Monday 24 July 2017

How to keep your baby cool and safe in the heatwave

Better weather, whether you're heading abroad or out and about at home, means more extra special care for babies skin.

"The bottom line is that much of the UV damage that leads to skin cancer later in life actually happens in the first 20 years of life"

Áilín Quinlan

While we are all enjoying that long-hoped for day of fun in the sun after one of the longest, wettest Irish winters in memory parents should take all the necessary steps to protect their little ones' sensitive baby- skin:

"Babies' skin is very different to that of older children.

"A baby's skin is very soft and fragile; it can be more sensitive and less resistant to bacteria and more vulnerable to dry patches," warns Dr Sami Ahmed, consultant paediatrician at the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork.

"Babies' skin can be very sensitive to the environment; that is, to heat or cold," he explains, warning that infants under the age of six months should have no direct contact with the sun.

Read more: Too hot to sleep? Top 10 tips to keep you cool in bed

Keep your baby in the shade

That's because their skin is extremely sensitive, he says, adding that most sunscreens are not recommended for babies under six months old because the necessary 'skin barrier' has not yet formed and the creams are not appropriate.

Baby using sunscreen
Baby using sunscreen

"It's best to keep babies of this age away from the sun. Even in the shade they can be burned by UV rays," says Dr Ahmed, adding that parents taking children on holiday to hot climates should also dress infants and small children in special summer clothing featuring a built-in Ultraviolet Protection Factor of UPF 50.

Pay close attention to the nappy area

Remember to moisturise your infant's skin regularly while on holidays in a warm climate to avoid dryness, he says - he recommends that this be done three times daily. When moisturising, he adds, remember to pay particular attention to the nappy areas, which are more sensitive to heat. This ensures the skin in the area does not become dry and prone to cracking - because if this happens, he warns, the skin can break down, resulting in infection.

Allowing a baby to lie without its nappy on for a period during the day in warm weather is beneficial for the nappy area, which can get very warm compared to the rest of the body, he suggests.

As a general rule, Dr Ahmed says, always use lukewarm water, baby wipes and cotton wool to clean the nappy area, and apply appropriate moisturising cream.

"Avoid using talcum powder because it closes the pores and dries the skin," he advises,

"If babies are outside in warm weather, it's important to ensure they're placed in a well-ventilated, shady area - and that they're well-hydrated."

However, no matter how careful you are, nappy rash, or nappy dermatitis, is a common problem with small babies.

"It's very important to keep the area moisturised," says Dr Ahmed.

"The skin can be irritated and sensitive."

If your baby has nappy dermatitis, change the nappy more frequently, he advises - it's important to protect the area being covered. Wash with lukewarm water, wipes, cotton wool and use moisturising cream. Special nappy rash creams can be purchased to reduce the inflammation and help soothe the skin.

Don't keep your baby in a car for a long period of time

Don't keep babies in the car for extended periods during warm weather, either here in Ireland or abroad, as cars can overheat quickly, which can cause dehydration and skin dryness.

Keep babies and toddler out of the sun between 11am and 3pm

At all times, he says, protect toddlers and older children of all ages from the hot sun with appropriately strong sun-block, and ensure they stay out of the sun altogether between the hours of 11am and 3pm, which is usually the hottest time of day.

Remember to keep children in the shade as much as possible between 12 and 3pm when UV rays are at their strongest. "Children are more sensitive to UV damage than adults, so their skin is more easily damaged by UV radiation," she says.

It's worth informing yourself and taking the necessary precautions - Dr Lynch warns that it only takes five episodes of sunburn in children to double the risk of skin cancer in the child's lifetime - and that blistering sunburn in a child carries an even higher risk.

Pay close attention to insect bites and treat eczema adequately

In the case of skin scratches and mosquito bites, clean the area gently and apply an antibiotic cream, says Dr Ahmed, who believes in using anti-mosquito creams on children over the age of six months in climates where these insects are common.

Use the antibiotic cream if a mosquito bite results in an infection, while an anti-histamine cream can help reduce the subsequent itching.

A common childhood skin problem is eczema, which is characterised by itchy, red, dry skin. "Most children who have the condition should be using moisturising creams," says Dr Ahmed, adding however, that when holidaying in a hot climate, parents should pay extra attention to the care of the skin of a child with eczema.

"You need to protect it in the sun, so if you go on holiday increase the amount of moisturising and be careful in hot sun," he says, adding that if a child naturally tends towards having dry patches on their skin, make a point of keeping the skin well-moisturised.

Keep babies under 6 months out of the sun altogether

Parents should never allow babies under the age of six months to come into contact with sun, she advises, and in general should make it a rule to follow the Sun Smart code of Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap when children are outdoors between March and September.

Apply sun-block to children 30 minutes before they go into the sun and be sure to re-apply it during the day, she says.

"It's essentially 'slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap on the sunglasses'," says Dr Lynch.

Beware of the risks

Generally, however, modern parents are very conscious of the need too look after babies and young children's skin, believes Dr Ahmed, a clinician of more than 20 years' experience.

"There is more awareness of baby skin-care nowadays," he says.

While parents need to be very careful while on sun-holidays with babies and young children, it's equally important to be aware of the danger that the UV rays can do to a child's skin in Ireland - particularly between the months of March and September, according to dermatologist Dr Jenny Lynch of the Mater Private Hospital in Cork.

"People have this idea that a tan is a nice, healthy look for a child but in fact tanned skin is essentially damaged skin," she observes, adding that we should not be lulled into complacency by the grey skies and the lack of hot sun.

Despite its lack of blue skies, Ireland still has plenty of strong UV rays through this period, she warns.

"The bottom line is that much of the UV damage that leads to skin cancer later in life actually happens in the first 20 years of life," warns Dr Lynch.

Irish Independent

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