Kids' Health

How To Tell If Your Baby Is Too Hot — And How To Cool Them Down

Babies thrive in a very narrow range of temperatures.

Originally Published: 
A fussy baby who is crying because they're too hot.

It’s always crucial for your baby’s health to make sure they’re not overheating outdoors, indoors, and at bedtime — but that's become all the more challenging this summer, given the recent heat waves raising temperatures the whole world over. Because signs of overheating in babies aren’t always as clear as they are in older kids — and being too hot can be particularly dangerous for children age 4 and under, even increasing their risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). “It can be very scary to see temperature spikes in your kids,” says Laura Purdy, M.D., a family medicine physician based in Tennessee.

Babies and young children have a harder time regulating their body temperature as efficiently as older kids and adults. Their sweat glands aren't fully formed — this limits their perspiring capabilities, which makes it harder for them to cool down — and their surface area to body-weight ratio makes them more vulnerable to temperature variations, Purdy says. When babies overheat, they risk dehydration, heat rash, heat exhaustion, and even heat stroke, which is a life-threatening emergency that can lead to coma, shock, or death if not treated quickly.

The ideal body temperature for a baby typically falls between 36.5°C and 37.5°C (97.7°F and 99.5°F), similar to adults. But unlike adults, babies should spend their time in places with a rather narrow temperature range: A safe room temperature range for a baby year-round is generally between 20°C and 22°C (68°F and 72°F), and no higher than 23.8°C (75°F).

“Although this might seem low at first, maintaining this ideal range helps avoid overheating while creating an ideal sleeping environment,” says Purdy.

How To Avoid A Baby Overheating In The Summer

During the summer, babies can get too hot both indoors and outdoors, so dress your little ones in light, breathable natural fabrics like cotton to stay cool, Purdy says.

Indoors, use air conditioning or fans to maintain an ideal room temperature and keep cool, but don’t point the fan or A/C directly at the baby because it can lead to dry skin and dehydration. Babies can also get too cold if you point the A/C or fan directly at them. At bedtime, dress your baby in a lighter pajama and a lightweight sleep sack to keep them the right temperature, Purdy says.

Outdoors, escaping the heat can be trickier, and babies need plenty of shade and fans. The FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that babies under 6 months be kept out of direct sunlight completely because their skin contains too little melanin, which protects human skin from the sun, even for kids with darker skin tones. “Babies of all skin tones need to stay out of the sun and have proper sun protection,” Purdy says.

By keeping your infants in the shade, you’re also helping minimize the use of sunscreen on children younger than 6 months old, as recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. Infants are at higher risk of developing a rash and experiencing side-effects from sunblock.

Although shade is crucial, Purdy says it’s better not to cover the stroller with a blanket, because it will trap heat and increase the temperature inside the stroller. A sunshade made specifically to provide your stroller passenger with shade is more appropriate, and avoiding enclosed prams is best overall.

And although you certainly know this, it bears repeating: Never leave your child unattended in a parked car during the summer, as it’s a major danger for heat stroke even if it doesn’t feel too hot outside. A car’s temperature can rise up to 20°F in just 10 minutes, according to Seattle’s Children Hospital. And leaving the window down doesn’t cool the vehicle down enough to counterbalance that.

How To Avoid A Baby Overheating In The Winter

Children are actually at higher risk of overheating during frigid months because parents tend to overdress them or bundle them up in blankets. This is one of the leading risks for SIDS, according to a 2017 study.

“Avoid overdressing them at bedtime by not overusing too many layers,” says Purdy. “You can find sleep sacks with a larger TOG rating to help keep babies warm. This is the safer solution.” A TOG rating is a measure of thermal insulation that you can find indicated on your baby's clothes and sleep sack labels.

Signs Your Baby Is Too Hot

Babies can overheat without sweating — more than half of children with heatstroke do not actually sweat, according to Seattle’s Children Hospital, because of their underdeveloped sweat glands. Fever is also not a reliable indication of overheating; people of all ages can experience heat exhaustion without developing a fever — although if your baby does have a fever, that’s a clear sign they’re overheated, so long as they’re not sick.

Instead, keep your eyes peeled for these symptoms:

  • damp hair,
  • flushed skin,
  • elevated heart rate,
  • excessive fatigue,
  • restlessness,
  • dizziness.

Cooling Down A Baby Who Is Too Hot

As soon as you notice one or more of these symptoms of overheating, follow these steps to cool your baby down:

  • Move them to a cooler environment where there is shade, or where you can have air-conditioning on;
  • Remove extra layers of clothing;
  • Offer your child water if they’re 6 months or older. If they’re younger, breastfeed or give them formula to ensure hydration;
  • Wipe their body with a cool, damp cloth;
  • Give them a tepid or lukewarm bath or shower for a couple of minutes.

Stay with your baby at all times until their symptoms improve. It should take about half an hour for your kid to cool down, feel better, and bounce back, according to the UK’s National Health Service.

“Should their condition worsen significantly after taking these measures alone, it is imperative you seek medical assistance immediately,” Purdy says. It’s also an emergency if your baby gets to the point of showing signs of severe overheating, including difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, or seizures. Overall, it’s always best to call your healthcare provider if you’re in doubt.

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