Everything you need to know about regulating your baby's temperature!
Have you noticed how babies often have cold hands or feet? Even when covered, even at home. And that sometimes they perspire when it's not even that hot? This is because very young babies are not capable of regulating their body temperature like adults. Let's explain.
There are many things that surprise new parents when they first discover their newborn baby: their long hands and large feet, the head which seems so large in proportion to the rest of the body, their little spots, their disturbingly blue eyes... and all sorts of little blemishes that make them so wonderful, surprising and unique. One of the surprising things is how difficult it is to keep a newborn baby warm. They get cold so quickly. From birth, they need a beanie hat and even little cotton mitts. This is why maternity hospitals are so over-heated. Even if you were lightly dressed, you would be perfectly comfortable in a room with an ambient temperature of 23°C, but for a newborn baby, this is very uncomfortable. When exposed naked at this temperature, they will suffer from heat loss, as you would if you were in a room in which the temperature fell to 0°C!
8 weeks of total immaturity
"For the first two months - the first 8 weeks to be precise - a baby has total thermal immaturity," explains paediatrician Dr Candice Ostrowka. Babies have a lot of difficulty regulating their base temperature, which is around 37°- 37.5°C. They are very sensitive to variations in temperature, whether cold or hot. Adapting to temperature changes requires a lot of effort and energy. "When a baby perspires," she explains, "they are simply trying to regulate their temperature, to find the right balance for their body. Their whole body has to make an effort to do this, all their muscles are working." This is a natural process, and all you can do is observe it. However, this can of course take place several times a day or night, particularly during feeding, or when they go from outside to inside and vice versa. (So avoid taking your baby shopping, as shops are often over-heated in winter and cold in summer, due to air conditioning.) You will also have noticed that your baby often has cold hands and feet. This doesn't mean they are cold, but that they are cooling down. As Dr Ostrowka explains, "When the temperature falls, they try to retain heat in their body (their internal thermostat is central) and so the extremities suffer the most from heat loss. " Cold hands and feet mean that your baby is still adapting its body temperature.
Season and climate make no difference
Paradoxically, the risks of hyperthermia or hypothermia during this period are the same whether a baby is born in summer or winter, in Greenland, Africa or France. It's physiological. Thermogenesis takes place in the brain. However, the hypothalamus gland (the part of the brain responsible for heat regulation) does not begin to function for a few months. Add to this that babies' skin is thin and has little fatty tissue, that their skin surface is very large compared to their weight (three times larger than an adult's) and you can understand why heat exchanges with their environment take place so easily. They are therefore much more sensitive to external temperatures. Both cold and heat easily penetrate their body.
Learning to regulate their temperature is a real task!
After two months, things improve and babies become less fragile but are still immature in physiological terms. Their heat regulation system is not quite ready. You still have to wait a few more months for their body to adapt naturally to variations in temperature. In fact it's only at around 18 months - 2 years that babies really learn how to regulate their temperature naturally, and they are still more sensitive to changes in temperature than an adult.