How to Keep Your Baby Safe and Comfortable in the Summer Heat

When the mercury rises, keep your baby happy and healthy with our hot-weather survival guide.

Hot summer days used to mean carefree days laying out by the pool or swimming in lakes, but as a new parent, might find yourself more concerned about your baby's safety in the heat. And that's understandable since hot weather can quickly become dangerous for infants. Learn more about the impact of heat on a baby's body and how to keep your little one safe in summer weather.

The Risks of Excess Heat for Babies

Once the temperature gets over 80 degrees, the body has a harder time cooling off, especially for babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has no official statement on babies and high temperatures, but Jan Montague, M.D., director of pediatrics at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern, NY, says to avoid the heat as much as possible.

"It is not OK to take a newborn or any infant outside when it's very hot—over 80 degrees or so," she says. "Babies cannot sweat, which is your body's way of cooling itself off, so they can often suffer heat stroke much quicker than an older child or adult." Plus, babies can get dehydrated faster, too. Heat rash is also a concern.

Overheating has also been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a fatal sleeping disorder. "Babies sleep deeply when they're hot, making them difficult to arouse, which may increase the risk of SIDS," explains Bruce Epstein, M.D., a pediatrician in Pinellas Park, Florida.

How to Keep Your Baby Safe in the Heat

To make sure your little one stays cool and protected during the long, hot days of summer, check out our expert advice.

Pick the right clothes

If you're going to be indoors, dress your infant in loose-fitting, lightweight garments, preferably made from a natural fiber like cotton, which absorbs perspiration better than synthetic fabrics. A good rule of thumb: "Dress the baby the way you're dressed," Dr. Epstein says. "If you're wearing shorts and a T-shirt, that will be fine for her, too."

For the outdoors, put them in light-colored long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a wide-brimmed hat to shield their face. Resist the temptation to leave them exposed to the sun on a gray day, since harmful rays can still penetrate the clouds and result in a sunburn.

Provide good ventilation

Since a baby doesn't perspire effectively, they can become overheated far more quickly than an adult. That's why you should never leave an infant in a hot room or a parked car. Even a few minutes could cause their temperature to spike and, in extreme cases, may prove life-threatening. According to the AAP, dozens of babies and children die of heat stroke after accidentally being left in (or crawling into) hot cars each year.

In addition, don't overdress your newborn for the car. "Since we keep babies rather tight in the car seat and rear-facing, it can get quite hot, so keep them dressed in one light layer only, no hats or feet covered—babies transfer some heat out to cool themselves from their feet and head," Montague says. "Also, make sure the sun is not beating on the infant during your drive." You can use a window shade to avoid sunburn.

Use a summer-friendly baby carrier

The combination of your body heat and the carrier's confining space can make an infant hot and bothered within a matter of minutes. If you want to use a carrier in warmer weather, choose a carrier made from lightweight nylon rather than a heavy fabric like denim, and if your child's face starts to look flushed, remove them from the carrier.

"You can help keep your baby cool by spraying his hands and feet with water or by wiping him with a wet cloth occasionally," Dr. Montague says. "A carrier that is lightweight made from thin material will keep him cooler than one made of thick, dark material."

Keep them hydrated

Even if you don't see beads of sweat dripping from your infant's forehead, they can be losing precious fluids to perspiration in hot weather. A flushed face, skin that's warm to the touch, rapid breathing, and restlessness may be warning signs of dehydration.

Since infants under 6 months shouldn't drink water (babies over 6 months can take in modest amounts), replace the lost liquids by nursing more frequently or giving them extra formula. Babies should drink at least 50% more than usual in the summer (normal fluid intake is at least 2 ounces per pound per day), so a 10-pound baby who usually takes in 20 ounces should be offered a minimum of 30 ounces. Also, make sure your newborn is having as many wet diapers as usual.

Baby Care Basics: Baby Sunburn Treatment

Time outdoor activities wisely

The worst time for your baby (and you, for that matter) to be outdoors in the summer months is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun does the most harm to skin, says Eric Siegel, M.D., a dermatologist in Millburn, New Jersey. Plan outdoor activities before or after this peak period.

Watch for signs of heat exhaustion

When outside with your little one, monitor them closely for signs of heat exhaustion. "If he's overheated, he may get very cranky or irritable, or he may get very lethargic and not wake to eat or drink," Dr. Montague says.

Also, look to see if they are flushed or feel hotter than normal. "As the overheating gets more severe, she might be more sleepy, might vomit, and her skin might go from being moist to very dry," Dr. Broder says. "She can develop a fever. A baby with these signs needs immediate medical attention."

Seek out shade

When you arrive at the beach or the park, look for a protected spot, such as under a tree, an umbrella, or a canopy. A handy item to take to the shore is a tent made of fabric treated to block the sun's harmful rays. Make sure it has see-through mesh sides for proper ventilation. Sunglasses for your little one can protect their eyes and reduce glare—just make sure that the label states that the lenses block at least 99% of ultraviolet (UVA and UVB) radiation.

Use sunscreen

Since a baby under 6 months has thin, delicate skin, try to keep them out of direct sunlight. But for times when that's impractical (such as when taking a dip in the water), make sure they're wearing sunscreen. The American Academy of Pediatrics now says it's OK to apply a minimal amount of sunscreen to a baby's exposed skin, including their face.

For a baby older than 6 months, use sunscreen more liberally and more often. Reapply every two hours, or whenever they get wet or sweaty. Choose a waterproof sunscreen designed for kids, with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Apply it under clothing, too. "An average cotton T-shirt has an SPF of only five," Dr. Siegel notes.

Be prepared with skin soothers

If an infant sweats profusely during hot, humid weather, tiny red bumps may start to cluster on their neck or groin, in the folds of their skin at the back of their knees, or in the crease of their elbows. This is known as heat rash. To relieve heat rash, remove the sticky outfit and dress them in loose cotton clothes (or simply a diaper), and apply cornstarch baby powder to the affected areas. Keeping them in a cool, well-ventilated room will help relieve symptoms, too.

A sunburn, characterized by hot, red, swollen skin that's painful to the touch, can cause a baby even greater misery. Contact your doctor immediately if a child under age 1 gets a sunburn. They'll likely have you apply cool (not cold) tap water, followed by a moisturizer, to the burned area. Don't pop blisters; they protect against infection. Your child's pediatrician may also recommend infants' acetaminophen or ibuprofen for relieving any burn-related discomfort.

The Bottom Line

In hot weather, it's important to keep a baby cool and protected from the sun. Contact their doctor if you have any questions or concerns about taking care of your infant in the heat—or if you're worried they may have heat stroke or a sunburn.

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