We’re finally entering the summer season when most of us take time to kick back and enjoy the outdoors. If you have a new addition to your family, you are probably wondering what precautions to take at the backyard barbecue, pool party or beach to keep your baby safe from the sun. Although you’re right to be concerned – sun exposure is particularly dangerous for infants and children – there are many ways you can protect them now and in the future.
Why is sun exposure more dangerous for infants and children than adults? The American Academy of Pediatrics says that infants (younger than a year) and toddlers (1-3 years of age) are unusually vulnerable to the sun’s damaging rays because their skin is thinner than adult skin. In addition, the skin of infants and toddlers has less protective melanin, a pigment that gives us our hair and eye color and also offers some sun protection. Not only are they at a higher risk for getting sunburns as a result, but they are also likelier to become ill from overexposure and suffer dehydration, high fever and heatstroke.
While the immediate risks of sun exposure are reasons on their own to take precautions, protecting an infant’s skin is also important for long-term health. According to the CDC, just a few serious sunburns can increase your child’s risk of skin cancer later in life.
So what does proper sun protection look like for infants? The American Academy of Pediatrics shares tips for preventing sunburn in babies. Here are the basics for babies six months and younger (note how they go beyond application of sunscreen):
- Keep your baby out of direct and indirect sunlight. This means finding as much shade as possible: trees, beach umbrellas, stroller canopies, etc.
- Cover your baby’s skin with lightweight cotton clothing, including long sleeves, pants and a hat with a wide brim.
- Apply sunscreen to the small areas of skin left uncovered by your baby’s hat and clothing 15-30 minutes before going out. Don’t overlook any exposed skin, including the tips of the ears and the back of the neck.
- Since no sunscreen is 100% waterproof, reapply every 1 ½ – 2 hours, particularly if your baby goes into the water.
In addition, you may want to consider changing your habits as you take advantage of the great summer weather. For example, think about an evening stroll on the beach instead of heading out midday when the sun’s rays are strongest or replace your beach blanket with a beach tent, which can also be a great spot for nursing and naps.
The right plan for sun protection, lightweight clothing, a good hat and sunscreen where needed can help you and your little one enjoy summer activities with family and still be protected from the dangers of the sun.