It’s a gorgeous, sunny day, the ideal weather for heading out with your little bundle of joy. While you’re packing that diaper bag, though, just make sure to take a few sun and heat precautions for your baby, suggests pediatric experts.
Babies are at special risk of sun and heat trouble for a number of reasons. “Sunburn, fever and dehydration are the major risks for sun overexposure in children,” explains Dr. Henry Ukpeh, a pediatrician in Trail, BC. “This happens rather quickly because children, especially those less than six months of life, sweat poorly.” Babies also have more skin area relative to their body mass, and thinner, sensitive skin that traps heat and burns more easily. And while exposing your baby to sunlight is one way to ensure he gets enough vitamin D, sunscreen prevents the skin from making it, so ask your doctor about supplemental forms of vitamin D.
Corrie Fletcher, a Halifax mom of 8-month-old Lyla, and two-year-old Duke says she worries about sun exposure a lot since her family is so fair. “I have a bottle of SPF 50 always within reach,” she says. Mom’s right, there’s no need to stay cooped up indoors — just soak up these expert tips first to keep your baby cool and comfy.
Sun avoidance is the best means of protection, especially for those too young for sunscreen (under six months). That means sticking to early morning and late afternoon or evening strolls when the sun isn’t as strong. “Use strollers, umbrellas, hats with a wide brim, and long, loose clothing whenever possible,” suggests Dr. Miriam Weinstein, a pediatric dermatologist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
Even in the shade, there’s the risk of heat damage, such as heat rash. Heat rash (or “prickly heat’) is when little red bumps appear on the skin from more heat and moisture than baby skin can handle; it shows up in skin folds and wherever clothing fits snugly. Heat rash can also go hand in hand with dehydration, says Dr. Ukpeh. Removing excess and sweaty clothing can provide relief and help the rash heal.
“Watch for unexplained fussiness, fewer (or not as) wet diapers, flushed face, sweating, and the need to feed more often (signaling increased thirst),” says Dr. Danielle Grenier, Medical Affairs Director for the Canadian Paediatric Society, and a community pediatrician in Gatineau, Que. Heavy sweating, tiredness, weakness, nausea or vomiting are warning signs that your baby has heat exhaustion — don’t wait for it to go this far.
Babies over six months should wear an SPF of at least 30, and it should be reapplied regularly. “Layer it over all exposed areas, applying enough that you don’t have to stretch it,” says Dr. Weinstein. Tip: It should easily glide over the area. Most healthy-skinned babies can handle sunscreen, but sensitive-skin types and those with conditions (i.e. eczema) may react to certain product ingredients. So you may need to test-run a few products before you find one that your child can wear for minimal irritation and maximum protection, suggests Dr. Weinstein.
Because they get thirstier and dehydrated faster than adults, Dr. Grenier suggests offering babies liquids more often when out. That could mean extra sips of water or breastfeeding more frequently.
Make loose, light, and natural fibres (i.e. cotton) part of your baby’s summer wardrobe, suggests Dr. Grenier. Infants should also wear UV blocking sunglasses (many have bands to keep them in place) in order to avoid eye damage from the sun.
A sunburn only starts to show up anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours after exposure, depending on the intensity of the sun and skin type, and it peaks by 24 hours, explains Dr. Ukpeh. So you won’t see the damage until it’s done. If a baby under the age of one year gets a significant sunburn, you should contact your pediatrician at once — a severe sunburn can be serious.
“Dosing is very important when it comes to the sun,” says Dr. Grenier, who sees sunburn cases as soon as nice weather hits. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend outdoors with your child over a period of several days, so their skin can get acclimatized. When possible, stay indoors or in the shade during the hottest time of the day, that is, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It’s especially important for fall/winter babies who haven’t had much sun exposure, and babies born in the full heat of summer, says Dr. Grenier.
Besides direct sun exposure, remember that children can also suffer burns by touching hot surfaces, such as pavement, slides, or car doors — anything sitting in sunlight for extended periods. So be careful where you have them sit, stand, crawl, or play.
Angela Pirisi is a Hamilton-based health writer. A former sun worshipper, she now shirks the midday sun and wears sunscreen to set an example for her child.