Babies in hot weather
hot; heat; weather; summer; sun; sunburn; sunscreens; stroke; heatstroke; dehydration; prickly;
Babies and young children are very sensitive to the effects of high temperatures and can quickly get stressed by heat.
As they rely on others to take care of them it is very important to watch them closely and to keep them from getting hot or dehydrated.
Some of the content of this topic comes from a brochure published by the South Australian Department for Health called ‘Extreme heat - guide to coping and staying healthy in the heat' .
Signs of heat stress
and what to do
Babies and young children may not show early signs and symptoms of being affected by the heat even when they are affected.
Signs to watch for are:
- looking unwell,
- being floppy or more irritable than usual,
- having drier skin,
- refusing to drink,
- having fewer wet nappies than usual.
The soft spot on top of a baby’s head (fontanelle) may also be lower than usual.
If you think your baby or young child is suffering from the heat (with or without the above symptoms):
- call healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222; or
- call your GP and arrange to see them urgently; or
- take your baby to the Emergency Department of your nearest hospital
Feeding and drinking
Babies and young children are not able to tell you they are thirsty, so it is important to make sure they are getting enough to drink.
- Breast-fed babies may need extra breast-feeds in hot weather, but in most cases other drinks are not needed. Small amounts of cool boiled water can be given between feeds, especially if the baby is having other foods. There is more to read about this in the topic Keeping baby cool in the heat on the Australian Breastfeeding Association website.
- Bottle-fed babies may need extra formula or small amounts of cool boiled water if they seem thirsty.
- Give young children regular drinks throughout the day, ideally water. Avoid giving sugary or fizzy drinks.
- A refreshing idea for young children is to freeze fruit pieces (orange quarters, watermelon) for them to suck on – but be prepared for the sticky mess!
- Dress babies and young children in light, loose clothing (singlet and nappy, loose top).
- Regularly sponge down with lukewarm water (tepid water), or try a lukewarm bath.
- Cool or cold water should not be used - babies and children start shivering and usually crying and this causes their temperature to rise. Also it is uncomfortable for anyone to be in cold water.
- Choose the coolest place in the house for babies or young children to sleep.
- Make sure air can circulate around the bassinette or cot (remove any liners or padding).
- Don’t leave babies to sleep in a pram - which can become hot.
- If you don’t have a fan or air-conditioner you can cover your baby or young child’s body with cool damp cloths and place wet towels or sheets around the bassinette or cot, to cool the air immediately near them. Check regularly to make sure they are not getting too cold.
- If you use a fan, don’t point it towards your baby or child but use it to keep the air circulating in the room.
- If you have an air-conditioner, make sure the room does not get too cold, about 24 to 26 degrees Celsius is low enough.
Going outside or travelling
in the car
Avoid taking your baby or young child out during times of extreme heat.
- If you have to go outside, protect their skin from the sun by keeping them in the shade or by covering their skin with loose clothing and a hat.
- Use baby or toddler formula sunscreen on skin which cannot be covered by clothing. Always check the product label before applying.
Babies can overheat very quickly in hot weather and especially in cars.
- Avoid travelling when it is hot. If travel is necessary, do it early in the day.
- Even in cool temperatures cars can heat up to dangerously high temperatures very quickly.
Never leave babies, children, or pets alone in a car, even if the air-conditioning is on.
- Make sure a baby or young child does not have the sun shining on them when travelling in a car, or when the car is still, as this can cause overheating even if the air-conditioner is keeping the air in the car comfortably cool.
- As their skin is very thin, it can burn from sunlight coming through car windows if their skin is not covered.
- Never cover a baby capsule in a car with a rug or towel to shade baby from the sun as this will restrict air moving around the baby, making them hotter. Use a towel to cover the window if you don't have a blind.
- When leaving the car, check there are no children left in the car.
- One way to remind you that a baby or young child is in the car might be to keep a stuffed animal in the baby car seat when empty. When the child is buckled in, put the stuffed animal in the front seat next to you.
- Prickly heat is a rash of tiny little red pin-head spots, with tiny blisters.
- It is common in hot weather on parts of the skin that stay moist, such as in the nappy area or under the chin.
- Creams such as zinc and cod-liver oil creams, or zinc and castor oil creams will protect the skin. The same creams that are used for protecting the nappy area can be used under the chin and on other areas that may be affected by prickly heat.
- Changing the baby's clothes more often, and giving tepid (cool but nor cold) baths can also help.
Heat stroke occurs when too much body water is lost and a baby's or child's temperature starts to rise. It can, if severe, cause damage to the body organs and it can be fatal.
Signs of heat stroke in babies, children and adults, include
- rising body temperature
- smaller amounts of urine passed than usual, and dark coloured urine
- increased thirst (but later, as the baby gets weaker, he or she may drink less)
- dry mouth and eyes
- headache, muscle cramps
- being sleepy or 'floppy'
- confusion, shortness of breath and vomiting
- coma (not rousing when touched or called).
What to do for heat stroke
- If your baby or older child has any of these signs, he needs urgent treatment. While babies and children who are a little dehydrated may be able to recover with extra drinks, by the time a child has signs of heat stroke, he will need treatment in a hospital or other health centre.
What to do while you are getting help for your baby
- Call for urgent help, such as calling for an ambulance (000 in Australia), or take your baby to a hospital or health centre. The staff of an ambulance service will be able to start the treatment that is needed.
- Cover your baby with cool damp cloths.
- Keep trying to give your baby drinks unless your baby is unconscious and not able to swallow safely.
Depending on the age of the child the best drinks are those that are recommended for gastro, (see the topic “Gastroenteritis”).
Do not add salt to any of the drinks.
References and more to read
Pregnancy, birth and baby
Australian Breastfeeding Association
Raising Children Network
South Australian Department of Health Emergency Management Unit
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.