Bringing your new baby home in the cold winter months can seem a little daunting - after all, baby can't tell you whether he or she is too hot or too cold. Special care needs to be taken to ensure that your baby is healthy and comfortable during the winter months.
DOES MY BABY NEED A HEATER?
Newborns are not able to regulate their own body temperature as effectively as older children and adults, so they are particularly affected by dramatic fluctuations in temperature. Where possible, keep your baby in an environment where the temperature is fairly stable, this is more important than the actual temperature itself. The optimum temperature for the nursery is between 16-20 degrees Celsius. If you do choose to use a heater in baby's bedroom, ensure that you also have a thermometer to monitor the room temperature so it doesn't get too warm, or use a heater with a thermostat.
HOW MANY LAYERS DOES MY BABY NEED?
The general rule of thumb when it comes to dressing newborns is that they need one layer more than you are wearing yourself. If you are swaddling your baby, count the swaddle or wrap as one layer of clothing. When taking your baby out, he or she will also need a hat and mittens. The most effective way to check whether your baby is warm enough is to feel the back of his or her neck, or across his or her back underneath their clothing. It is normal for baby's hands and feet to be cooler than the rest of his or her body, so they are not an accurate way to check his or her temperature.
WHY ARE NATURAL FIBRES SO IMPORTANT?
When choosing your baby's clothing and bedding, it is best to choose natural fibres such as cotton and merino, as these fibres allow your baby's skin to breathe. Merino is a particularly good winter choice as it gently wicks moisture away from your baby's skin so that if he or she is sweating, or has a nappy leak, the clothing is not cold and damp against his or her skin. Artificial fibres such as polar fleece don't breathe as well, and can cause your baby to overheat in warmer temperatures, whilst not insulating as well in cooler temperatures.
HOW DO I PROTECT MY BABY FROM WINTER COUGHS AND COLDS?
Newborns are particularly susceptible to winter viruses, as their immune systems are immature and need time to develop. However, it is impossible to keep your baby in a bubble particularly if he or she has older siblings! The most important thing you can do to help your baby's immunity is breastfeed the longer the better, but the first two-three months are crucial as your own antibodies pass to your baby via your breast milk, which helps their own immunity to develop. Other things you can do to help include keeping your child away from family members or friends who are unwell, keeping baby in an environment where the temperature is constant, and immunizing baby at the appropriate intervals.
WHAT IF I THINK MY BABY IS UNWELL?
If you think your newborn may be unwell, have a very low threshold for taking him or her to the doctor - it is always better to have him or her checked out just in case. In general, things to watch out for include
* Fever in a baby under 6 weeks of age - the normal body temperature is from 36.4 degrees Celsius to 37.5 degrees Celsius. If your baby develops a fever greater than 37.5 degrees Celsius, take him or her to the doctor immediately as fever is very unusual in newborns, and can be a sign of an infection which needs treatment
* Coughing in a baby under 6 weeks of age - again, this is unusual in newborns and needs to be very carefully monitored
* Reduced feeding - if baby takes less than half of his or her normal feeds over a 24 hour period, take him or her to a doctor immediately as newborns can become dehydrated very quickly, and reduced feeding can be a sign of an underlying illness
* A floppy or unresponsive baby - even very young babies are responsive to stimuli around them, if you feel that your baby is sleepier than usual or isn't responding to your cues as well as he or she normally does, seek medical advice promptly.