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Sun Safety for Babies

11 min read | 19 September 2021

Read below to learn more about keep your little one safe in the sun, the importance of baby sunscreen and keeping hydrated.

Why is Sun Safety Important for Babies

Babies and children are at higher risk of skin damage because their skin is delicate, and therefore vulnerable to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Exposure to UV radiation early in life increases the chance of developing skin damage and cancers later in life. Cancer Council Australia recommends that if your baby is under the age of 12 months, they should not be exposed to sunlight when UV levels are three or above, which is most of the year in some parts of Australia.

How to Measure UV?

You can monitor the local UV levels on weather forecast websites or phone applications. To decrease your child’s exposure to high UV levels, plan to undertake outdoor activities early in the morning or later in the afternoon when the UV is the lowest. When going outdoors, it is essential to use multiple forms of skin protection, as sunscreen only filters UV radiation, it doesn’t block it out completely.

If your baby is under six months old, ensure sunscreen usage is minimal (and the sunscreen you are using is suitable for babies). Aim to keep your little one in the shade with skin covered at all times.

Baby Sun Safety Tips

Cancer Council Australia’s message for sun safety is ‘slip, slop, slap, seek and slide’, which is promoted as an effective way to reduce your risk, and your child’s risk of skin damage. It’s important to practice positive sun safety behaviours for you and your family. Being a role model for your children means they learn why it’s vital to protect their skin as they grow older.

1. Slip

‘Slip’ clothing on your baby to cover up as much skin as possible, therefore minimising sunscreen use. Covering up your baby’s skin with sun-protective clothing is very important, especially when it’s not possible to keep bub out of direct sunlight.

It is recommended to use lightweight and loose clothing to prevent your baby from getting too hot, this could include growsuits, long sleeve tops, pants or shorts, ensuring clothing covers most of their body and only applying sunscreen to small areas if needed.

If your little one is heading into the water, whether that’s at the beach or local outdoor pool, ensure that they wear swimwear that covers their arms and legs. The reflection of the water magnifies the sun’s UV rays, increasing the chance of them (and yourself) getting sunburnt. 

Likewise, letting your little one swim in inappropriate clothing (such as a singlet or growsuit) will also increase the risk of UV radiation as most non-swimwear clothing will become somewhat translucent when exposed to water. Baby swimwear such as rashies, nappy pants and swimsuits typically offer high levels of sun protection that traditional clothing doesn’t in the water.

2. Slop

‘Slop’, meaning applying sunscreen of SPF30+ or higher to any exposed skin 20 minutes before going outside, and reapplying it every two hours is best practice and the recommendation by Cancer Council Australia.

In saying this, sunscreen is not recommended for babies under six months of age. This is because young children have highly absorbent and sensitive skin, and the Australasian College of Dermatologists suggests only using minimal sunscreen on a baby’s skin.

Sunscreens labeled ‘for babies’ or ‘sensitive’ are less likely to cause skin irritation, and small amounts can be used if needed. Always test the sunscreen on a small area of your baby’s skin to check for any skin reactions before using it on other areas. If your baby is going for a swim, use a water-resistant baby-appropriate sunscreen on them before heading into the water.

So, you’re probably thinking - what do you do if your baby is outdoors in the sun and it isn’t recommended to use sunscreen? Well, babies of this age should not be exposed to direct sunlight, and if you do have your baby outdoors you will need to protect their skin by seeking shade and covering them with sun-protective clothes.

3. Slap

‘Slap’ on a hat that shades your baby’s face, neck, ears and eyes, and is a suitable size for their head. A wide or broad-brimmed hat and bucket hats are the best hats for babies and children to provide adequate coverage of these areas.

4. Seek

‘Seek’ is Cancer Council Australia’s fourth sun safe message, and that is to seek shade. For all children, especially babies under 6-12 months of age, it is vital to keep them out of direct sunlight and in shade as much as possible. When outdoors, have your baby under a shady tree, shade sail or umbrella. If your baby is in the pram, ensure it is also shaded, although mindful not to fully cover the pram with a blanket or wrap.

If airflow is restricted in the pram, the temperature can increase to dangerous levels, over 10 degrees hotter than the outdoor temperature. When providing shade in the pram, ensure air circulates your baby by removing the ventilation panel at the rear (if present) or placing the baby in a more open stroller.

Always check your baby’s temperature by feeling their skin, and if they are sweating or feel hot, it’s time to head inside or somewhere cooler. Even in the shade, babies and children can burn due to UV radiation reflecting on surrounding surfaces, so Cancer Council Australia recommends always using physical barriers such as clothing and a hat for extra protection.

5. Slide

‘Slide’ on sunglasses to best protect baby’s eyes from the UV radiation. Small children generally like wearing sunglasses like mum or dad, but it can be difficult for young babies to keep sunglasses on. You can try using a soft elastic strap around the back of the baby's head to help keep the sunglasses on, or otherwise keep your baby well in the shade away from any sunlight.

Keeping Your Baby Hydrated

When the weather is warm and humid, monitoring your baby’s urine output and hydration is a great idea. If your baby is less than six months old, they may demand more breastfeeds or formula feeds on hot days. This isn’t necessarily because they are hungry; it may be due to thirst and to keep themselves hydrated. 

If your baby is breastfed, the foremilk or the first milk they consume at the start of a breastfeed is the hydrating breastmilk and what baby will drink more of if it’s hot or they’re thirsty.

Breastmilk or formula will still be a baby's primary source of hydration if they are younger than 12 months old, but if your baby is over six months, you can give them water in a sippy cup or drink bottle to assist with hydration.

How to Check Whether a Baby is Hydrated

Urine output is one way to monitor how hydrated your baby or child is:
  • Normal urine output is 6-8 wet nappies or more in 24 hours

  • If a baby's nappy is dirty and you struggle to tell if it also contains urine, many nappy brands will have a wetness indicator on the front of the nappy, which changes colour when urine is detected.

Otherwise, the other way to tell is by lifting the nappy up, if there is urine present, the nappy will feel quite heavy. If your baby has decreased urine output and is otherwise well, encourage your baby to have more regular fluids, breastmilk or formula, to see if their urine output improves.

  • Younger babies are at greater risk of dehydration as their body heat increases faster, so if baby is under six months old and has any signs of dehydration, seek medical advice from your GP or emergency department.

  • If your baby is over six months old and consuming solids (remembering that breastmilk or formula is still essential), you can give them water, oral rehydration solution, icy poles and water-rich food such as watermelon and monitor signs of hydration.

  • If your baby or child has symptoms of severe dehydration at any point, including lethargy, please present them to your nearest emergency department for assessment.

This blog does not replace the need for medical advice or assistance. This is general advice only. This blog was written by midwife Aliza Carr from Bumpnbub.

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