Getting out and about when the sun is shining is great, not just because you’re enjoying the fresh air, but also because it helps your body produce vitamin D. Vitamin D is involved in calcium absorption, immune function, and protecting bone, muscle and heart health.
Whether you’re going away on holiday or are simply enjoying the sunny weather at home, it’s important to make sure your child keeps cool and is protected from the potentially harmful effects of the sun. Remember at the beginning of the year the sun is closer to the earth so early spring sunshine can be just as harmful, even though it may not feel that warm.
Children under six months old
Children under six months old should be kept out of direct sunlight, especially around midday, as their skin does not contain enough of the pigment Melanin that provides some protection from the sun.
To protect them, you can use a sunshade or parasol on the pushchair; re-positioning as needed. Never use a blanket or covering draped over the pram or pushchair as this could lead to your baby getting too hot.
A wide brimmed sunhat, preferably with long flaps down the back, will provide some protection for their head and neck too. Your baby may not like wearing a hat at first but will eventually get used to it! Loose, long sleeved cotton clothing is a good way of ensuring your child’s arms and legs are protected but they don’t get too hot.
If there’s no natural shade, use an umbrella or pop up-tent. Keep moving their toys into the shade to help stay out of the sun. Of course, the weather can be changeable, so make sure you plan ahead and have the right clothing and equipment with you. Try to avoid being out in the sun between 11am and 3pm- the hottest times.
As well as protecting their skin, make sure your child stays hydrated. Breastfed babies may need to be breastfed more often; you don’t need to offer extra water, as extra breastfeeds will be enough until they’ve started eating solid foods. Bottle fed babies can also have a little cooled boiled water as a drink, as well as their usual formula in the day time.
To help keep bedrooms cool, ensure that blinds or curtains are closed through the day and keep the room ventilated with opened windows. The ideal temperature for a baby’s bedroom is between 16°C and 20°C. A nursery thermometer will be useful to make sure your child’s bedroom is the right temperature at all times.
When it’s hot, your child won’t need layers of nightclothes on, so keep these to a minimum.
Children over six months old
The advice above, such as using a parasol on the pushchair, wearing appropriate clothing and drinking plenty, is still relevant to older babies.
At this age, it’s also worth investing in some wraparound sunglasses since children’s eyes are more sensitive to UV light than adults’ eyes. You’ll need to ensure they are suitable for your child’s age, have 100 % UVA filtration, UVA 400 label and conform to CE Mark and British Standard (BS EN 1836:1997). Toy glasses are not suitable as they provide no protection.
If your child is breast feeding, breastmilk is all you need. There is no need to give your baby extra cooled boiled water, as your baby will go to the breast if they are thirsty. For babies older than 6 months who are weaning and breastfeeding, your baby may want more milk on hot days – be flexible.
Children over 6 months of age can be encouraged to have extra drinks of water. If you’re bottle feeding, as well as their usual milk feeds, you can give your baby a little cooled boiled water.
Children over six months old can have sun screen applied. High factor sun screen should be applied in line with the manufacturer’s guidance. You should reapply the sun screen regularly if they are in and out of a padding pool or the sea – even if you are using sun screens that are water resistant or waterproof. Sun screen will also need to be reapplied more regularly if the child is sweating a lot. Make sure you cover all the exposed skin including the ears, back of neck and tops of feet.
The sun screen should protect against UVB and UVA rays and be suitable for the age of the child, so check the packaging carefully. Remember that spray sun screens should not be sprayed straight onto your child’s face – spray the sunscreen onto your hand and then apply to your child’s face. Many brands make sunscreen specifically for babies and young children as they contain fewer additives that can irritate the skin.
The sunscreen used should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to protect against UVB or at least 4-star UVA protection. UVA protection can also be indicated by the letters “UVA” in a circle, which indicates that it meets the EU standard.
Make sure you check the expiry date of your sunscreen to ensure your sun screen is in date too.
Sunscreen does limit your ability to make vitamin D though, so it is recommended that all children under 5 receive vitamin D supplements in their diet.
The video clip found on this page around safety in the sun from the NHS provides additional advice.