Shopping for infant clothes is one of the greatest pleasures of new motherhood — look at that adorable jumper with the pink elephant! The tiny soccer shirt! The mini denim jacket!
But cuteness isn’t the only criteria for choosing baby clothes. Even more than making your baby look adorable, the most important function of those precious little garments is to protect baby from the heat and the cold, and keep him comfortable all year long.
There are lots of recommendations for dressing babies, but perhaps the most important advice is to know your own child and be alert for signs that he uncomfortable. “Have confidence in your own intuition,” says Kathleen Alfano, Ph.D., Former Director of child research at Fisher-Price. “Moms quickly get used to reading their child’s comfort levels, and are able to tell when their baby is too hot or too cold.”
You’ll soon learn what your baby likes to wear and what keeps him comfortable. In the meantime, here are some good general starting tips:
Choose loose, lightweight clothes in natural, breathable fabrics like cotton. Light colors are cooler than dark.
“Babies love to take their shoes and socks off when the weather is hot, so make sure you bring extra socks (they come off and get lost easily) and a little bag or something to put shoes in so they don’t have to sit next to the bottles in the diaper bag,” recommends Dr. Alfano.
If your baby is younger than six months old, dress him/her in long sleeves and long pants or leggings to protect delicate skin from the sun. For older babies, check with your pediatrician to see if you can substitute sunblock and switch to short sleeves and shorts.
Have your baby wear a hat with a brim to shield eyes and face from the sun. (Even with all this protection, try to avoid outdoor sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when rays are strongest.)
“Particularly in the summer months, when you’re going from one temperature to another—outdoor heat to indoor air conditioning—be prepared with a little extra blanket or light sweater so you can cover your baby or not,” advises Dr. Alfano. “I do the same for myself when I’m traveling!”
Warning signs of a too hot baby: Acting restless or listless. Rapid breathing. Flushed skin that feels hot to the touch. Perspiration.
Start by dressing your baby in the same number of layers as you’re wearing. Then bring along an extra sweater and blanket in case your baby seems cold.
Don’t overbundle. “Most of the time babies are overdressed,” says Dr. Alfano. “In many northern European countries, children are allowed to get cold more than our kids do, and these kids are just fine.”
When the weather is really freezing, resist the urge to dress your baby in one super-warm garment. Stick with layers, since it will be much easier to add and remove clothing when going from indoors to outside and back again.
Don’t forget hat, mittens and booties to protect head and ears, hands and feet.
Warning signs of a too cold baby: Crying and complaining. Ears, fingers and toes, or neck that feels cold.
Regardless of the temperature, make sure you choose baby clothes that are free of scratchy tags or appliques, Velcro with rough edges, tight headbands.
“Don’t forget that babies are already wearing thick diapers which can make them feel a little warmer, make clothes feel a little bulky,” says Dr. Alfano.
In general, if your baby seems reasonably calm and happy, and is sleeping comfortably inside or out, then she’s probably dressed just fine. “You don’t have to worry and adjust to every temperature degree change,” says Dr. Alfano. “Just make sure you protect babies from very extreme heat or cold. You want to be protective, but you want to make sure your baby’s body learns to adjust to temperature changes as well.”
Beth Weinhouse is an award-winning journalist who specializes in writing about parenting issues and women's health. She's been an editor at Ladies' Home Journal and Parenting magazines, and her work has appeared in dozens of consumer magazines and websites.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.