By Katy Foster
Updated March 18, 2021
For their first few years of life, babies and toddlers spend approximately half of their day asleep (1). Choosing sleepwear that ensures they are comfortable and safe can be confusing. Learn what factors to consider when deciding how to dress your baby for sleep.
What Should a Newborn Wear to Sleep?
The American Association of Pediatricians recommends infants be dressed in no more than one additional layer (2) of clothing than an adult would wear to feel comfortable in the same environment. A diaper or underwear is not considered a layer.
In warm weather over 75 degrees (3), a single layer, such as a cotton onesie and diaper, is enough for a baby to sleep in. In temperatures under 75 degrees, additional layers are necessary. Breathable newborn baby pajamas made from materials such as cotton or muslin can be used along with a sleep sack.
Receiving blankets can be folded, wrapped, and tucked around the baby to create a swaddle (4). A swaddle keeps the arms close to the body but should remain roomy around the hips and legs, since too-tight swaddling can cause hip problems.
Pajamas or swaddles with snaps or two-way zippers are convenient for diaper changes after late night feedings. It's important to make sure the fit allows for movement without excess material gathering around the face. Embellishments and fasteners that can come loose, such as buttons or pacifier clips, should not be used.
What Should an Infant Wear to Sleep?
Infants are more mobile than newborns and by 6 months often roll over both directions (5). Once they start attempting to roll — sometimes as early as 2 months old — swaddling should stop. While swaddling may help a newborn sleep on their back, should they roll over, the combination of swaddling and stomach sleeping increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (6).
Wearable blankets can be used in place of swaddles once a baby begins attempting to roll over. Wearable blankets are also called sleep sacks and sleep bags. They are unique in that they leave the baby’s arms free while still covering their torso and legs. Because sleep sacks are worn and not loose like blankets, there is little risk of the baby’s face becoming covered during sleep.
Wearable blankets come in a variety of materials, from jersey cotton to bamboo-derived viscose. They're also available in a variety of shapes ranging from those with a bottom resembling a sleeping bag to those having foot holes that allow for walking. Take care to choose the best option for your baby's current sleeping conditions and moving capabilities.
What Should a Toddler Wear to Sleep?
Many toddlers have an opinion on what they want to wear to bed, so having options that both parents and child are happy with is a good idea.
By law, children’s pajamas must comply with the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s ruling (7) that they either be snug-fitting or made from materials that pass specific flammability tests. Check tags for chemical fire-retardants as these may irritate skin. When possible, select tight-fitting pajamas that still allow a full range of motion.
Short or long two-piece pajamas or footed onesies are a good option to keep your toddler covered and comfortable through the night. Footed sleep sacks can still be used at this age as well. Although infants less than a year old shouldn't use blankets or soft bedding because of the SIDS risk (8) they pose, blankets can be introduced to toddlers.
Can Babies and Toddlers Overheat?
Yes, babies and toddlers can overheat at night. Any time you add layers to your child’s sleepwear, make sure to check that they are not too hot. The AAP recommends head coverings not be used to help prevent overheating.
Materials such as cotton, muslin, and bamboo-derived viscose are breathable choices for sleepwear. A good test to see if your baby is too hot is to feel their neck or upper back, just under their pajamas or swaddle. If they feel hot, clammy or sweaty, they are too hot and a layer should be removed.
- https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html Accessed on March 13, 2021.
- https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/safe-sleep/Pages/Safe-Sleep-Recommendations.aspx Accessed on March 13, 2021.
- https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/diapers-clothing/Pages/Dressing-Your-Newborn.aspx Accessed on March 13, 2021.
- https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/diapers-clothing/Pages/Swaddling-Is-it-Safe.aspx Accessed on March 16, 2021.
- https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/milestones-6mo.html Accessed on March 14, 2021.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17908730/ Accessed on March 14, 2021.
- https://www.cpsc.gov/Business--Manufacturing/Business-Education/Business-Guidance/Childrens-Sleepwear-Regulations Accessed on March 14, 2021.
- https://www.aappublications.org/news/2016/10/24/SIDS102416 Accessed on March16, 2021.