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Sharp Health News

Do babies lose heat from their heads?

Jan. 4, 2016

Hats and heat loss

As a neonatal clinical nurse specialist at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, Rachelle Sey, MSN, CNS, RNC, welcomes brand-new babies to the world each day. And as each baby is born and washed, they’re instantly accessorized with a teeny pink, blue and white beanie.

These hats, though cute, serve a mighty role. According to Sey, newborns are even more susceptible to losing heat through their heads than adults.

“Newborns typically have a large head compared to their body size, allowing for more heat to be lost,” says Sey. “Newborns innately maintain their body temperature by maintaining a flexed position, which decreases the amount of surface area on the skin for heat to leave the body.”

Sey describes the four ways an infant typically loses heat:

  1. If placed directly on a cold surface.
  2. From cold air or drafts.
  3. From the evaporation of water on wet skin, such as after a bath.
  4. If placed near a cold solid object, such as a cold window or wall.

Sey offers these tips to protect your baby from four heat loss traps:

  1. Bundle your baby up in a hat and socks whenever temperatures are low or you are headed outdoors.
  2. Move the baby away from cold drafts or objects such as windows, air conditioners or fans and put a blanket up to shield any cold air from direct contact.
  3. Pre-warm a room when giving a bath, and/or wrap them in warm towels following a bath.

“One of the best ways to keep a baby warm is by placing them skin to skin on your chest,” says Sey.

Heat loss in newborns occurs on a gradient from warmer to cooler. Since an infant will get colder much faster than an adult, be sure to keep them bundled and warm this winter. But before you wrap your little one in 5 extra blankets, Sey reminds you to be careful not to overheat the baby.

“It is important to make sure your baby does not get too warm. Dressing your baby in too many clothes, covering your baby in too many blankets or covering your baby’s face can create too much heat; this may also make an unsafe sleep environment for your infant. Generally, dress your baby in one more layer of clothing than you are wearing if the temperature is cool and remove a layer of clothing if your baby is warm.”

Notify your baby’s doctor if his or her temperature is less than 97° F or greater than 100.4° F.  The axillary or underarm method is the preferred method for taking a temperature in infants and toddlers.

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