The easiest way to tell if you baby is too cold or too hot

Do you know how to tell if your baby is hot or cold? Read below for an easy, fool-proof test.

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It can be so hard to decide how many layers a baby needs.

Fleece pajamas or cotton? Heavy sleep sack or light? Onesie underneath or not? How many tog do I need? (Tog is a warmth rating unit you may see on some sleep sacks).

This is a game time decision that we have to get right if you want to avoid environmental night wakings (the kind where there was something you could have done to prevent the waking). We need to get your baby dressed perfectly before he or she goes down for the night. A baby who is too hot or too cold will have extra trouble connecting sleep cycles and is likely to cry and wake fully in the normal light portions of night time sleep cycles. We want to avoid this as much as possible!

What to do? Well, this begins with trial and error. We all live in different climates and have varying insulation on our homes. I live in frigid Wisconsin and my house is well insulated, but there’s only so much central heat can do when the outside temp drops to 35 degrees below zero. My parents live in Southern California’s mild weather, but their house bakes in the sun and holds heat. I’ve never needed to put my child in anything other than the lightest pajamas when sleeping there.

Start by dressing your baby in one layer more than what you sleep in, and then use the hand test to adjust.

The Hand Test

Your baby’s hands are the perfect guide to his or her overall temperature and comfort level. In fact, baby hands are an excellent indicator of how your baby is feeling overall. Have you ever noticed that when your baby is very hungry, her hands are balled into tight fists? As babies eat, their hands relax, and when full, their little hands will be open and soft. It’s similar with testing temperature. Simply touch baby's palms and get a feel for the temperature. After an hour or so of sleeping, a baby with cold hands needs more layers. A baby with cool or slightly warm hands is dressed perfectly. A baby with very warm or sweaty hands is overdressed and needs less layers.

A baby with cold hands is likely cold. A baby with cool or slightly warm hands is just right, and a baby with hot or sweaty hands is too hot.

That’s it! It’s that simple.

Dress your baby in one layer warmer than what you wear to bed, and then at the normal night feeds (or in the morning for an older baby who sleeps all night), feel her hands. You can make adjustments when you do diaper changes. I recommend that when in doubt, parents opt for dressing baby warmer (more layers) rather than cooler (less layers). Babies like to be warm and cozy. Don’t we all?

So dress those babies warm and use those hands as your guide. Sweet dreams!

For help with learning more of these tricks before your baby arrives, see Raising a Sleeper.

If you are an exhausted parent with a troublesome sleeper of any age, see On-Demand Sleep Help and don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at

I’m always available to help sleep deprived families.

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