Air conditioning seems to be the perfect way to keep a baby cool in hot, humid weather, especially for parents with a good night’s sleep in mind. Will a baby develop a chill in an air conditioned space, since babies tend to get colder faster than children or adults? What are the pros and cons of keeping a baby comfortable with air conditioning?
Pediatricians consider air conditioned rooms safer for sleeping babies than hot, humid rooms lacking circulation. Babies chill faster than everyone else, however, so correct use of air conditioning is important. Dr. Alvin N. Eden, a pediatrician who writes a column in “Pediatrics for Parents,” recommends keeping air conditioning between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Air shouldn’t blow directly on the baby; babies chill easily, but don’t have blankets or the ability to move out of the draft. Deborah Lin-Dyken, an expert on pediatric sleep disorders, recommends clothing a “baby for [sleep] in whatever you're comfortable in plus one layer,” when room temperature is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fans and dehumidifiers are good alternatives to air conditioning. A 2008 study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine states that the use of a fan to circulate air in a warm sleeping environment “was associated with a 72% reduction in SIDS risk.” Dehumidifiers are another way to make the environment cooler without using air conditioning; the simple act of removing humidity reduces perceived heat, if not actually reducing the temperature. Like air conditioners, fans shouldn’t blow directly on babies. Dehumidifiers can be too loud for a nursery, but function equally well just outside it.
The biggest benefit of air conditioning is that it cools a hot space, which is proven to reduce infants’ risk of SIDS. Additionally, babies sweat in hot humid weather and are at greater risk for developing heat rash, which is characterized by tiny blisters or red bumps on the skin—the result of clogged sweat glands. The best way to prevent heat rash is to keep babies cool through air conditioning (or fans) and lightweight cotton clothing. Air conditioning is also a remedy for babies already suffering from it.
The biggest disadvantages of air conditioning are potential drafts and difficulty finding the right temperature setting. Since babies become cold quickly, air conditioning settings must be monitored, especially when heat and humidity fluctuates outside. Setting a temperature higher than the recommended 68 to 72 degrees might be better for some infants; when it’s not overly humid, cooling the air with a fan might be a better option.
Car Air Conditioning
Air conditioning to cool a heated car is different from home air conditioning. A car’s heated plastics components (i.e. the dashboard) release benzene, a known carcinogen. If benzene isn’t aired out of the car prior to turning the air on, the fan simply blows it around the car, for the occupants to inhale. Studies show that benzene may cause miscarriages or fetal birth defects; it’s also known to decrease white blood cells and cause anemia. The best way to avoid this hazard is by opening car windows to allow the trapped air to escape, and turn the air conditioning on afterward.