All winter long, I dream of the long, lazy poolside days and seemingly endless beach trips that come with summer. But for new parents, summertime also brings up about a million and one questions. Like, exactly how long can babies be outside in the summer? Can a newborn even wear sunscreen? How do you do this whole summer fun thing with a baby?
How Hot Is Too Hot For Your Baby To Be Outside?
First and foremost, before you head out for a fun-filled summer day with a baby in tow, you’ll want to take note of exactly how high the temps might climb outside. But, what temperature is safe to take baby outside in summer?
“A heat index — how hot it really feels when humidity is factored in — of 90 degrees or higher can pose health risks to children and should be avoided,” Dr. Talia Levy, a pediatrician at Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, tells Romper.
Because of the inherent risks when the temperatures rise, pediatrician Dr. Whitney Casares tells Romper, “It's generally not a good idea to take an infant or baby outdoors for extended periods of time. Once the outside temperature reaches about 80 degrees or higher, sustained outdoor time can put your baby at risk for issues like dehydration or heat stroke.”
How Long Can A Newborn Be Outside In The Heat?
Understanding when a baby can be outside in the heat has to do with not only how hot it is out, but how long you’ll be outdoors, whether or not you’ll be in direct sunlight, and what precautions you take.
Generally though, you’ll want to limit your time outside with a newborn. “Limiting outside time for newborns during the summer months is important to maintain their hydration and avoid overheating,” Casares tells Romper.
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. I know I’m always uncomfortable, and I can’t imagine how he must be feeling, especially with his brand new skin.
“Monitor your infant closely to determine how long it's OK to keep them outdoors. Make sure they are drinking well and making lots of wet diapers,” Levy says. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind, as Levy explains, is “if you feel too hot, they likely do, too.”
Heed The Signs Of Heat Intolerance & Know When To Head Indoors
“Signs of heat illnesses, such as the more mild heat exhaustion or the more severe heat stroke, always have an elevated temperature, ranging from 100.4 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit in those with heat exhaustion to a fever of more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit in those with heat stroke,” Levy says.
Heat exhaustion typically occurs right before a heat stroke, so it’s important to watch for signs and signals of intolerance before a fever sets in.
“When babies are overheated, they can become harder to waken, irritable, cranky, and less inclined to eat or drink. Severe overheating can make a baby extremely sleepy,” Casares says. “You might also notice his or her skin becomes very dry instead of moist. Babies can even develop fever in some cases.”
Additionally, Levy recommends that parents keep their eyes peeled for “increased thirst; dry, red and hot skin; vomiting; diarrhea or even a loss of consciousness” while outdoors with your baby. If you notice these signs and symptoms in your baby, it’s important to get them out of the heat immediately and seek medical help.
Precautions To Take When Outside With Your Baby
“When you're outdoors with your young baby, make sure to keep him or her cool and comfortable by providing adequate shade, offering frequent opportunities for hydration, and utilizing hats and breathable, long-sleeve clothing for sun protection,” Casares says. “Taking breaks indoors can be helpful, too, especially on particularly hot days.”
Levy recommends that parents “limit sun exposure during the hours of peak intensity,” from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. She also adds, “It is best to keep infants less than 6 months of age out of direct sunlight,” so having a pop-up shade, umbrella, or something similar on hand when you spend time outdoors with a young baby is best.
If your baby will be exposed to the sun’s harmful rays, Levy explains that sometimes sunscreen is necessary, even for young babies. “When it comes to sunscreen, for infants less than 6 months old, it is OK to use a sunscreen SPF 15 or higher to the small amounts of exposed skin,” Levy says. “For those older than 6 months of age, it is fine to apply sunscreen all over the body. Always apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply it at least every two hours. Don’t forget to also use sunscreen on cloudy days.”
Here’s the truth about spending time outside with your baby — it takes effort, awareness, and planning. You’ll probably feel quite loaded down between extra bottles for hydration, hats, portable fans, sunscreen, an umbrella, a pop-up shade, and every other bit of baby gear you’ll need to keep your little one cool and comfortable. But once you’re prepared, it’s totally possible to enjoy a bit of summer sun with your baby.
Dr. Talia Levy, pediatrician, Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore
Dr. Whitney Casares, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P., author of The New Baby Blueprint: Caring for You and Your Little One
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