Summertime brings warm weather and lots of sunshine. But parents of infants, in particular, should keep a few essential heat and sun safety tips in mind while enjoying the season.
"Outside time is so important for babies' growth and development. So we want to make sure we are giving babies the opportunity to go outside, but of course, keeping them safe while doing so," says Sushmita Yallapragada, M.D., Neonatologist and Associate Medical Director of the Level IV NICU at Children's Health℠ and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern.
Dr. Yallapragada, also a mother of two young children, answers common questions about how to keep newborns and infants safe during the hot summer months.
What outside temperature is too hot for a baby?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests parents avoid taking babies outside for long periods of time if the heat index is greater than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Prolonged outdoor exposure on extremely hot days can cause babies to overheat quickly.
"Babies are not as effective at cooling their bodies as adults because they do not sweat normally," explains Dr. Yallapragada. "In addition, babies are not able to tell you if they are overheating and not feeling well. Take breaks every 15-30 minutes or sooner based on your child's response to the heat."
Before making outdoor plans with your baby during summer, check the local heat index. When you do enjoy outside time, you can take simple precautions to keep your baby safe.
How can I keep my baby cool in summer?
If the heat index is above 75- or 80-degrees Fahrenheit, take these five steps to keep your baby cool while spending time outside.
1. Seek shade.
Park your baby's stroller or blanket under a tree or in another shady spot to avoid direct sun exposure.
2. Dress baby coolly.
During hot days, dress your baby in a single layer of lightly colored, moisture-absorbent but breathable material, such as a lightweight cotton onesie or romper. Opt for fabrics like cotton and linen and avoid synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon.
"Infants should be dressed appropriately for the environment, with no more than one additional layer than an adult would wear comfortably at that temperature – for daytime or sleeping," Dr. Yallapragada says.
3. Drink liquids.
Offer breastmilk or formula to keep infants hydrated. It's generally recommended to wait until babies are at least 6 months of age to offer water. Older babies and toddlers should drink water while playing outdoors to help stay cool and hydrated.
4. Schedule extra rest time.
Time in the heat can cause infants to feel extra tired. "Planning time for babies to rest or nap following outside playtime can be helpful," says Dr. Yallapragada.
5. Avoid the hottest parts of the day.
Plan to take your baby out in the early morning or late evening hours so you can spend the hottest parts of the day inside. When outside, consider using a portable stroller fan to help baby stay cool.
How can I protect my baby's skin from the sun?
It's important to be mindful about how much sun exposure your baby is getting – especially since infant skin can sunburn easily.
Summer skin care for babies under 6 months
Sunscreen should not be applied to babies under 6 months of age. "Sunscreens can cause skin irritation in a young baby's developing skin," Dr. Yallapragada explains.
Instead, take steps to keep newborns and young infants out of direct sunlight:
- Seek trees or other sources of shade.
- Dress babies in a wide-brimmed sun hat and sunglasses to block the sun from their face and eyes.
- Use a stroller shade or umbrella to block the sun from babies' arms and legs.
- Apply a car window shade to block direct sunlight from reaching your baby during car rides.
Summer skin care for babies 6 months and older
Babies 6-12 months of age should use a hypoallergenic and fragrance-free sunscreen since these varieties are less likely to sting babies' eyes or potentially irritate their skin.
Look for broad-spectrum sunscreens that offer both UVA and UVB protection with a minimum SPF of 30. Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours – or sooner, if your baby has been swimming or sweating.
What should I do if my baby gets a heat rash?
Heat rash, a skin irritation that looks like red pimples or blisters, can occur if babies' skin gets overly sweaty. You may notice a heat rash breakout on your baby's neck, chest, groin, armpits or elbow creases. "It can happen at any age, but it's quite common in young babies and children," says Dr. Yallapragada.
If your baby gets heat rash, bring them inside to cooler, air-conditioned air. Give them a bath or use a washcloth to wipe away the sweat. Replace their sweaty clothes with a cool, dry outfit. There is no need to apply any powders or skin ointments to heat rash; it should clear up on its own once the baby's skin cools down.
What's the ideal temperature for a baby's room in summer?
According to the AAP, the ideal temperature for a baby's room is between 68 and 72 degrees. Keeping a baby's room cool is especially important when they sleep, as overheating can put an infant at risk for SIDS.
If you set your thermostat higher during the summer months or your air conditioning has a tough time cooling your home, keep window blinds or curtains shut to block direct sunlight. You can also use fans to circulate air.
If you lose access to air conditioning at home – either through a power outage or mechanical issue – consider spending the day at a library, shopping mall or community "cooling center" where indoor temperatures remain comfortable.
How can I tell if my baby is too hot?
You can tell that your baby is getting too hot by watching for the following signs:
- Extreme fatigue or drowsiness
- Disinterest in feeding/drinking
- Flushed face
- Sweatiness (may be more apparent in older children)
If your baby shows signs of overheating, take them indoors into a cool space. Apply cool washcloths or offer a cool bath. Replace sweaty clothes with a clean, cool outfit. Offer milk or formula to help them rehydrate.
If your baby still seems overly hot after these steps, call your pediatrician – particularly if you notice it's been several hours since your baby had a wet diaper and/or your baby is vomiting, having muscle spasms or breathing quickly. These could be signs of dehydration or heat illness, and you may need to get your baby in to see a doctor right away.
What other steps should I take to keep my baby safe this summer?
As temperatures rise, it's important to never leave a baby alone in a hot car, even for a moment. Temperatures inside a closed car can rise to dangerous levels quickly, so always take steps to ensure you don't leave a child alone in the back seat. See five tips to prevent hot car tragedies.
Similarly, maintain careful adult supervision whenever your babies and older kids are around a pool this summer. Follow these essential pool safety tips to avoid the risk of injury or drowning.
More summer safety tips
Children's Health is here to help keep your family healthy and safe this summer. See more summer safety tips.