Baby on Board – a Guide to Beating the Summer Heat
By Carolyn Hecken
Since our oldest was born back in 2010 in the Swabian Alb, we’ve learned a lot about parenting, including how to cope in scorching weather conditions. Here are just a few tips and tricks we’ve picked up along the way.
Keeping the air circulating
Whether indoors or outdoors, ensuring good air circulation will help keep little ones comfortable, more importantly, safe in the summer heat. When out and about with the stroller, this means resisting the inclination to drape a blanket or even a muslin cloth across the front of the bonnet to shield out the sun. Doing so decreases airflow and contributes to a rise in air temperature inside the stroller.
What to do instead?
There are a variety of stroller accessories available on the market ranging from parasols to aerated mesh covers to bassinet strollers with integrated breathable mesh ventilation. There is also the option of babywearing. But, wait a minute – Isn’t that too hot? Find out more in the section Keeping baby close.
Regardless of the mode of transportation, it is always advisable to check in on little one at regular intervals (10-15 minutes) to be sure s/he is not flushed or overheated.
Lüften, lüften, lüften! Even if you haven’t been in Germany all too long, you’ve probably – at some point or another – caught wind of the highly-regarded practice of lüften.
This sacred ritual is most dutifully performed on a daily basis by much of the German population. It even has its own complex science. In warmer weather conditions, fresh air should be cycled in and out by means of cross-ventilation, known as Querlüften*.
In the summer months, this process is completed within approximately 10-15 minutes and is to be executed only during the early morning and late evening hours and at night. In the interim, all doors and windows should remain shut with shades drawn to keep the ambient temperature as cool as possible throughout the midday heat.
Hanging damp towels or sheets in front of doors and windows is another handy trick. As the trapped moisture evaporates, the room cools. The use of a fan augments this effect, circulating air throughout the room. It is important to ensure that infants and babies are outside the direct airstream created by the fan.
*Opening windows on both sides of one’s home to create a draft and thus facilitate an optimal exchange of air w a relatively short time span.
Keeping baby close
In the car
Did you know that 75% of the temperature rise inside a closed car occurs within the first 5 minutes of leaving the vehicle? Always take your little one with you no matter how short an absence.
Babies and small children are more susceptible to becoming overheated as their body temperature can increase three to five times faster than that of an older child or adult.
Placing UV protective shades to block the sun while travelling in an automobile can help prevent young children from becoming overheated or getting a sunburn despite comfortably cool air-conditioning.
In a sling, wrap or carrier
It may initially sound counter-intuitive – and, of course, there are exceptions – but babywearing, in general, “will keep your baby cooler than a stroller” as I found out in an interview with local doula and babywearing consultant, Darby Altinger.
She goes on to explain: “Contrary to many beliefs, covering your baby in a stroller – with a spit cloth, for example – may protect from sun exposure, but traps warm air around the baby. Most strollers are made of dark, cushioned material, which heats up quickly. A carrier or wrap, when used properly, always ensures that the baby’s airways are free, allowing the baby to self-regulate his or her temperature.”
What else can you tell parents about comfortably and safely babywearing in the summer heat?
“A light sunhat will protect baby’s face and still allow heat regulation through baby’s head. And in hot weather, a onesie and cotton pants is all baby needs to wear when in a carrier. It is not advisable to place a spit cloth between the baby and your chest, even if it might help absorb sweat, because this can actually heat up baby more and even block airways if the cloth comes into contact with baby’s face.”
What kind of carrier or wraps are suitable for warmer weather?
“The best carriers for hot weather have minimal material with maximum support. These would be things like a ring sling or a wrap using a technique with only one layer of fabric across the baby (the Kangaroo Carry or Front Wrap Cross Carry with the shoulder straps pulled to the sides), or a light, soft-structured carrier like the Ergobaby Performance. Some wraps have mixed fibers and those with linen, silk and wool – for its moisture wicking properties – are great for hot or humid weather.”
For more babywearing tips and questions, visit Darby at www.douladarby.com.
Dressing for the occasion
When indoors, babies and small children can be dressed in loose-fitting natural fibers such as cotton. Chances are if parents are comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt, it’s likely that little one will be too.
Loose-fitting clothing – or being in the buff, for that matter – allows air to pass freely over the skin which, in turn, helps to evaporate sweat. And it’s through the evaporation of sweat that heat is carried away from the skin and body.
Cotton and other fabrics made of natural fibers are both breathable and absorbent which allow for adequate cooling while offering some degree of protection from the sun.
Out and about
When outdoors, long-sleeve, lightweight, loosing-fitting clothing made from natural fibers limit the exposure of bare skin to the sun. Since cotton provides an ultraviolet protection factor of about 5 or, even less, if damp or soaked, it may be worth weighing the option of synthetic UV-protective clothing – especially when spending longer periods out in the sun.
Fortunately, UV-protective clothing is both affordable and easily accessible here in Germany. The average drugstore (DM, Rossmann) or department store (C&A, Kaufhof Galeria) will likely carry a line of UV-protective clothing, including swimwear, (brimmed) hats and possibly other articles of clothing.
Protecting from the sun’s rays
When planning the next family vacation, most parents want to know at what age it is safe to begin applying sunscreen to their baby. Because of their thin and highly sensitive skin, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends minimizing sunscreen use on babies under the age of six months. When spending prolonged periods outdoors in the absence of adequate shade and clothing, the AAP advises parents to apply minimal amounts of sunscreen (with a SPF of 15 or greater) to small areas of skin such as the baby’s face and back of her hands.
For all older children, the AAP recommends applying sunscreen every two hours and being particularly cautious around water and sand as they reflect the sun’s UV rays and can lead to sunburn over a shorter time.
Which sunscreen will meet your baby’s needs without too many harmful additives?
Fortunately, Ökotest, one of the German equivalents to Consumer Reports, recently published a new edition on baby and children’s products at the beginning of 2017. Lavera Sun Sensitive, Bio-Sonnenblumenöl sunscreen (SPF 30), Eco Cosmetics Baby & Kids sunscreen (LSF 50+), Bübchen Sensitive (LSF 50+), Ladival Sonnenschutz Milch für Kids 50+ and Sun Ozon Sonnenmilch (SPF 30) all tested well. Click here to read the full review of common sunscreens on the market.
Local apothecaries also offer advice regarding which brands SPFs, and amounts are ideal for infants and small children.
If I’ve learned anything from three years in the Chihaunhaun Desert, it’s this: avoid going out during the most sun-intensive times of day; in other words, from about 10am to 4pm and keep under the shade as much as possible.
Okay, okay. I know. The German climate, admittedly, differs quite a bit from that of the Southwestern United States – so follow your gut. You know what’s best for you and your baby.
Offering plenty of fluids
Offering plenty of fluids frequently, especially before going out and while under way, can help infants and children stay hydrated and keep cool during the warm summer months.
For more on the current guidelines and recommendations for infants and older babies, read my contribution Hot Time Summer in the City from last July.
Tip: A lukewarm bath not only does wonders to help keep baby cool, it may even encourage older babies and toddlers – under the supervision of an adult – to playfully explore and experiment with water – even drinking some to boot.
Keeping baby calm
Infants and babies slowly develop the ability to self-regulate. High temperatures can be quite a strain, physically and emotionally. Tuning into baby’s needs and collaboratively discovering ways to promote his or her comfort can help to make the summer months more bearable and enjoyable – especially since a baby in a calm state keeps cooler than a stressed, frustrated baby.
Do you know of a tip or trick I didn’t mention? Please comment and share yours below.
Carolyn Hecken is a mother to four energetic, inquisitive children. She holds a BA in Linguistics (University of Washington) and a MA in European Linguistics (University of Freiburg). Since June 2013 she has been supporting mothers and their families as a certified D.A.M.E. Doula and, more recently, as an AFS peer-to-peer volunteer breastfeeding counsellor (January 2016) and HypnoBirthing Childbirth Educator (June 2016).