Babies and young children should be watched carefully during hot weather. They can quickly lose body fluids through perspiring, which can lead to dehydration. They need to drink regularly, wear light clothing and be kept cool.
Babies and young children may not show early signs and symptoms of the effects of heat. They may just look unwell or be more irritable than usual. Babies may seem floppy, have drier skin, and refuse to drink, or have fewer wet nappies than usual. The soft spot on top of a baby’s head (fontanelle) may also be lower than usual.
Top tips for keeping your little one cool
When keeping your baby or young child cool during a heat wave, it’s important to remember that their bodies aren’t the same as older children or adults and react to heat differently.
- Dress your baby or young child in light, loose clothing such as a vest and nappy, or loose top.
- Regularly bath them in lukewarm – not cool or cold – water. If your child resists having a bath, wipe them down with a sponge or muslin dipped in lukewarm water.
- When putting your baby or child down for a nap, choose the coolest place in the house. Make sure the cot is clear of bumpers or blankets so air can circulate through. Never leave babies to sleep in a pram as they may overheat.
- If you have a fan, direct it towards the centre of the room to keep the air circulating, not directly at your baby or child.
- If you have an air conditioner, try to keep the room your child is sleeping in around 18C – 20C so they don’t get too cold.
- If you do not have a fan or air conditioner, you can cover your baby’s or toddler’s body with cool damp cloths or muslins. You can also place wrung out wet towels or sheets around the cot to cool the air near them. Check on your baby regularly to make sure they are not getting too cold.
Eating and drinking
Keeping your child hydrated is one of the most important things you can do during a period of intense heat. Young children and babies in particular, are not able to tell you they are thirsty, so it is important to make sure they are getting enough to drink. If you wait until your child is thirsty it is too late, he is already dehydrated! Get your kids drinking before thirst develops and consume additional fluids even after thirst is quenched.
- Breastfeeding mums don’t need to give very young babies extra water during a heatwave as the breast milk provides their babies with all they need, although mums should make sure they drink plenty of fluids.
- If your child also consumes other food, you can give them small amounts of cooled boiled water between feeds.
- Bottle-fed babies may need extra formula or small amounts of cooled boiled water if they seem thirsty.
- Make sure your child has regular drinks throughout the day, such as water or at worst, fruit juice. Avoid giving sugary or fizzy drinks. They can actually dehydrate them further!
- If they’re over 6 months old and get bored with water, try giving them a combination of very diluted fruit juice, frozen fruit pieces (orange quarters, watermelon) for them to suck on and homemade dilute fruit juice lollies throughout the day. For older children, plenty of fruit and salad will also help keep their fluid levels up.
How to keep cool when travelling
Ideally, it’s best to avoid taking your baby or toddler out during periods of intense heat as babies and young children can overheat very quickly, particularly in cars. Even during cooler days, cars can heat up to dangerously high temperatures very quickly. However, if you have to take your baby or child out:
- Try to make trips during the coolest part of the day.
- Never cover a baby seat in a car with a rug or towel to shade from the sun as this will restrict air moving around the baby, which will make them hotter.
- Use sunshades on windows. Use a muslin, towel or stick on shade screen to cover the window next to your baby or toddler so the sun doesn’t shine directly on them through the window.
- Never leave babies or young children alone in a car, no matter what the weather (even in mild weather cars quickly become too hot for small children).
- Don’t leave babies to sleep in a pram in hot weather – prams can be hot and airless; make sure air can circulate around your baby.
How to keep cool at night
- If possible choose the coolest place in the house.
- Keep bedrooms cool throughout the day by closing blinds or curtains. Turn a room fan on before bedtime. A fan can be left on all night – but well out of reach and never pointed directly at the cot or bed.
- Open windows in several rooms to create a through breeze.
- Give them a tepid bath, or sponge bath, before bed and let them air dry while lying on a towel so the evaporation of the water will cool their skin down.
- Make sure the cot is clear of bumpers or blankets so air can circulate through.
- Hanging wrung out wet towels over chairs or windows cools the air.
- Cover waterproof sheets with several layers of cotton sheets to absorb perspiration.
- Remove unnecessary bedding and opt for a cool muslin sleeping bag.
- If your baby is still hot let them sleep in a vest and nappy, or even just a nappy.
- A nursery thermometer will help you monitor the temperature of your baby’s room. Your baby will sleep most comfortably when their room is between 16C (61F) and 20C (68F).
- Remember that the air temperature usually cools during the night. To find out if your baby is at a comfortable temperature – not too hot, not too cold – put your hand to the back of his neck. This will give you an accurate feeling of how warm or cold the rest of their body is, because it is near the core. Arms and legs don’t give an indication of baby’s internal temperature, rather giving a reflection of the external air’s temperature.
Sick babies and children need special care in hot weather
Even with minor illnesses, such as colds or gastroenteritis, babies and small children need special care in hot weather. These illnesses often lead to a slight rise in temperature by themselves, but in hot weather this could lead to dehydration.
Frequent breastfeeding and extra drinks are important if your baby is ill. To cool a baby’s or a child’s hot body, try frequent lukewarm baths – NEVER cold – or sponge your baby or child down. Seek help if there is no improvement or if you are worried.