How should I dress my baby for sleep? This is an important question many parents ask themselves after being told of the various sleep-related dangers infants face during their first year.
While many health organizations around the world have released their own statements and guidelines about what is and isn’t safe for babies, it can still be a confusing topic given the sheer amount of baby clothing options on the market today.
One might assume that all clothes designed for babies should be inherently safe, but this is sometimes not that case. So to keep things extra safe, it’s important that parents have a good basic grasp of what safe baby sleepwear is and remember this when choosing new threads for their little soldiers.
Basic Principles of Choosing Baby Sleepwear
When dressing your baby and choosing baby clothes, below is a good set of basic principles to reference, as and when you need to.
The Additional Layer Rule
The general rule of thumb for dressing your baby for sleep is to dress them in one additional layer than you would yourself dress yourself in. This is to compensate for the lack of blankets (which are not safe for babies until after 12 months) and to help regulate their temperature at night.
Just remember that this applies to “normal” room temperatures and for extreme winter or summer temperatures, you must adjust accordingly.
As a counterbalance to the first principle, don’t go too far in ensuring your child is warm enough by overdressing them and inadvertently causing them to overheat.
You might be tempted to bundle them up in lots of layers to eliminate the chance of your baby getting a chill, but too many layers and resultant overheating has been linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), so do your best to strike a balance.
Shop for Weight, Not Age
Age is a good general indicator of what you should be dressing your child in for sleeping (more on this later!), but don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s more important than weight. When it comes to baby clothes weight is a better measurement when choosing different sizes.
Beware of Baby Milestones
Similar to the above, consider your child’s development stage and their baby milestones when determining which baby clothing options should be used when.
For example, you may have a 3 month old child who loves to be swaddled like many other babies of the same age, but if they’ve started to show signs of rolling over, then it’s time to start the transition away to something safer, like a baby sleep sack or our very own Zipadee-Zip.
No Hats or Accessories
While knitted hospital caps are quite simply adorable, they shouldn’t be a staple of your child’s bedtime wardrobe.
They’re not meant to be used for sleep once you take your child home and hats that fall off during sleep can cover your baby’s face, making it harder for them to breathe. The head is also an important area for releasing heat and regulating temperature, so covering it could lead to overheating.
Practicality Over Charm
Always consider how practical baby clothes will be when you need to perform a 4 am diaper change. Items that don’t unfasten easily should be avoided. Practical features to look out for include snaps, clips or attachments that allow you to access the diaper without completely taking off the whole garment.
Baby Swaddling and Swaddle Transitioning
Many parents opt for the swaddle as the go-to baby clothing option for their newborns. The cozy and restrictive comfort offered by this bundling technique can help young infants feel safe and soothed, promoting better sleep, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
A thin and breathable cotton blanket or sheet can suffice for a swaddle, but you can also choose a specially designed swaddle wrap that comes with features that make it easier to fold and fasten, such as the Zippy Swaddle.
This technique can help your baby sleep better and reduce their Moro Reflex, or ‘startle’ reaction to changes in their environment while sleeping.
Having said this, the swaddle is not a suitable option for children who have started to develop enough strength in their neck, legs, and arms to flip or roll themselves over onto their side or front. The primary reason for this being that it can lead to obstruction of the face and suffocation when your child finds themselves stuck in a particular position and unable to roll back due to the restriction of the swaddle.
In this situation, parents can either choose to drop the swaddle entirely, or try out a transitional product that will keep offering a certain amount of restriction and comfort, while providing enough freedom of movement to allow children to control their sleep position.
Understanding the Dangers of Baby Sleep
Part of being able to implement sound baby sleeping practices is being fully aware of the dangers at hand. Chief among these is the much feared Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), described as an unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old.
While there are still some uncertainties around what causes SIDS, research has shown us that a number of factors can increase the likelihood of it happening.
Part of being able to implement sound baby sleeping practices is being fully aware of the dangers at hand.
Environment Factors that Increase SIDS Risk
- Sharing a bed with your child.
- High temperatures and overheating caused by too many layers, lack of ventilation, or general room temperatures.
- Placing unnecessary items inside the baby’s crib, such as blankets or toys.
- Placing your child in a position other than on their back, in the center of the crib (e.g. lying face down or on their side can make it harder to breath).
- A mattress or comforter which is too soft, spongey, or fluffy.
Don’t place unnecessary items inside the baby’s crib, such as blankets or toys.
Safe Sleep Recommendations - What You Should be Doing
- Place your baby on their back every time you put them down to sleep, whether night or during the day. And make sure anyone who looks after your baby does the same (baby sitters, grandparents, siblings etc.)
- Keep the crib completely bare as possible with a firm mattress and very little space between the edge of it and the frame of the crib.
- Check the temperature of your baby before they go to sleep with the back of your hand and look for signs of excessive perspiration. Also, take into consideration changes in temperature during the night.
- To keep your baby warm without additional layers and to support the transition away from the swaddle, try a baby sleep sack.
- Keep your baby’s crib in your room, potentially next to your own bed, so you can keep an eye on them. This can be moved to another room once they have developed significant control of their limbs.
Choosing Appropriate Baby Sleepwear
When dressing your newborn for bed until the age of one, you’ll be able to choose from a number of different baby sleepwear options, including the onesie, sleep sack or pajamas. However, not all baby sleeping products will be appropriate for all ages. Below is a rough guideline for products and the ages they are suitable for.
- The Swaddle (0-3 Months)
- Baby Rompers (0-12 Months)
- Baby Sleep Sacks (3-12 Months)
- The Zipadee-Zip (3-18 Months)
- Baby Onesies (0-18 Months)
- Baby Pajamas (12+ Months)
- Flying Squirrel (12+ Months)
The ideal temperature for your baby’s room is between 60-70 °F (16-20 °C), however, the time of the year or climate might make this difficult to achieve.
This isn’t a problem as long as you dress your little one in enough layers to keep them warm during colder weather, such as giving them a baby onesies to wear underneath their baby sleep sack.
For tips on how to dress your baby in warmer weather, take a look at our blog post: What Should My Baby Wear to Sleep in Summer? Simple Tips for a Great Night’s Sleep!
As well as being warm enough, you should also choose clothing materials that are sensitive to your baby’s skin and breathable. For children who have extremely sensitive skin or eczema, materials that are synthetic, including certain cotton blends can sometimes increase itchiness and perspiration.
Look for garments that will allow your baby to regulate their temperature easily like natural fabrics or smart synthetic blends that enhance the benefits of materials like cotton with added elasticity.
Look for garments that will allow your baby to regulate their temperature easily like natural fabrics or smart synthetic blends.
Normally, clothes for babies are designed to be comfortable and cozy, but sometimes dangerous items slip through into baby clothing ranges, such as poorly positioned zips, snap buttons, elastics, bows, or laces.
These items could potentially dislodge and pose a threat to your child’s health, or wrap around their limbs in a way that is uncomfortable.
Baby sleepwear should be functional and practical more than aesthetically charming. While it’s not very hard to get the best of all worlds, with adorable sleeping patterns and designs which also support healthy sleep, be careful that you don’t accidentally pick up something that could pose a risk to your child’s health.
For a more detailed breakdown, take a look at our blog: What Should My Baby Wear to Sleep? — The Right Products for the Right Time
Achieving Sleep Independence
The ultimate goal is independent sleep. So while you might utterly love buying new infant clothing for your child, you should keep in mind that the items you buy should primarily be used to support natural growth and development towards a stage where your baby doesn’t actually need any sleeping aids.
So <strong>while transitional clothing items play a crucial role for many babies as they move away from the swaddle, they will eventually be substituted by clothes that offer complete freedom of movement and independence</strong>. Namely, pajamas and products like our Flying Squirrel are typically worn by children above the age of 12 months.
Final Note for Parents Buying Baby Sleepwear
You might be initially drawn to specific baby clothing because of colors, patterns, or designs, but when you’re making your final decision, remember to keep these important best practices in mind to ensure your baby is completely comfortable, safe, and happy as they sleep at night.