Ages & Stages: Keep Baby Safe on Hot Summer Days

When it comes to keeping baby cool during the heat of the summer, it’s all up to the grownups. “Unlike adults, babies cannot tell us they are thirsty,” said Ann Keppler, a Seattle registered nurse, parent educator and co-author of “The Simple Guide to Having a Baby.” “They aren’t able to take off their clothing if they are hot, turn on a fan, open a window or move to a cooler spot.”

So as the mercury rises, moms and other caretakers need to be on high alert for situations that can cause infants to overheat — especially because experts believe that there is a connection between overheated babies and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In a study presented last year by scientists at Dartmouth Medical School, researchers working with baby pigs found that increasing their body temperature by just four or five degrees resulted in breathing problems.

Other researchers believe that overheated infants suffering “thermal stress” has been a long-ignored problem in the United States. In a 2003 survey commissioned by the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, researchers discovered that 56 percent of the parents didn’t know the correct temperature at which to keep the room where their baby sleeps.

Children are especially susceptible to heat stroke, say experts, because their core body temperature rises three to five times faster than that of adults. The SIDS Alliance advises parents and caregivers to be alert for these signs of overheating: sweating, damp hair, heat rash, rapid breathing and restlessness.

Keppler offers these tips for keeping your baby safe and cool during the summer:
• Dress your infant in light-colored, loose-fitting, lightweight cotton clothing. If your baby shows signs of overheating, remove all clothing except the diaper and gently wipe his/her body with a cool, damp washcloth. Then move your baby to the coolest setting possible — a room with air conditioning or a fan.
• Make sure your baby is getting enough to drink. If your baby is breastfed or formula fed, feed him/her often and check for lots of wet diapers. If your baby is old enough to eat table foods, offer cool water in a sippy cup or bottle.
• When you are outside, keep your baby in the shade as much as possible. Use strollers with a cover.
• If your baby is in the sun, cover the head with a wide-brimmed hat that protects baby’s face and the back of the neck.
• There are sunglasses available for infants. Buy the type that provides 99 percent to 100 percent UVA and UVB protection.
• The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend the use of sunscreens before 6 months of age. However, it states, “parents can apply a minimal amount of sunscreen to small areas, such as the infant’s face and the back of the hands.”

Never leave an infant or child alone in a hot car. Every year, infants and children die needlessly from deadly overheating. If your baby develops signs of heatstroke (rapid rise of body temperature over 100 degrees; hot, dry, flushed skin; rapid or difficult breathing; and no response to stimulus), seek immediate medical attention. Take your infant to the coolest setting you can find, remove clothing, breastfeed or offer water, and call 911.

Parents and caretakers must also be vigilant during the winter months, say experts. This is because caretakers tend to over-bundle babies in warm blankets, which causes body temperature to rise.

Reprinted with permission from “The Simple Guide to Having a Baby: What You Need to Know,” by E’Louise Ondash (Meadowbrook Press). It is available at bookstores everywhere or visit www.meadowbrookpress.com.