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Time for bed: How to dress your baby for sleep

With the UK’s variable climate and unpredictable weather, dressing your baby for bed can be a bit of a minefield. Here’s the lowdown on what your baby should wear to bed all year round, with expert advice and tips from real parents in the Mumsnet community. 

By Lucy Cotterill | Last updated Jan 13, 2023

Time for bed: How to dress your baby for sleep

Is worrying about how you’ve dressed your baby for bed keeping you up at night? You’re not alone. Some of the most common parenting worries posted in the Mumsnet forums relate to baby’s sleep - in particular how to dress baby for bed. Parents often discuss the best swaddle or the best baby sleeping bag, in terms of both safety and helping improve their baby's sleep. Many parents worry their baby may get too hot or too cold in their crib during the night or feel the need to continually check that their baby is comfortable and safe.

This isn’t surprising. The cost of living crisis means our central heating may be on less often or lower than normal. Combined with changing seasons, heatwaves, cold snaps or even the uncharacteristically mild days we’ve experienced this autumn and winter means adjusting to the UK climate can make getting the perfect bedtime outfit less than straightforward.

We’ve researched the latest advice and guidance from health and parenting experts such as the NHS and Lullaby Trust, along with real-life experiences from the Mumsnet community to bring you this ultimate guide to baby sleep. 

Here’s what your baby should be wearing to bed to ensure a safe and comfortable night’s sleep, whatever the weather.

How to dress your baby for bed

Here are some things you’ll need to consider when ensuring you’ve dressed your baby appropriately for bed:

Check the room temperature

The Lullaby Trust recommend that your child’s bedroom or nursery should have a safe overnight temperature of between 16 and 20 degrees Celsius. If you’re unsure about the temperature of the room, a baby thermometer such as the Gro Egg can be helpful, allowing you to adjust their clothing accordingly. 

We use a room thermometer and then have a look at the chart that comes with our sleeping bags” - advice from Mumsnet user ColdShouldersWarmTummy 

Dress your baby in layers

Dressing your baby in layers is the best way to help you adapt to a change in temperature during the night. If your child gets cold as the temperature drops, you can simply add a layer by putting on an additional babygrow or shifting to a thicker sleeping bag. As a general rule, it is recommended that your baby wears one additional layer to what you would be comfortable in at night (although that advice is somewhat more challenging in Summer) 

The advice is one more layer than you're wearing.” - Suggested by Mumsnet user TheLovelinessOfDemons 

Baby sleeping bags or swaddles 

Swaddles can work well for newborns, holding their arms close to their chest, replicating that sensation of being held in the womb and reducing the impact of the Moro reflex, the involuntary jolts that can cause them to wake up. You can buy pre-made swaddles or use lightweight materials such as a thin muslin or a thin cotton sheet wrapped securely around your baby - check out our in-depth guide to the best swaddles, tried and tested by Mumsnetters.

Once old enough or once they can roll, baby sleeping bags are a quick and efficient sleep solution. Unlike blankets, they come without the risk of suffocation and cannot be kicked off accidentally, with a convenient zip for overnight nappy changes when required. 

Sleeping bags, whether that's an Original Grobag or an own brand alternative, come in a variety of TOG ratings, just like our own duvets.

For colder nights, thicker sleeping bags offer a tog rating of 2.5 or even 3.5 togs for those bitter icy periods. In summer, you can opt for a more lightweight 0.5 or 1.0 tog sleeping bag, which can provide comfort and security, without adding bulk or warmth.

Most sleeping bags come with a useful guide on baby clothing, indicating how many layers your child should wear with the sleeping bag, depending on the temperature of the room. As a rough guide, they suggest:

  • Room temperature 24 degrees or above - 0.5 Tog 
  • Room temperature 20-24 degrees - 1.0 Tog
  • Room temperature of 14-20 degrees - 2.5 Tog
  • Room temperature of 14 degrees or less - 3.5 Tog.

Gro bags have different togs and tell you exactly what to dress your baby in and what tog to use depending on the temperature of the room. We can never seem to get our room below 21/22 so my DD wears a vest and 1.0 tog Grobag at the minute” -  recommended by Mumsnet user Blak 

Grobags are excellent and have a TOG rating, a bit like a tog on a duvet” - suggested by Mumsnet user dingledongle 

a sleeping swaddled baby

Keep hats for outdoors

Whilst your baby may have worn a cute little hat in the hospital, putting hats or head coverings on your baby indoors is not recommended once you get your baby home. The reason for this is that babies self-regulate their temperature via their heads and faces. Wearing a hat indoors or overnight can cause a baby to overheat, so save those cute pom pom hats for your outdoor exploits.

“It’s actually dangerous for babies to sleep with hats on. Your head is where heat leaves the body. You should always take the hat off when you come inside from the cold outside if you leave the baby asleep in the pram also.” - Advice from Mumsnet user Sunflowersareblue 

Avoid loose blankets or duvets

If your baby is less than 12 months old, you should avoid using loose blankets, duvets or pillows in the cot, as these can pose a smothering or suffocation hazard. 

The Lullaby Trust advise that if you do prefer to use blankets, these are tucked under the arms and chest with a close fit. They should only go up to waist height to ensure you’re practising safe sleep.

“Pillows, soft bulky bedding and duvets can pose a risk to babies under 12 months and can increase the risk of SIDS. These products can lead to overheating and potentially obstruct a baby’s airway if they roll or their face becomes covered in loose bedding.”

How to dress baby for sleep in summer 

We all know how stifling a house with no air con can be during a heatwave. On particularly hot days, you can put your baby to bed wearing just a vest or even simply in their nappy. Overdressing your baby can increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), so if you do choose to dress them in a thin layer, you should opt for breathable fabrics like cotton or lightweight muslin. 

You can try and keep the room cool by keeping windows closed during the day, only opening them once the outdoor temperature has dropped. If using a fan, The Lullaby Trust recommend that this is constantly moving/rotating and not directly facing the cot. 

“My first child was a summer baby. On really hot nights she had a really thin sleeping bag (0.2 tog I think) with just a nappy underneath”  - Experience of Mumsnet user RandomQuest 

“My baby was born in the middle of the heatwave last year she mostly slept in just a vest or sometimes just her nappy. They’ll let you know if they get cold - if you're up for night feeds you can always adjust too if the temp cools down overnight?” - Advice from Mumsnet user MarceyMc 

How to dress baby for sleep in winter

In winter, the biggest challenge can be when the temperature drops in the early hours, particularly if your central heating isn’t on overnight. This can cause your baby to become cold and wake prematurely as a result. 

In winter, layers are your friend. Layers effectively trap heat between clothing to keep your baby warm. Rather than opting solely for thicker fabrics, increase the number of layers under their sleeping bags, such as a long-sleeved vest, body suit and full-length sleep suit. 

“Our room has been between 15.7-16.5 degrees the last few nights so I have a long-sleeved vest, sleepsuit and long-sleeved t-shirt in a 2.5 Grobag. Even with this, he had chilly feet this morning - I upped layers as felt he was waking due to cold but it's better to have them a little colder than overheat them. Never put anything on their heads as that is how they help to regulate their temperature.” - recommended by Mumsnet user ColdCottage  

How do I know if my baby is too hot?

Overheating is thought to be one of the causes of SIDS and as such, it’s important you take steps to prevent your baby from becoming too hot whilst they sleep. If in doubt, you should always err on the side of less. Babies will let you know if they’re too cold by crying.

There are various signs that your baby may be too hot during the night. These include flushed cheeks, rapid breathing or noticeably wet/damp hair or sweat on the forehead.

The most reliable way to check your baby’s temperature is to gently place your hand on their chest or nape of the neck. Their skin should feel warm but not hot to the touch. You should avoid checking using your baby’s extremities such as via their hands or feet, as these are generally the coolest part of the body.

“If you can reach in to feel baby's chest (hands/feet aren't reliable), they should just feel comfortable, not too hot. Always err on the cool side, they'll let you know if they're too cold but too hot is a SIDS risk.” - Advice from Mumsnet user EyeDrops 

“It’s better for your baby to be slightly cooler, they will let you know if they are too cold. The Health Visitor told me a baby that is too warm won’t tell you and will stay asleep.” - Suggested by Mumsnet user Danikm151 

Final thoughts 

It’s almost impossible to predict the UK weather, so the reality is that regardless of the season, you can expect to experience some significant temperature variation in your home. 

When it comes to dressing your baby for sleep, using a room thermometer and following the sleeping bag guidance about TOG levels is a great place to start. Beyond that, you should dress your baby in layers that can be easily adapted to their surroundings - adding or removing a layer as required. 

Remember that it’s far easier to help a cold baby get warm than cool a baby down, so where possible stick to the concept of less is more, using your own comfortable clothing levels as a guide.