Babies and Heat {A public service announcement}

I was a new mother once. I was a rookie. I am still a rookie when it comes to teens and growing up. Mothering is a job you never actually perfect but you sure learn a lot.  It is an education of decades. I wish I had known some things earlier instead of finding out the hard way.  But we’ve all survived somewhat unscathed ( I think). 

I have 4 kids. Which means I had 4 babies.  2 of my babies were summer babies: one born in the spring so she was small through a very hot summer and one born in the dead heat of August.   I love summer babies. You don’t have to bundle them up in snowsuits and piles of blankets on top of their tiny bodies.  Laying on picnic blankets in shady parks and lazy on sofas with diaper shirts and thin blankets is so much easier than cold toes and noses.

But lately I’ve been seeing some mommies who are rookies making mistakes that might have disastrous consequences.  It’s one thing to fumble your way through diaper changes and bottle feedings but it’s completely heart-wrenching to ignorantly or stupidly over-expose a baby to the elements. 

I’ve been at the beach and in malls, in restaurants and parking lots and I see parents doing things that are downright dangerous for their wee babies.  It’s scary and it’s almost criminal.  But what to do? Do you over-step and say something?  Sometimes.  Other times I wish I had but I chickened out. That was a mistake on my part. So, I will use this platform to share some things that I have learned in caring for babies over many, many years.  I hope it helps anyone out there who might not know or may have been ill-informed.

First of all, I am not a doctor or nurse. I’m a mom. And I speak from my experience not from text books or studies. If that bothers you, stop reading now. Also, I always suggest you confirm with a doctor, health nurse, your own mom , someone you trust  if you have questions.  And above all moms, trust your instincts but be willing to let others help you out too when your instincts might be clouded by lack of sleep. 😉

1. Babies at the beach-  I rarely took mine but if I did, they were in the shade if they were under 6 months.  The beach is not really a baby’s friend.  Loud noises, people running and potentially not looking out for tiny people and sand and mosquitoes can really be bad too.  If you insist on going to the beach with your baby, take her in a stroller with a mosquito net, have an umbrella for extra shade and if possible , sit in a shaded treed area. Direct sun is not good for babies especially by water and for long periods of time. Make sure the stroller gets ventilation. Babies can overheat quickly. They don’t need flannel sleepers and blankets piled on them. If you’re comfortable, your baby only needs one more layer than you to be comfortable( I will repeat this often).

2. Babies in vehicles~ I sure wish I didn’t need to say anything about this but I have already seen parents leave babies in cars in 35*C heat this summer. Try this: sit in your car with the windows cracked an inch. Turn off the engine. No A/C running. Watch the clock and record how you feel after 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes.(if you even get that far). I can’t get past 5 minutes. Imagine a helpless baby, with no ability to get airflow, hydration or the ability to move away from the heat. Do this on a day when the temp is only 23* and you will still be shocked at how fast it gets hot in a vehicle. If you are not willing to do this experiment yourself then you should NEVER EVER consider leaving a baby/child in a non-airconditioned vehicle on a warm/hot day. EVER. This is Stupidity run amuck.  Remember, if you are uncomfortable, your baby will be too.

3. Babies in air-conditioned stores:  This is kind of the opposite but applies to hot weather.  If you have a small baby; I’m talking under 6 months old, and you go into an air conditioned grocery store on a hot summer day, chances are they will have the temp quite cool to keep produce fresh and crisp.  Very often, parents forget that a small baby doesn’t have the ability to quickly adjust from one extreme to another and they aren’t prepared with a blanket or something covering baby.  Do not assume that because your baby is comfy in her carseat with just a onesie on in the vehicle or outside that she will be equally comfortable in a very cool store. Take a small blanket to cover her legs  at the very least. Crying babies are uncomfortable babies and I hear a lot of them in stores in the summer time. Pay attention.

4. Babies in un-airconditioned houses/buildings~ When I had my 3rd baby in August of 1998, it was over 30*C every day. We lived in a townhouse that was quite old and had no A/C. The two kids bedrooms on the south side of the building were always hot. We used fans and whatever measures to keep the air flowing but it was too hot. Bringing a baby home, trying to get rest, be hydrated enough to nurse and keep baby’s temp normal was challenging.  We had to move to the basement or the main floor.  Babies are like us; they need airflow. They need a cool breeze. They need a room temperature around 21 or 22*C to be perfectly comfy in a sleeper and swaddled. Remember, babies like to be swaddled and cozy so when the temperature goes up, you have to figure out what adjustments need to be made. Instead of a sleeper, maybe a onesie. Instead of a thick receiving blanket, maybe a thin one.  Instead of upstairs sleeping , maybe downstairs or move in with a family member with A/C for a while.  Babies who are overheated are lethargic and lazy. They may not nurse as well which means they’re less likely to stay hydrated and able to cool themselves down by sweating. If your baby is sweating, he’s hot. If he is flushed and red, he’s hot.  If he has heat rash…..

Think of it this way: in the winter when it’s cold out, most of us turn up our furnace thermostat to about 23-24* in our houses.  That is a comfortable room temperature.  We would never think of turning our furnace on so that it heated our houses to 35 or 40* in the winter! That would be crazy. We would be so hot and uncomfortable. And yet, people will endure it in the summer, not use A/C because of fears about the air being too cool for a baby. But it makes no sense. If 35* is too hot for you or your baby to be comfortable in the winter , then it’s certainly going to be uncomfortable in the summer.

Babies who are overheated have died of heat exhaustion and SIDS. Babies who are well ventilated, comfortable like mom and dad( remember , I said I would repeat that)  eat well, sleep well and respond well.  Moms and dads who are comfortable and not overheated also sleep better and are much more able to provide the care their newborns need. 

It breaks my heart to see babies on beaches crying and sweating.  I cringe at tiny newborns in carseats with barely any clothes on in very cold air conditioned stores.  I get frustrated with parents who sit in closed up houses, without a breeze, fans, or air conditioning working while their babies helplessly suffer in the heat. 

Parents, if you’re comfortable, your babies will be comfortable. Trust me. I’ve been there.

Some tips on dressing baby for hot weather: http://www.parents.com/baby/care/newborn/making-baby-comfortable-in-summer-heat/

And a few other tips about keeping your baby cool: http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=114&np=305&id=1605

And one more: 10 Ways to Keep your Newborn Cool

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