Here's how to protect your baby from overheating

When dressing or swaddling your baby, don't go overboard.

04 November 2013
by Monica Boshoff

Heat and humidity are the perfect ingredients for heat rash, though babies can suffer from heat rash in winter too if overdressed. Babies’ and young children’s pores are much smaller than adults’ and as they sweat to cool down, perspiration gets trapped under the skin causing tiny red blisters or an itchy rash, notably in the folds of skin which don’t get much air, or where clothing is too tight. In severe cases, infection can set in and the blisters can fester. 

Clicks clinic sister Helene Pietersen says that many newborn babies have immature sweat glands, which makes them particularly susceptible to heat rash as perspiration cannot escape from the glands effectively. "Babies who have a fever – or are incubated for a period of time – can also experience this problem," she says. 

How can I avoid heat rash?

For a start, never overdress your baby. Remember that babies only need to be dressed as warmly as you are; although if your baby isn’t mobile yet and is just sitting in a chair, they may require one extra layer. Crawlers and walkers are very busy little people, and work up a fair amount of body heat by being active, so don’t pile on the layers.

If you notice your baby is developing heat rash, try cooling them down with a lukewarm bath and dressing them in soft, loose-fitting cotton clothing. Avoid synthetic fabrics as these aggravate the skin and don’t allow heat to escape.

If you are out and about, avoid sun exposure at all costs, and cover your baby’s car seat with a cotton receiver blanket as most car seats are made from nylon fabric, which exacerbates sweating.

For moms who carry their babies in wraps/slings/carriers/backpacks, remember that they can get very hot in these in summer as your body generates a great deal of heat as well. Buy a cotton carrier and consider putting your baby in a nappy and a cotton vest if you intend to carry them this way for an extended period of time.

How can I treat heat rash?

In most cases, heat rash disappears by itself when the aggravating conditions are removed. However, one can ease the discomfort by applying Calamine lotion, says Pietersen. She advises taking caution when medicating with thick creams, as these often cause further blockage of pores and can inadvertently prolong the symptoms. If irritation is quite severe, your doctor might prescribe a hydrocortisone cream. Contact your doctor immediately if the rash gets worse or infection starts setting in.

Try to keep your baby’s room cool at night, and do not cover your baby in too many blankets. In extremely hot weather, an air-conditioner or fan may be needed. Do not allow the fan to blow directly onto your baby -- the idea is simply to cool down the surrounding air. A safe room temperature at night is between 16 and 20 degrees Celsius.

What about heat stroke?

Heat exhaustion or heat stroke can be fatal in babies and young children: dehydration and overexposure to the sun can affect them very rapidly, and can become critical without much prior warning. Pietersen advises looking out for signs of fatigue, restlessness, sweating forehead, short rapid breathing, or even vomiting. If you notice any of these, take immediate action by removing your baby from the sun and offering them plenty of fluids.

If necessary, consult your Clicks pharmacist or paediatrician for advice. Always keep in mind that your baby’s tolerance to heat is much lower than yours, so keep them out of direct sunlight and limit time outdoors in very hot conditions. 

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