by Priya Shankar and Veena Krishnan
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to replace the advice of your personal physician.
Summer has just begun and we’ve already been experiencing record-breaking heat. Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat exposure. With more 100 degree days on the way, our job is to be both well-informed and well prepared for what lies ahead. We’ve compiled a few summer safety tips for keeping you and your children cool and comfortable this summer.
Preemies and babies with special healthcare needs are even more susceptible to heat illness than other infants, but all babies are at a much greater risk for dehydration and overheating because of their under-developed temperature regulation systems and small size. Protect your baby from the heat by spending the majority of the day in an air-conditioned environment. Even if you don’t have central air-conditioning, it’s good to know that just a few hours a day in an air-conditioned room can significantly reduce your baby’s chances of getting heat sick. Keep your baby dressed in lightweight clothing or wrapped loosely in a blanket.
Heading out? Follow these tips to keep your baby safe from too much heat:
- Cool off a hot car with an air conditioner or fan before placing your baby inside.
- Park in the shade whenever possible.
- Keep the carseat out of direct sunlight by covering it with a towel or blanket when your baby is not in it. You may even want to carry or portable ice pack or frozen water bottle with you to cool down the car seat before you put your baby back in it.
- Be careful! Remember that metal buckles and latches can get very hot very quickly.
Most importantly, never ever leave your baby in the car, even if the windows are cracked! Car temperatures can quickly rise to over 100°F, even on cooler days. If you accidentally leave your baby in the car or see another child left alone in a car DON’T HESITATE – Call 911 immediately. This is an emergency. Read the story of preemie Kaitlyn Russell and how her death led to changes in the state of California.
Breastfeeding on a hot and humid summer day can be uncomfortable. Skin-to-skin contact leads to sweating and discomfort for both mom and baby. Try placing a cloth or towel in between you and your baby, or try breastfeeding while lying down. Also be sure that you breastfeed in a cool area—a portable fan can circulate air to help cool off you and your baby.
Here are more breastfeeding tips for the summertime from our friend at St. David’s Medical Center, Kay Gregorio RN, IBCLC:
- Wear loose-fitting, light colored, cotton clothing.
- Sit in the shade if outdoors.
- Sip on a cool, non-caffeinated drink.
- Snack on healthy, bite-size foods such as grapes, chopped fruit, nuts, etc.
- Carry a hand-held fan.
- Use a lightweight, light-colored cover-up.
Whether you’re nursing or using a bottle, feed your baby often. The extra fluids help reduce the risks of dehydration and overheating..
Signs of Overheating
Don’t assume that because your baby is not sweating that they are not hot. Babies, and especially preemies, don’t sweat effectively as their sweat glands are not yet fully developed. Extra hydration is key! If your baby is not making wet diapers you should be concerned. Nurse or offer fluids frequently. Remember: The hottest times of the day are between 1:00 pm and 6:00 pm, so it’s better to take your baby outside in the morning when the heat is less intense.
Whether you’re inside or outside, make sure your baby has room to move. Babies become uncomfortable when spending long periods of time in the confined space of a baby carrier or stroller. If you are outside, use a sun shade whenever possible. Carriers made from lightweight nylon also help to reduce the heat inside the carrier. However, if a baby becomes flushed, be sure to remove him or her from the carrier immediately.
Watch for Heat Rash
Something else that summer may bring for babies is heat rashes (Miliaria Rubra). Heat rash presents as the emergence of little bumps or blisters on your baby’s skin. They typically appear red and are most often seen on the chest, stomach, neck, crotch, and buttocks. The rash appears because as babies sweat to cool themselves down their smaller pores sometimes clog.
Although they are not serious, heat rashes serve as a sign that your baby is too warm. To treat them, it is important to first cool your baby off by placing cool, wet washcloths over the affected areas and then letting the skin air dry. Mild forms of heat rashes will go away if the baby is kept cool. It is not necessary to use any ointments because these can further irritate the rash. (Occasionally a doctor might prescribe a mild cortisone cream). Avoid the use of baby powders or corn starch because they can irritate the rash further by blocking your baby’s pores. To avoid a heat rash dress your baby in lightweight, soft, cotton clothing, use a fan, and check his or her diaper often.
Signs of Heat Illnesses
Dehydration is a problem for parent and baby alike. Be sure to take water with you wherever you go this summer. Your baby is most likely dehydrated if they:
- Are extremely thirsty
- Have a dry, sticky mouth
- Are constipated
- Haven’t urinated in the last 3 hours
- Are lethargic
- Have dry skin
- Don’t produce tears when they cry
- Have sunken eyes or sunken fontanels (the soft spots on the top of a baby’s head)
If you notice these signs, move to a cooler area and offer water or the breast to your baby.
Like dehydration, the first signs of heat exhaustion are lethargy, cool/moist skin, increased thirst, and infrequent wet diapers (less than every 3 to 4 hours). Older children may complain of stomach cramps. If your child shows any these symptoms move to a shaded or cooled area and offer liquids.
If your baby’s heat exhaustion progresses to heat stroke, you may see any of the following symptoms:
- A temperature of 103 degrees F or higher — but no sweating
- Hot, red, dry skin
- Rapid pulse
- Rapid, shallow breathing
Heat stroke is very dangerous and can result in neurological damage. Call an ambulance and use cool, wet towels to bring down your baby’s temperature. If they can drink, offer liquids while you wait for help.
Remember: Everything that we’ve talked about for your baby counts for every other member of the family as well. Stay cool and safe and we’ll all make it through another summer!