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Mother and babies on beach

Mums often worry about their babies being too cold but not as many realise there are a lot of problems that can arise from babies becoming too hot in the sun.

These include:

  • Heatstroke or sunstroke
  • Prickly heat
  • Sunburn

Heatstroke

Babies’ internal heat regulation systems aren’t very well developed when they are little. Your little one can’t tell you when they’re too hot, so the risk of heatstroke for babies is much higher than in adults. Heatstroke, (whether from the sun or other conditions such as being too warmly dressed in a car seat), can come on really quickly and can even be fatal.

On hot days, make sure your baby isn’t wearing too many clothes, that they stay in the shade, and that they have plenty of fluids or water to drink (if you’re breastfeeding, make sure you keep yourself hydrated and offer more breastfeeds in hot weather).

In hot and sunny weather don’t:

  • Carry your baby for too long bundled up in a sling in the sun
  • Keep your baby cooped up in a pram or car seat in the direct sun
  • And NEVER leave your baby in a car on a hot day, even with the windows open

If you are worried that your baby has been exposed to the conditions above in the heat or in the sun, then look out for the following symptoms:

  • Hot skin – can be either dry or moist
  • Fever or high temperature
  • Diarrhoea
  • Agitation or lethargy
  • Convulsions or febrile seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

Heatstroke is serious and you should take your baby to A&E immediately if your baby has been overheated and is displaying the symptoms above.

Prickly heat

Prickly heat is an intensely itchy and miserable condition caused by excessive sweating in hot and humid weather conditions.

The symptoms of prickly heat (or miliaria), is a horribly itchy rash of small, red and raised spots that feel prickly, itchy or stinging. The rash can appear anywhere but it commonly occurs on your child’s face, upper torso and thighs.

Prickly heat usually develops when a child sweats more than usual, such as during hot or humid weather. Babies and children are at much higher risk of getting prickly heat because their sweat glands are not fully developed. When the sweat glands become blocked and sweating continues, the sweat can actually get trapped under your baby’s skin.

You can help to soothe prickly heat with calamine lotion and speak to your child’s doctor or pharmacist about using a hydrocortisone cream if the rash is sore and itchy.

Sunburn

You should never allow your baby to get sunburnt, and sunbathing is not appropriate.

  • Babies’ skin is much more easily burned than adult skin. Even one severe sunburn on your baby’s skin when they are young can double the risk of skin cancers later in life
  • Babies with light skin, light eyes and fair hair are the most susceptible, but babies with dark skin can also get sunburn

However, remember that your child’s skin type, where you are in the world and the weather conditions all affect susceptibility to sunburn. So the advice for a dark-skinned child playing out in the woods on a hazy day in Scotland is not the same as for a light-skinned child playing by the sea on a hot day in Spain. You need to use your common sense and if you are confused about the advice, discuss sun protection with your baby’s doctor. In general:

  • Babies under six months shouldn’t spend time uncovered in hot, direct sunlight
  • If your older baby will be going out in the sun, you need to apply a baby-friendly sunscreen at least 15 minutes beforehand. It can be easier to protect the lips, nose and ears (places that often get sunburned) with a special high-SPF sun stick
  • Initial exposure for young babies should start with a few minutes to a maximum of around 20 minutes in direct sunlight
  • Keep your baby in a wide-brimmed sunhat on summer days
  • It’s more comfortable to schedule outside activities for the morning or late afternoon on hot days, avoiding being out in the midday sun for long periods
  • All-in-one SPF suits with in-built sun protection are great for waterplay outside. They look like tiny, light wetsuits and are very sensible as well as cute
  • Remember that you can’t see sunburn as it’s developing – you can see it only a few hours after it’s occurred and by then, it’s too late

Information about the sun

  • The sun’s rays are strongest between 10am and 3pm and peak at noon in midsummer
  • The sun still comes through clouds on hot, cloudy days, so be careful then too
  • The sun bounces off snow, sand and sea so take special care in these situations to avoid burning as you may not feel hot in these conditions, but your skin and your child’s skin may still burn

What sort of sunscreen should I buy for my baby?

High SPF – at least 30, preferably 50

Effectiveness – the sunscreen should screen out UVB and UVA rays – look for this on the package.

Allergies – if your baby has any allergies or is prone to eczema or asthma, they will be at increased risk of allergies to sunscreens. Always test out a tiny patch of skin first and see if there’s any reaction. Most common irritants in sunscreens are para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), fragrances and colourings – so choose PABA-free, fragrance-free, colouring-free sun creams for sensitive skins.

Sun protection in the water – waterproof sunscreen is the best, followed by water-resistant. Waterproof will last for about four 20-minute periods in the water. Water-resistant will last for about two. So reapply regularly.

Sun safety and vitamin D deficiency

There has been a lot of discussion by medical groups at conferences and in the news around sun safety and the vital importance of ensuring babies, children and adults get sufficient vitamin D.

Lots of groups have come together to announce the following consensus statement which represents the unified views of the:

  • British Association of Dermatologists
  • Cancer Research UK
  • Diabetes UK
  • Multiple Sclerosis Society
  • National Heart Forum
  • National Osteoporosis Society
  • Primary Care Dermatology Society

Together they say:

“Vitamin D is essential for good bone health and for most people, sunlight is the most important source of vitamin D. The time required to make sufficient vitamin D varies according to a number of environmental, physical and personal factors but is typically short and less than the amount of time needed for skin to redden and burn. Enjoying the sun safely, while taking care not to burn, can help to provide the benefits of vitamin D without unduly raising the risk of skin cancer. Vitamin D supplements and specific foods can help to maintain sufficient levels of vitamin D, particularly in people at risk of deficiency.”

For more information on the vital importance of vitamin D to your child’s health, take a look at our article ‘Vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin‘.

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