A baby is the most precious thing in the world to parents and their families. One of the first and foremost concerns of new parents, when they bring their bundle of joy home, is whether the baby is comfortable in their room while they sleep.
Since most adults’ idea of comfort involves making the indoor air cooler with an air conditioner, many wonder, "Is air conditioning bad for babies?".
Is It Safe to Use An Air Conditioner Around a Newborn?
Yes, it is safe to use an air conditioner around newborns and babies provided that the room temperature is between 65 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit or 18 to 21 degrees Celcius.
Newborns should never be kept in a hot, airless, and humid room. Overheating is one of the environmental factors that makes a baby vulnerable to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS, also known as crib death. SIDS is the unexplained death of a seemingly healthy baby while sleeping.
Here are three tips to make sure your baby is not overheating nor is the baby overcooling.
Always Check the Baby’s Temperature
An infant cannot regulate its body heat as aptly as an adult person. Additionally, since babies cannot communicate if they are too cold or too hot, it is best to measure the temperature of the baby's room either with a thermostat or a portable thermometer.
There are several ways to check if the baby is overheating: put your hand on their head, or the base of the neck where it meets the spine, or their stomach to see if they feel hot.
Be watchful for any signs of flushing of cheeks, sweating, heat rashes, damp hair, rapid breathing, and incessant crying.
Keep the Airflow Moving With A Fan
A fan inside a baby’s room can be installed to keep the airflow cool and moving in an otherwise stagnant space, especially during humid climates but not particularly hot.
But in summery seasons, a mere fan cannot replace the AC in its ability to cool your home. For areas with climates that are particularly hot and humid, you can achieve a cooler environment for the baby with an air conditioner together with a ceiling fan.
Use Air Conditioner with Caution
To reduce the risk of over-cooling the baby, avoid placing the baby’s crib directly below the air conditioner. Take extra care in considering where to put the crib where it is cool enough but not directly being hit by the AC blast.
Dress the baby appropriately with light cool layers covering the arms and legs, a light cap, or light cotton socks.
Keep the baby properly hydrated with an adequate amount of water. Allow time for the baby’s body to adjust its temperature before coming out of an air-conditioned room.
Regularly Clean and Maintain Your AC
Air conditioner filters should be replaced and cleaned regularly to prevent allergens and dirt particles from recirculating in the baby’s breathing space that could cause respiratory problems. Your AC should have checkups, cleaning, and service at least once a year to maintain its cleanliness and efficiency.
AC noise should also be addressed so it will not interrupt the infant’s sleep. Seek professional help if your air conditioner is making too much noise and check if it needs a service or repair.
A Real but Unexplained Threat to Babies
But, what is this SIDS? And if you have your baby at home, why should you care to know?
The term “Sudden Infant Death Syndrome” was first coined in 1969 but the definition has been progressively refined in the succeeding years after several studies made about its causes and effects on infants.
Despite the advancement of the information gathered about this illness as the years went by, it is still holding its place as one of the most common causes of death in babies aged between one month and one year old.
In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the infant mortality rate in the United States was 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births. The CDC ranked SIDS as the fourth leading cause of mortality among infants, alongside childbirth defects as number one, followed by preterm delivery and low birth weight, maternity pregnancy complications, and injuries such as suffocation as the fifth cause.
SIDS is occasionally referred to as crib or cot death as infants that fell victim to this disorder are often struck during sleep at home. The Mayo Clinic associates Sudden Infant Death “with defects in the portion of an infant's brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep.”
Although the investigation about the main source of this deadly syndrome is ongoing, it is a huge relief to know that researchers have identified the risk factors that can get a baby to be more susceptible to SIDS. Knowing about these risks and overcoming them can help families to protect the life of a precious child.
The Lancet, one of the best-known and world’s leading independent general medical journals, published a study about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and identified the behavioral and environmental factors that contribute to the baby’s susceptibility to it.
Sleeping on their side or in the prone position, where the infant lies flat with the chest down while the back is up, seems to be the favorite sleeping pose of infants. While this might be acceptable when the child is old enough to roll over, doctors pointed to these behavioral patterns of sleeping as the principal reasons for SIDS. The baby may not get as much oxygen it needs and the baby’s breathing can be easily hampered.
The same danger is present when the baby is put on exceptionally soft surfaces such as fluffy comforters and flaccid mattresses where the material can easily block the infant’s airways, or if they are accidentally pinned down by another person or pet with whom they are sharing the bed with.
Exposure to smoke, particularly cigarette smoke, is an obvious hazard to a baby even when it is yet to be born. The CDC outlined the reasons why an infant should be protected against secondhand smoking:
“1) Smoking by women during pregnancy increases the risk for SIDS; 2) Infants who are exposed to secondhand smoke after birth are also at greater risk for SIDS; 3) Chemicals in secondhand smoke appear to affect the brain in ways that interfere with its regulation of infants’ breathing; 4) Infants who die from SIDS have higher concentrations of nicotine in their lungs and higher levels of cotinine (a biological marker for secondhand smoke exposure) than infants who die from other causes.”
The last but significantly not the least risk factor for SIDS is overheating of infants. The National Institutes of Health warned that “infants are sensitive to extremes in temperature and cannot regulate their body temperatures well.”
With this in mind, there is a huge responsibility placed on parents or caregivers to make sure that the child will not experience overheating nor overcooling. How will they go about it?
Protect Your Baby from Overheating and Overcooling
Hyperthermia, or overheating, “occurs when the body’s heat-regulation system becomes overwhelmed by outside factors, causing a person’s internal temperature to rise,” explained by Medical News Today.
The core body temperature of a person should only range between 95.9°F to 99.5°F during the day, or 35.5°C to 37.5°C. If the temperature reaches 100.4°F or 38°C, an individual can already get hyperthermia at some levels.
Babies can also be susceptible to overheating if they are swaddled or bundled excessively. Heavy clothing, too many layers, and high levels of room temperature are some of the other common environmental factors that lead to hyperthermia in newborns and increase the risk of SIDS.
To get ahead of this danger, always check if your child is overheating. Put your hand on their head, or the base of the neck where it meets the spine, or their stomach to know if they feel warm.
Inspect if there are any signs of flushing of cheeks, sweating, rashes, damp hair, and rapid heartbeat. Other clues are if the infant will not stop crying even after being fed or is sometimes lethargic and unresponsive.
The National Institutes of Health is noticeably clear on how to prevent a baby from overheating: “The room temperature should be kept at a level that feels comfortable for an adult.”
If your AC setting is too high making you hot, it is likely the same for the baby. Get the room temperature between 65 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit or 18 to 21 degrees Celcius, as recommended by baby experts.
But what if the baby is in another room?
Setting the thermostat to a comfortable sleeping level is one of the ways you can control the temperature in the child’s room while they sleep. Another means is to use a thermometer to know if the room temperature fluctuates or rises. But the safest way to know that the child is neither too hot nor cold is to put them in the same room as the parents.
Many medical resources strongly suggest that babies under one-year-old sleeping in their parent's room lower the risk of SIDS. Although not putting the baby in the same bed, having the baby in the same room can lower the danger of failure to arouse out of deep sleep.
Fan or AC: Which is Better for an Infant?
Both fan and AC can be installed in the baby's room given that the necessary precautions are taken. A fan is a helpful tool in keeping the airflow constantly moving if the air seems stagnant. There are also times when the weather is not too hot, yet the air is damp. A good fan can be particularly useful in these situations.
However, even the most expensive fan cannot match the cooling ability of an air conditioner on a scorching hot day. If the surrounding air is hot and dry, the air that the fan will hit the infant’s skin will even be hotter.
Some parents may worry about overcooling the baby by using an AC for the room. This is not necessarily the case if they avoid placing the baby’s crib directly below the air conditioner or anywhere it will be hit directly by the AC blast.
Still careful about over bundling, the baby could be dressed appropriately with light layers covering the arms and legs, a light cap, or light cotton socks.
Did you know that babies and toddlers are more prone to dehydration than adults? According to infants and children’s health experts, these little ones have higher metabolic rates and water content. Babies and kids are also more susceptible to diarrhea and vomiting which are the top causes of dehydration.
So it is exceedingly important to keep the infant hydrated by giving them age-appropriate fluids.
Make Air Conditioning Safe for Your Child
Now you know that ACs are relatively safe for babies when used cautiously, new parents should still be wary of other risks. Even when the baby is sound asleep in the air-conditioned room, there are still other things to consider in keeping the little guy or little girl healthy and free from harm.
AC filters must be replaced and cleaned regularly to block allergens and airborne toxins from recirculating in the baby’s breathing space. With or without a baby at home, it is important to subject your air conditioning system to regular service and cleaning.
Air conditioner noise could be irritating even to a sleeping adult, let alone a small child that needs ample sleep time. Have an expert technician install sound abatement materials to address the noisy unit so it will not interrupt the infant’s sleep.
It is also vital to remember that the baby’s body cannot adjust as easily to the change of temperature. Allow time after turning off the AC unit before coming out of an air-conditioned room.