Keeping your baby healthy and comfortable in the hotter months

by | Nov 22, 2020

The weather has warmed up and it can be difficult to judge how many layers your baby needs. Paediatrician Enrico Maraschin has some tips.

Spring has sprung, and we are all super excited to be emerging from a long cold winter that has also kept us very isolated. We have already experienced very hot temperatures with Johannesburg reaching over 27°C and other parts of our country already recording temperatures as high as 39°C.

Given the hotter weather, parents with young babies need to take precautions so as to avoid conditions such as dehydration, heatstroke and heat exhaustion. Not only do these conditions cause illness, but they are also risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Here are some important tips:

  • Watch your baby for signs of heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Signs may include red cheeks, sweating, fast heart rate, lethargy (excessive sleepiness) or irritability. The quickest way to deal with this is to remove some clothing or use a damp cloth to wipe baby down.
  • Dehydration may result from your baby getting too little fluid in the hotter weather. Breastfed babies get adequate fluid from their mother’s milk. Formula is also adequate for a baby before solids are introduced. Giving water to a newborn is dangerous as their kidneys are immature. Breastfeeding mothers should just increase the frequency of feeding during hot spells.
  • Avoid direct sunlight. A baby under the age of six months has very little melanin in the skin compared to an adult. Melanin protects against the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays. While there is a lot of talk about Vit D, older children should not be exposed to direct sunlight without protection after 10am and before 4pm. The sun can cause damage to young skin that will have a lifelong impact.
  • Sun protection. Babies under six months of age should be protected from the sun by keeping them in the shade, with protective clothing and a hat. A sunscreen with a protection factor of 30 or more should be used on children older than six months. The cream should protect against UVA and UVB. Creams containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide won’t irritate the eyes or skin. Apply the sunscreen every two hours. The sunscreen would be in addition to a cotton hat and protective clothing.
  • Keep surfaces cool. Make sure that the surface that your child is on is cool, such as cotton sheets, a breathable car seat cover or pram liner help to avoid overheating. It may also be a good idea to place a cotton sheet between you and baby while breastfeeding. Body on body can get hot and sticky, and babies often fuss while they are feeding.
  • A baby only needs one more layer of clothing than you are comfortable with. Avoid swaddling your baby too tightly as they may not be able to wriggle free if they are hot.

Health conditions in the summer months:

While we all generally dread winter and the association with colds and flu, there are also illnesses that commonly occur in summer.

These include:

  1. Insect bites, stings and spider bites. We spend more time outside in summer and summer naturally has a higher number of these creatures. These are often easily treated with antihistamine creams, but if there is a strong reaction then medical attention should be sought.
  2. Allergies. There is a huge increase in the amount of pollen during spring and summer. This often causes hay fever, asthma, eczema and allergic conjunctivitis. Specific treatments are required, but these usually include some form of antihistamines and cortisone.
  3. Gastroenteritis: Viral and bacterial infections that cause vomiting, diarrhoea and fever are common in summer. Also be careful when storing food as the hotter weather may mean that food goes off faster and the risk of food poisoning becomes greater. Treat gastroenteritis with small, frequent amount of rehydration fluids. If your child shows symptoms like dry tongue, fewer wet nappies, irritability, lethargy or is unable to keep fluids down, seek urgent medical attention.
  4. Viral infections. During summer we see an increase number of children with coxsackie (hand, foot and mouth) and viral meningitis. Coxsackie often presents with a rash on the body, the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and in the mouth. Treat the fever with paracetamol. If your child is very distressed, seek medical advice. Meningitis may present with a stiff neck, high fevers, nausea, vomiting and headaches. Seek medical advice if your child develops these symptoms.
  5. Heat rash. This is more common in little babies due to their immature sweat glands. Perspiration gets trapped beneath the skin and causes red, prickly bumps. Heat rash (prickly heat) isn’t dangerous but can cause irritability and discomfort. Typically, it occurs on the face and in the little folds of skin. There is no specific treatment for heat rash, but allowing baby to have loose fitting clothing or no clothes at all prevents sweating. Avoid powders, lotions and creams as this further clog up their little sweat glands.