Your baby or toddler cannot tell you he or she is too hot. An over-hot child may not just be uncomfortable… there is a real risk of dehydration or heat exhaustion, and in extreme cases, heatstroke. And baby’s reaction to being too hot will only make things worse – crying means getting even more red-faced, sweaty and distressed.
Severe dehydration can be life-threatening!
Losing even small amounts of fluid can lead quickly to dehydration in a baby or young child. Feeling thirsty or lightheaded are warning signs, but your baby cannot tell you – he or she may just seem distressed or lethargic. However, fewer wet nappies and darker, strong-smelling urine, are visible signs.
If baby’s inner-body temperature rises to 37-40°C (98.6-104°F), heat exhaustion can occur. Water and salt levels will decrease, causing nausea, light-headedness and heavy sweating, but these symptoms are difficult to identify – baby may be crying, so more red-faced and sweaty. The best way to check is to take baby’s temperature – act immediately to reduce it if it is high.
Severe heatstroke can cause organ failure, brain damage and death. Rapid shallow breathing (hyperventilation), confusion, and unconsciousness are signs, but in a baby these may not be obvious. Check baby’s temperature with an infant’s thermometer – above 40°C (104°F) is classed as heatstroke, needing urgent medical attention.
During warm weather, keep baby hydrated and prevent overheating with some simple precautions:
- Always give plenty of fluids – if baby is breast fed only, extra feeds will supply the extra fluid, if baby is on solids, give cooled boiled water throughout the day by bottle, spoon, or sipping cup. From six months old, very dilute fruit juice or homemade fruit juice lollies, fresh fruit and salads will help keep fluid levels up.
- Keep your baby or young child out of the sun, or well shaded – especially between 11am and 3pm. Put a sunhat on your young child – one with a wide brim, or a front peak and flap at the back.
- Use specially-formulated high-factor sunscreen (SPF50+) even on cloudy days, and re-apply often – especially if your child is in and out of water.
- Dress baby in loose cotton clothes – synthetic fabrics are hot – and leave baby without a nappy as much as you can.
- Energetic play will cause fluid loss through sweating – encourage quiet activities.
- Cool baby with supervised splashing in a paddling pool, cold wet flannels, or a tepid bath – all followed by air-drying.
- Never have your child in a car for too long – travelling or stationary. Air conditioning should be effective but not blow directly on baby, and open windows will just bring hot air in and the wind may affect baby’s eyes. If car windows are not tinted, use a sun shade.
- Be watchful if baby is asleep in the pram as air does not circulate well in prams – a mini portable fan is useful.
- Monitor bedroom temperature – special thermometers are available. 16°C (61°F) to 20°C (68°F) is comfortable for sleeping.
- Close curtains by day, create air-flow by opening windows in other rooms, use a fan (out of reach and not pointed at your child), or hang wet towels near the window.
- Minimize nightwear and bedding – just a nappy and a light cover that will not come loose and tangle.
- Avoid cot padding as air cannot circulate, and avoid rubberised under-sheets or cover them with layers of cotton sheets.
- Baby will be cooled by (and enjoy) a tepid bath, then lying on a towel to air dry before sleep time.
Under his or her clothing, feel baby’s tummy, back, or at the back of the neck to check body heat.
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