.
Don’t get fooled by cool hands or feet; these are not a good indicator of low temperature of your baby!
If you want to get a quick indication of your baby’s temperature without using a thermometer, place your hand in the neck of your little one. If the neck feels comfortably warm, but not sweaty, she most likely is OK. If she is sweaty, put off some layers, but make sure she doesn’t catch a draft. If she feels too cold, you can cover her with an extra blanket.
A newborn needs our help to stay warm the first weeks
As a maternity nurse I measure the temperature of a newborn at least twice a day, rectal with a digital thermometer. I take action depending on the outcome. During the first 3 to 5 days I use metal hot bottles filled with boiled water to heat up the crib or bed of the baby, I cover his head with a hat and I have several thin layers of sheets and blankets, to adjust the covers to his temperature. (For more info about the hot water bottles, read the short article how to use hot water bottles safely)
- Temperature between 36,5 º and 36,8 º Celcius — 2 hot water bottles in bed
- Temperature between 36,9 º and 37,2 º Celcius – 1 hot water bottle in bed
This way, a baby can use al his energy to stop losing weight and start growing as soon as possible.
Note: this is in The Netherlands, where temperatures are seldom above 25 º Celcius. In summer, when it’s occasionally really warm, we don’t use hot water bottles at all. Check the advice of your local health care professionals and use your own judgement. Never put a hot water bottle in bed when the temperature of your baby is 37,3 or more.
Blankets for babies are preferably cotton or wool; natural, washable materials that can breathe. Better have several thin layers, so you can adjust to your baby’s needs during the day and night. Just one thick blanket in the crib turns out to be either too warm or too cold most of the times…
Right after birth a newborn can lose a lot of warmth
A newborn baby, wet with amniotic fluid, comes from a warm womb (37,7 degrees Celcius) and is entering a much cooler world (21 -25 º Celcius) with air drafts. This causes a sudden drop in temperature if we don’t take action immediately. What we do almost naturally, is what our baby needs right after birth:
- We place a baby on the naked belly or chest of mom or dad right after birth, for skin tot skin contact;
- We dry off the wet back and head of the baby with a soft, warm cloth;
- We cover the back of the naked baby with a warm towel or blanket;
- We place a cotton cap/hat on baby’s head.
Putting on a cap is important to minimize the loss of body warmth just after birth, but parents keep on putting on caps on their infant’s head for weeks when in bed. Please don’t do this. After the first week, it is dangerous to let your baby sleep with a hat on! A baby can turn his head and place the cap on his face instead, blocking his nose and mouth. Plus, a hat in bed can easily cause overheating of your baby.
Our instincts tell us to keep our infant warm…
…which makes sense in a house/ hut/ tent without heating, where we need to protect our newborns fiercely from cold, draft, rain, snow and wind. But when you give birth in a modern home with (central) heating, in Mediteranean summer or in a tropical climate, chances are that your instincts lead to overheating your baby! Two fleece blankets and a cap in summer make your baby too hot and sweaty (which might lead to sudden cooling off too much by wind/draft).
So, always check the current temperature of your child before you add more blankets and clothes. The first weeks using a thermometer, afterwards by checking the neck of your little one. Hot bottles are only used in the first weeks when your baby is still adjusting to living outside the womb. As soon as she is drinking properly and gaining weight, she will manage to keep her temperature stable by herself. From that time onwards, you can use the hot bottle to pre-heat her crib in cool climates.
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional in any specific situation.
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