July 13, 2010

4 Tips to Keep Your Baby Safe in the Heat

Keep Your Baby Safe in the Heat: 4 Essential Tips
By Joan Liebmann-Smith, Ph.D., and Jacqueline Nardi Egan,
Authors of Baby Body Signs: The Head-to-Toe Guide to Your Child's Health, from Birth Through the Toddler Years

Whether or not you believe in global warming, you’ve got to admit it’s been an exceptionally hot summer, especially in the Northeast.  Excessive heat can be very dangerous, even deadly. Indeed, heat is by far the #1 cause of weather-related deaths in the US.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), infants and children up to 4 years of age (as well as people over 65 and the chronically ill) are at the greatest risk for heat-related illness.

Babies’ temperature-regulating systems aren’t fully developed; they have fewer sweat glands than adults, so they sweat less. As a result, they’re not as efficient as adults in keeping cool and are very susceptible to hyperthermia, an abnormally high body temperature, which can be life-threatening.

If a baby’s temperature is not brought back to normal, hyperthermia may progress to heat exhaustion, a more serious condition in which the baby’s temperature can climb to 103° F, which requires immediate medical attention.  If untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke. This is a much more serious condition in which the body temperature rises to over 103° F.   The result: convulsions, coma, and often death.  Since 1998, almost 500 babies and young children have died from hyperthermia in the U.S. Tragically, most cases were entirely preventable.

Because many babies can’t tell their parents or caregivers that they’re thirsty, they can become dangerously dehydrated in hot weather, which also can lead to hyperthermia.  So, it’s extremely important to be alert to the following warning signs of dehydration in babies:

  • Dry mouth or tongue
  • Few tears when crying
  • Few wet diapers  (less than 6 a day)
  • Dark yellow or smelly urine
  • Sunken “soft spots” , eyes, or cheeks  
  • Mottled, grayish, skin that’s cool to the touch.
  • High fever
  • Listlessness

If you think your baby is dehydrated, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you try to get him or her to drink an electrolyte replacement solution (such as Pedialyte) or water, and call your doctor immediately.  Because dehydration causes babies’ core temperature to rise rapidly, it puts them at increased risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.          

The best way to keep babies safe in the summer heat is to prevent them from becoming over-heated and dehydrated in the first place.

Here’s how:

1. Make sure your baby drinks extra fluids, especially water, in warm weather. Breastfed babies, especially, need additional liquids.  And if you’re nursing, you should increase your fluid intake as well so you don’t become dehydrated.

2. Keep your baby indoors in an air-conditioned room during heat waves.  According to the CDC, the #1 protection against heat-related illness and death is air conditioning. If your home isn’t air conditioned, find some place that is, such as a shopping mall, public library, or a heat-relief shelter.  Fans can help a bit, but when the temperature soars into the 90s, fans cannot prevent heat exhaustion and stroke.

3. If your baby must go outdoors, dress him or her in light-weight, light-colored clothes. A hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are a must.  They also help protect a baby from dangerous sunrays. Babies are very susceptible to sunburn and when children become sunburned, their sweat glands don’t function as well.  And sunburns in babies put them at increased risk for skin cancer, even in childhood.

4. Never leave a baby or child unattended in a parked car, even for minute.  Most babies and young children who die from hyperthermia had been left alone in cars.  Even with the windows cracked open, cars can rapidly heat up to dangerous levels in 10 minutes, even in moderate weather. Metal seat buckles can also become dangerously hot in a parked car and burn a baby’s sensitive skin.

Most of these heat-related safety tips can also be applied to older children, the elderly, people with serious medical problems, and even pets, all of whom are highly susceptible to the ill effects of high temperatures.  And they’re dependent on others to make sensible decisions to protect them. Summer should be a happy time. It’s up to you to keep your baby cool, hydrated, and safe from the heat and scorching sun. 


© 2010 Joan Liebmann-Smith, Ph.D., and Jacqueline Nardi Egan, authors of Baby Body Signs: The Head-to-Toe Guide to Your Child's Health, from Birth Through the Toddler Years

Author Bios
Joan Liebmann-Smith, Ph.D.,
 co-author of Baby Body Signs, is a medical sociologist and award-winning medical writer specializing in women and children’s health. She is a member of the advisory board of Healthy Children Healthy Futures.

Jacqueline Nardi Egan, co-author of Baby Body Signs, is a medical journalist who specializes in developing and writing educational programs with and for physicians, allied health professionals, patients, and consumers.

Liebmann-Smith and Egan have co-authored three previous books -- Body Signs (Bantam, 2008); The Unofficial Guide to Getting Pregnant (Wiley, 2005); and The Unofficial Guide to Overcoming Infertility.

For more information please visit www.BabyBodySigns.com.
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