There’s no avoiding the fact that heatwaves are hitting the headlines more and more frequently. The last five years have been the hottest since records began and countries across the world are experiencing new temperature highs. If you’re looking after a baby when it’s hot, it can be stressful trying to keep everyone cool, calm and safe. Here are some pointers on what to watch out for when the weather really heats up.
How does hot weather affect babies?
Babies can’t regulate their own body temperature, so they’re at a higher risk of becoming unwell in the heat. If it gets too hot for us adults, we automatically sweat to cool down. But babies can’t sweat efficiently, so they can overheat much quicker and it can cause more serious illness.
Overheating can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke with symptoms like fast, shallow breathing, vomiting and becoming unresponsive. Babies and young children are also more at risk of dehydration than adults because they’re more sensitive to even small changes in the amount of fluid in their bodies. Both heatstroke and dehydration can become a serious problem if they’not sorted out quickly.
As well as these serious conditions, the heat can cause general discomfort for babies, making them more irritable. You might also notice a heat rash where their skin has got hot and sweaty.
If you think your baby is suffering from any heat-related illness, contact your doctor or health visitor straight away for advice.
Signs your baby is too hot
As your baby grows, you’ll get to know what’s normal for them. But in the early weeks and months it can be tricky to tell if they’re too hot, too cold or just right. In a heatwave, take how you’re feeling as the first rule of thumb. And remember babies can’t regulate their own temperature, so if you’re hot, chances are they are hotter.
Here are a few easy ways to check if your baby is overheating:
Room temperature and layers
The ideal temperature for a baby’s room is between 16-20°C (61-68°F). And here’s a handy guide to changing layers of clothing and bedding with the temperature.
When you touch your baby’s tummy, back and neck, it should feel comfortably warm. If they feel hot, clammy or sweaty, it’s time to take steps to cool them down (see below). Don’t rely on checking your baby’s hands and feet because they’re often colder than the rest of their body. Some babies’ skin also flushes red when they’re hot.
If you have a thermometer to hand, check your baby’s temperature. Contact your doctor or health visitor if baby is under three months and their temperature is 38C (101F) or if they’re three to six months and their temperature is 39C (102F) or higher.
It’s obviously really difficult to tell if baby is crying specifically because they’re hot. But if you’ve checked off all the usual suspects – feed, clean diaper, sleep – then they may be trying to tell you something else. Remove a layer or go somewhere cooler to see if it helps.
If your baby is having the usual number of wet diapers, that’s a good sign they’re getting enough fluids. So, if they’re drier than you’d expect, offer them more breastfeeds or formula. Just like adults, babies need to take in more fluids when it’s hot.
When you’ve got a little baby, it can feel like you’re googling symptoms every other day. Be reassured, it is always better to be safe than sorry, so if your baby becomes less responsive, has rapid breathing or heart rate, has very dry skin, vomiting or diarrhea, get medical help straight away.
How to help keep baby cool during a heatwave
Adults know to sit in the shade, go get a glass of water or take a cool shower if they get too hot. But babies obviously need their carer to anticipate all of these needs for them. Luckily, there’s plenty you can do to keep your baby safe and well in a heatwave.
- Stay out of the sun completely if possible. If you have to take baby out in the sun, try to avoid the peak heat between 10am and 3pm. Check out our 5 steps to baby sun safety post for some top tips.
- Use a sunshade if you’re taking bay out in a stroller. Any shade you use should allow air to move freely around the baby as air temperatures can rise to dangerous levels in an enclosed space.
- Cars and car seats can get really hot, really quickly. If you need to take baby in the car, cool it down as much as possible before putting baby in, dress them in one light layer without a hat and use window shades. Never leave a baby in a parked car, even for one minute.
- Give your baby more feeds, whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Breast fed babies don’t need extra water as well as breast milk (just make sure you’re drinking plenty of water), but you can give bottle fed babies some cooled, boiled water in addition to their formula feeds.
- Dress your baby in loose, cotton clothing and a wide-brimmed hat if you’re heading outside. Indoors, stay in the coolest part of the house and strip back the layers as much as you need to. They may be most comfortable in just their diaper if it’s really hot.
- Put a muslin or cloth between you and your baby’s skin when you’re cuddling or feeding them, so you don’t get sweaty.
- Let your baby have a kick about in a safe space on the floor in a cool room. Give them plenty of diaper-free time too, if possible.
- If you have a shady spot outside, splashing with your baby in a paddling pool or clean washing up bowl can help to keep them cool. Remember, never leave your baby unattended around water.
- Cool down baby’s room by keeping the blinds or curtains closed all day. If you use a fan, make sure it’s out of reach and not directed at your baby. If it’s safe to do so, keep multiple windows and doors open to create a through breeze. Hanging a wet towel over the window or the back of a chair can cool the air.
- Night times can be really difficult for babies in a heatwave. You could try giving your baby a lukewarm (not cold) bath before bedtime. Use minimum nightwear and bedding. If it’s really hot they could be just in their diaper with a thin sheet over. Just keep checking them through the night, as temperatures can dip in the early hours.
If you’re planning on being in the sun, you should read our post 5 steps to baby sun safety too. It’s packed full of tips to keep your little one safe and sound.