Babies are more vulnerable to changes in temperature than adults. They can lose heat rapidly, as much as four times more quickly than adults. This can lead to a condition called hypothermia, which is a dangerously low body temperature. Hypothermia can affect a baby’s breathing, heart rate, metabolism, and immune system. It can also cause serious complications and even death.
In this article, we will explain what causes low body temperature in babies, what are the symptoms and risks of hypothermia, how to measure a baby’s temperature accurately, and how to prevent and treat low body temperature in babies.
What causes low body temperature in babies?
There are various reasons why a baby’s temperature may be low. Some of the common causes are:
- Premature birth and low birth weight. Babies who are born before 28 weeks of gestation or weigh less than 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) are at a higher risk of developing hypothermia because they have less body fat, immature skin, and poor heat regulation.
- Cold birth environment. Many babies, especially full-term ones, are born with a near hypothermic body temperature. Being born in a cold room or not being dried and wrapped quickly after birth can lower their temperature further.
- Exposure to cold weather or water. Babies can lose heat easily through their skin, especially if it is wet or exposed to cold air or water. For example, bathing a baby for too long or not dressing them warmly enough for the weather can cause their temperature to drop.
- Illness or infection. Some medical conditions, such as sepsis, meningitis, or hypoglycemia, can affect a baby’s ability to maintain a normal body temperature. A fever can also lower a baby’s temperature if it breaks suddenly or is treated with too much medication.
What are the symptoms and risks of low body temperature in babies?
A normal body temperature for a healthy baby is between 36.5°C and 38°C (97.7°F and 100.4°F) when measured with a rectal thermometer. This is the most accurate method of taking a baby’s temperature, as oral, ear, or armpit thermometers can give lower readings2.
A baby’s temperature is considered low if it drops below 36°C (96.8°F) when measured rectally. This is the threshold for hypothermia, which can be mild, moderate, or severe depending on how low the temperature is.
Some of the signs and symptoms of low body temperature in babies are:
- Lethargy or drowsiness
- Poor feeding or sucking
- Weak cry or whimper
- Pale, cool, or clammy skin
- Blue lips or fingers
- Trouble breathing or slow heart rate
- Shivering or stiffness
Low body temperature in babies can have serious consequences if not treated promptly. Some of the risks and complications of hypothermia are:
- Respiratory problems, such as apnea (pauses in breathing), pneumonia, or respiratory distress syndrome
- Metabolic problems, such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), acidosis (high acidity in the blood), or electrolyte imbalance
- Infections, such as sepsis (blood infection), meningitis (brain infection), or necrotizing enterocolitis (intestinal infection)
- Bleeding problems, such as intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) or disseminated intravascular coagulation (blood clotting disorder)
- Organ failure, such as kidney failure, liver failure, or heart failure
How to prevent and treat low body temperature in babies
The best way to prevent low body temperature in babies is to keep them warm and comfortable at all times. Some of the preventive measures are:
- Drying and wrapping the baby immediately after birth with warm blankets and a hat
- Keeping the baby skin-to-skin with the mother or father as much as possible
- Breastfeeding the baby frequently or giving them formula as recommended by the doctor
- Dressing the baby in layers of clothing that fit well and cover their head, hands, and feet
- Avoiding bathing the baby too often or for too long
- Keeping the room temperature between 23°C and 25°C (73°F and 77°F) and avoiding drafts or fans
- Checking the baby’s temperature regularly with a rectal thermometer
If a baby’s temperature is low, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. The treatment for low body temperature in babies depends on the cause and severity of hypothermia. Some of the treatment options are:
- Warming the baby gradually with blankets, warm fluids, or radiant heaters
- Giving the baby oxygen therapy or mechanical ventilation if they have breathing problems
- Giving the baby intravenous fluids or glucose if they have low blood sugar or dehydration
- Giving the baby antibiotics or other medications if they have an infection or a fever
- Transferring the baby to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) if they have severe hypothermia or complications
Low body temperature in babies is a serious condition that can affect their health and development. It can be caused by various factors, such as premature birth, cold exposure, or illness. It can also lead to various complications, such as respiratory problems, infections, or organ failure.
To prevent low body temperature in babies, it is essential to keep them warm and comfortable at all times. To treat low body temperature in babies, it is vital to seek medical attention as soon as possible and follow the doctor’s instructions.
A normal body temperature for a healthy baby is between 36.5°C and 38°C (97.7°F and 100.4°F) when measured with a rectal thermometer. This is equivalent to 95 celsius to fahrenheit, which is the boiling point of water at sea level. A baby’s temperature is considered low if it drops below 36°C (96.8°F) when measured rectally, which is equivalent to 95 celsius to fahrenheit minus 0.2 degrees. This is the threshold for hypothermia, which can be mild, moderate, or severe depending on how low the temperature is.
By knowing what causes and risks of low body temperature in babies and how to prevent and treat it, parents and caregivers can help their babies stay healthy and safe.