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Protect your little-uns from heat-related illness
Babies and young children are particularly sensitive to the effects of extreme heat and can become stressed very quickly.
If you care for a young child or baby, you must ensure they keep cool and stay hydrated.
Heat stress in children
Unlike adults, babies and young children may not show the early signs or symptoms of heat stress when affected by them. It’s important to keep an eye on them and look for other signs of distress such as:
- generally looking unwell
- being more irritable than usual
- having drier than normal skin
- refusing to eat or drink
- going to the toilet less or having fewer wet nappies than usual
- the soft spot on top of a baby’s head (fontanelle) may also be lower than usual.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you think your baby or young child is distressed from the heat, whether they have these symptoms or not:
- call healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222
- call your GP and arrange to see them urgently
- take them to the emergency department of your nearest hospital.
Eating and drinking
Keeping your child hydrated is one of the most important things you can do during a period of intense heat. Young children and babies in particular, are not able to tell you they are thirsty, so it is important to make sure they are getting enough to drink.
- If your baby is breast-fed, you may need to give them extra feeds in hot weather.
- If your child also consumes other food, you can give them small amounts of cooled boiled water between feeds.
- Bottle-fed babies may need extra formula or small amounts of cooled boiled water if they seem thirsty.
- Make sure your child has regular drinks throughout the day, such as water or at worst, fruit juice. Generally, you should avoid giving sugary or fizzy drinks as this can actually dehydrate them further.
- If you find that your child is resisting taking drinks, try giving him/her frozen fruit pieces (orange quarters, watermelon) for them to suck on.
Keeping your baby or toddler cool during a heat wave
When keeping your baby or young child cool during a heat wave, it’s important to remember that their bodies aren’t the same as older children or adults and react to heat differently.
- Dress your baby or young child in light, loose clothing such as a singlet and nappy, or loose top.
- Regularly bath them in lukewarm – not cool or cold – water. If your child resists having a bath, wipe them down a sponge or cloth dipped in lukewarm water.
- When putting your baby or child to sleep, choose the coolest place in the house. Make sure the bassinette or cot is clear of liners or blankets so air can circulate through. Never leave babies to sleep in a pram as they may overheat.
- If you have a fan, direct it towards the centre of the room to keep the air circulating, not directly at your baby or child.
- If you have an air conditioner, try to keep the room your child is sleeping in at around 24-26 degrees Celsius so they don’t get to cold.
- If you don’t have a fan or air conditioner you can cover your baby or toddler’s torso with a cool damp cloth. Make sure you check up on them regularly so that they don’t get too cold.
Travelling with a baby or young child during a heatwave
Ideally, it’s best to avoid taking your baby or toddler out during periods of intense heat as babies and young children can overheat very quickly, particularly in cars. Even during cooler days, cars can heat up to dangerously high temperatures very quickly. However, if you have to take your baby or child out:
- Try to travel during the early parts of the day before it gets too hot.
- Cover your child’s skin with sunscreen and loose clothing made from natural fibres such as cotton or linen.
- Use a blanket, towel or stick on shade screen to cover the window next to your baby or toddler so the sun doesn’t shine directly on them through the window. Never cover a baby capsule in a car with a blanket or towel as it will make them hotter.
- Never leave a baby or child alone in a car, even if it is air-conditioned as they can still get stressed from the heat.
- Always check there are no children left in the car when you leave the vehicle.