Before You Spend All Day Outside, Here's What You Should Know About Your Baby & Heat

One of the worst things about living in the south, in my experience, is our summers are extremely hot and uncomfortable — and they last forever. And not only is it in the 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit territory all summer long, but the humidity makes you feel like you live in a swamp. Usually between end of April and sometimes even until early October, you’ll feel sticky and sweaty. My son’s due in May, so thankfully, while I’m missing the misery of summer pregnancy in Georgia, I’m worried about him. How long can babies be outside in the summer? I know I’m always uncomfortable, and I can’t imagine how he must be feeling, especially with his brand new skin.

According to Dr. S. Daniel Ganjian, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, it depends on the temperature outside and the amount of direct sunlight your baby will be getting. “In general, try not to stay outside when temperatures are over 85 degrees. The rule of thumb is if you are not comfortable outside, then neither is your child. Keep your child in shaded areas and minimize direct sunlight as much as possible to avoid sunburns, UV rays, heat rash, and dehydration.”

Fun fact: Ganjian says 80 percent of your total sun exposure happens before you turn 18 years old. So “to prevent future skin disease, sun protection must start in childhood, ideally from birth. UV radiation can cause much damage … keep your child in the shade and use light, long-sleeved clothing. Make sure you give your child plenty of fluids to keep him hydrated,” he suggests.

So when can you start using sunblock on a baby? Ganjian says babies over 6 months old should be using a sunblock with SPF 30. And you need to re-apply the sunscreen every 2 hours and whenever your baby comes out of the water. Otherwise, before 6 months, don’t put sunscreen on your baby because their skin is extra sensitive. To protect your infant from UV rays before they can use sunscreen, you can try to keep them out of direct sunlight. But if it’s unavoidable, use hypoallergenic sunblock, according to Ganjian. You can also use light, long-sleeved clothing that’s breathable to protect their skin from the UV rays, just make sure they’re hydrated and the long-sleeved clothing is light enough so they don’t get overheated.

If your child has a fever, a decreased number of wet diapers, is cranky or overly tired, they may be overheated, according to Ganjian. In that case, “Give your child plenty of fluids, a lukewarm bath, and call your pediatrician.” Heat exhaustion typically occurs right before a heat stroke, and Baby Center noted that their skin will be cool and moist, but they’ll be unusually thirsty and tired. If it progresses into heat stroke territory, Baby Center said your baby will show the following symptoms: “A temperature of 103 degrees or higher, rapid pulse, hot and red skin, vomiting, headache, rapid breathing, lethargy or even unconsciousness.” They may also appear to be confused and dizzy. If you notice these signs, call 911 immediately and undress your baby and put them in a cool area while sponging them down with a cold washcloth and fan them, Baby Center suggested.

As long as your baby is in the shade, and not outside for a long period of time if it’s above 85 degrees, your baby should be OK. Remember, if you’re uncomfortable in the heat, they probably are, too, so be sure to act accordingly — especially if you live in the swampy south.

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