Whether you’re heading abroad or taking a break in Britain, if you’re going to be out enjoying the warmer summer weather, you need to know how to help your baby adapt to rising temperatures and protect his skin from the sun…
1. Stay in the shade
Grown-ups might love to sunbathe, but your tot’s skin is very different to yours. ‘A baby’s skin is much thinner than an adult’s, so burns far more easily,’ explains nurse-turned-nanny Hannah Love.
A baby’s skin has hardly any melanin – the pigment that helps protect from the sun’s rays. So, it’s vital to keep a baby under six months in the shade when possible. If he is in sunlight, he should be covered with loose clothing, so the rays don’t hit his skin directly.
Older babies and toddlers can enjoy some sunshine if they’re protected with a high-factor sunscreen. Choose one specifically formulated for babies and toddlers to avoid irritating their more sensitive skin. Use one with a sun protection factor (SPF) no lower than 25, and preferably 50.
‘Make sure your sun cream is new, as the factor diminishes as the cream gets older,’ advises Hannah. Generously apply to all skin that’s showing. Don’t forget the ears and any scalp that’s showing, including a hair parting. And dab, rather than smear, it on the skin.
3. Pack protective gear
Sun-safe clothing and kit is vital. ‘If your tot is in direct sunlight, he should wear a hat, protective clothing and sunglasses,’ says Hannah. Opt for a body-covering sunsuit with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating of 50+ to block out 97.5% of the sun’s rays. Choose a hat with a strap under the chin to avoid it being pulled off. For sunglasses, look for the CE Mark, the British Standard BSEN 1836:2005 and a UV 400 label. A wrap-around style will help keep out all the sun’s rays.
4. Treat sunburn properly
If your tot does get pink shoulders or a burnt nose, treat it seriously. ‘Keep an eye on him,’ says Hannah. ‘Ensure he’s hydrated and give a child-appropriate painkiller, such as Calpol, under the guidance of a pharmacist or GP. Apply calamine lotion, aloe vera products or Sudocrem.’ If it is more severe or blisters, seek medical help.
5. Keep him hydrated
In a hot climate, tots need more fluids to stay hydrated. If you’re breastfeeding, as long as you stay well hydrated, you don’t need to worry. ‘Breastmilk becomes more watery in the heat in order to hydrate babies – how clever is that!’ says Hannah.
‘If you’re bottle-feeding, offer water in between feeds to keep up fluid levels.’ Be alert for fewer wet nappies, as this is the first sign of dehydration.
A sunken fontanelle (soft spot on the head) in very small babies can also be an indication. ‘Offer sips of water or breastfeed more often,’ says Hannah. ‘For older babies and toddlers, dilute mineral-rich coconut water to combat dehydration.’ If your baby has low energy, is unresponsive or refusing fluids, seek medical help.
6. Expect an appetite dip
It’s very common for a weaned tot’s appetite to reduce in the heat. ‘Try not to worry about food and just concentrate on fluids, such as watered-down fruit juice,’ advises Hannah. Try making ice pops with water and fruit juice, and smoothies by blending fruit and water.
‘Think of your tot’s body as a sponge,’ advises Hannah. ‘Give small sips of fluid throughout the day and the sponge will soak this up. But give one big drink three times a day and most of the fluid runs straight off the sponge (or through the body).’
7. Stay cool
‘A baby doesn’t have the ability to regulate temperature like an adult,’ explains Hannah. The area of the brain that does this (the hypothalamus) doesn’t mature until age five. ‘A higher metabolism means a baby’s body temperature is higher than an adult’s, plus a baby doesn’t have the same ability to sweat,’ adds Hannah. ‘So it’s important that you monitor and help your baby regulate his temperature. The best way is to stay in the shade.’
Watch out for hot pushchairs and prams too. Ensure air can circulate and fit a sun-protective canopy or pop a white muslin over the hood to reflect heat. ‘If your tot gets hot, playing in water in the shade will cool him down,’ says Hannah.
8. Avoid sticky nights
‘Before bed, give your baby a tepid (not cold) bath and use a low-tog sleeping bag and a cotton vest,’ says Hannah. ‘A frozen bottle of water in front of a fan acts as a homemade air-conditioning unit, but make sure your baby isn’t directly in the breeze.’ During the day, close curtains and blinds to keep the room cool.
9. Embrace Vitamin D
If your baby is older than six months, some sun exposure can be good. ‘In summer, older babies need to have their hands and face exposed to direct sunlight for 15 minutes, a few times a week, to get enough vitamin D from sunlight,’ advises Hannah. Avoid any unprotected exposure between 11am and 2pm when the sun is strongest. At other times, don’t worry if your tot wants to explore in the sunshine for a few moments before you get the sunscreen.