Two of my four babies were born in the spring, which meant by the time summer rolled around, we were in the throes of intense nursing. Breastfeeding in the heat isn’t for the faint of heart, especially if you’ve got a love/hate sort of feeling for it in the first place. And then, on top of all that, you have to make sure that your baby doesn't overheat while nursing. I tend to run hot anyway, and having a sticky, sweaty baby on top of me while I myself was perspiring was not a cute look — for either one of us.
But I hung in there, and so can you, mama, if you know what to expect. Because you’ll soon realize that if your body is rigid and all you’re thinking is, “God, are you done yet?” your baby is going to pick up on that and not want to nurse... which might result in an even longer session.
“Nursing during the summertime isn’t difficult as long as you stay hydrated and keep your baby close,” says Barbara Cohen, IBCLC, an international board-certified lactation consultant in New York City. Still, there are going to be times when you’re out and about and find that your baby wants to latch on, swelteringly high temps be damned. So if you find that your baby is overheating while nursing, here’s what to do.
1. Avoid Peak Hours
If you can try to schedule your outings for when the sun isn’t directly overhead (between 12 and 2 p.m.), that would be your best bet. Early morning outings and late-day trips will make it easier for outdoor nursing to be accomplished sans stickiness. Plus, it’s important to keep in mind that your baby can’t regulate her body temperature, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. So if your body temperature is cooler, it will also help regulate your baby’s temp, too.
2. Seek The Shade
Try as you might, you may find that you have to be outdoors right smack dab in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its peak. So if baby wants to boob, definitely don’t deny her the nursing session. Look for a shady spot so that you can breastfeed comfortably. You might opt to nurse in your car with the AC on full blast — just not directly on her, of course. Or you can look for some kind of overhang from a building so that you’re not in direct sunlight, or trees to provide some relief from the relentless heat.
3. Keep Her Cool
Since it’s summer, you’ll probably have your baby dressed in an adorable onesie or other clothing that’s weather-appropriate. Thing is, the more skin both you and she are showing, the greater the chance that you’ll start to stick together like Velcro, and not in a good way. If you find that baby starts to sweat while breastfeeding, you can always put a light-colored (and super lightweight) blanket over her. Not only will that prevent the sun from striking her precious little face and body, but it will keep her cooler, too.
4. Bring Water — For You
You might be so focused on making sure that your baby doesn’t dehydrate that you forego your own H2O. But if you don’t drink enough, it could be dangerous for your health as well. But if you start feeling the symptoms of dehydration — thirst, not peeing enough, headache, muscle cramps, or a dry mouth, according to WebMD — drink water, and avoid sugary drinks, which can increase dehydration, as Prevention warned. And keep in mind that the water you bring along is for you, not baby. “Breastmilk is 88 percent water, so it’s all that your baby needs to stay hydrated in hot weather,” says Cohen. When she starts solids (around six months of age), then she’ll need water of her own.
5. Wipe Her Down
A super soft washcloth and a bottle of water can be a nursing mom’s best friend in the summer. Dip the washcloth in water, and wet your baby’s head, and wipe your baby’s face and other exposed skin to cool her down. Just make sure that the water isn’t too cold, though, or it could startle her and make her pull off of your breast suddenly, which can be extremely painful.
6. Look For Signs of Dehydration
It’s important to know the warning signs of dehydration in a baby, as they differ from those of an adult. If you see that your child is not peeing as much, doesn’t have as many tears when she’s crying, is not as playful as usual, or has a sunken spot on her head, then your baby might have mild to moderate dehydration, according to American Academy of Pediatrics.
7. Don’t Force It
Just like you might feel uncomfortable nursing your baby, your little one might also be reticent to breastfeed in the scorching heat. Your baby might not want to nurse as long outside as she would if she were in the cool air conditioning at home. So even though your baby's typical nursing sessions at home last for 30 minutes or more doesn’t mean she’ll stick to her schedule if she’s out in the heat. That's why you shouldn't force her to feed if she pulls off of your breast ahead of time, advises Cohen. "She'll show signs of wanting to nurse if she's hungry or thirsty," says Cohen.
8. Create Some Separation
Sure, experts talk about the benefits of skin-to-skin contact, but have those experts have ever tried to breastfeed a wriggling (and hot) baby in July? Perhaps not. While skin-to-skin is optimal immediately after birth, there’s nothing wrong with creating a little breathing room for you and babe during a heated nursing session. Use a soft and thin cloth or blanket placed between you and baby to prevent you from sticking to each other. “Moms can thermo regulate their babies, so adding in a cloth is more for you and your baby's comfort than anything else,” says Cohen.
9. Do The Lip Test
Here’s a sure-fire way to ensure that your baby is healthily hydrated. Pull her lower lip down: “If it’s wet and shiny inside, that’s a sign that she’s well-hydrated,” says Cohen. But if her bottom lip is dry and tacky, your baby could be suffering from dehydration.
10. Go With The Flow — Literally
You may find that your little one wants to nurse for more frequent but shorter sessions. “Plan to nurse as much as your baby wants to,” advises Cohen. As long as she is producing enough wet diapers and seems to be in overall good health, she’s probably fine. If she’s lethargic or not urinating, get her out of the heat and call your pediatrician, to be on the safe side.
There's no getting around the dog days of summer. But if you make an effort to keep both you and your baby cool, calm, and collected, you should be able to nurse easily, no matter how hot it gets outside.