Helping Your Preemie Baby Maintain Body Temperature

satkidHelping Your Preemie Baby Maintain Body Temperature

Compared to life outside, life within the womb is much different. A baby doesn’t have to eat her own food, excrete her own waste, or keep herself warm. While she can do the first two shortly after birth, it could take a few weeks after birth to have your baby maintain body temperature all on her own.

Preemies and body temperature 

Because premature infants are born early, they have had less time to accumulate and store body fat. This – combined with the fact that babies have a large surface area-to-weight ratio – make it difficult to hold a steady body temperature. Keeping preemies at the proper temperature is important because it uses a lot of energy and oxygen for those little bodies to stay warm. In fact, baby uses 10% more oxygen for even 1° cooler skin temperature, when the energy and oxygen ideally should be used to help baby grow and develop. A normal body temperature for a newborn baby is 96.8°F – 98.6°F (36°C – 37°C). If your baby has a temperature between 98.6° and 99.5° F, she could just be dressed too warmly.

Body temperature in the NICU

Doctors and nurses use special equipment in the NICU to monitor the progress and growth of preemies or other high-risk infants. Since newborn babies have trouble regulating body temperature, many are placed in incubators or isolettes after being admitted to the NICU. These insulated beds are used to help preemies stay warm and protect against some of the excess stimulation life outside the womb inevitably includes. If you have ever set foot inside a NICU, you’ve probably seen babies inside an isolette or incubator. When baby begins regulating body temperature on her own, she graduates to an uncovered bassinet. This is an important milestone for any NICU baby.

Maintaining body temperature at home

Once your baby is discharged from the hospital, it becomes your responsibility as her parent to keep her comfortable and thriving. You’ll know if she is too hot or cold if she is fussy, irritable, and/or not eating and sleeping well. You don’t need any fancy equipment at home to help her regulate her body temperature:

  • Keep a hat on your baby’s head. Babies lose heat 4x faster than adults, much of which is lost from the head.
  • Dress baby in one layer more than you are wearing for the same temperature.
  • Check baby’s temperature if you are worried she is too warm. Feel if her chest is cool to the touch while she is resting and calm – that probably means she is too cool.
  • Make the nursery an ideal resting place for your baby.
  • Keep baby out of drafty spaces like sleeping near an open window, under a ceiling fan, or on a cool, firm surface.
  • Be advised that putting a soft blanket on your baby while she is sleeping is against safe sleep recommendations, as this can cause strangulation, suffocation, and SIDS. Instead, consider swaddling for babies under four months of age or other age-appropriate sleepwear such as footed pajamas or blanket sleepers.

While it’s true adjusting to life with a newborn can be one of the most altering life changes, doing your best to learn and plan can help ease the burden and responsibility of caring for a baby. By learning about helping your baby maintain body temperature, you’ll be helping her stay comfortable and warm until she can do so all by herself.

What have you tried to help your baby stay warm? Share with us in the comments below!


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