Few things are cuter than a baby decked out in a hat and shades. Sun-protective gear is for more than just looks, though—it’s essential in keeping your baby safe during summer months. Here’s what you need to know about protecting your baby from sun overexposure.
After spending a winter trapped indoors with a little one, it’s natural to want to enjoy the warmer weather at the park and pool. Keep in mind, though, that an infant’s thin skin makes her more susceptible to sunburn, so adequate sun protection is essential. While you might be ready to slip baby into her first skirted swimsuit and venture into the shallow end, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding direct sunlight until your baby has reached 6 months of age. (Sorry, mamas—the pool might just have to wait!)
Since early childhood sunburns have been linked to an increased risk of melanoma in adulthood, it’s important to protect your baby every time you step into the sunlight. If you’re heading out to play with your babe, take efforts to avoid direct sunlight by hiding out in shady spots. Covered areas are your best bet; wide trees can offer minimal coverage, but they shouldn’t be your only source of sun protection. If you’re strolling, protect baby by extending your stroller’s sunshade as far as possible or adding a parasol for extra coverage.
Don’t assume that hopping in the car is keeping baby out of the sun: The sunlight coming through most car windows is strong enough to burn delicate baby skin. While you may have laughed at the “Baby on Board” window shades of years past, it might be time to purchase your own—although opting for a phrase-free, less attention-grabbing shade is perfectly acceptable.
Timing is everything
When you go outside is as important as what you do once you’re there. The sun is generally at its highest and hottest from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., so try to avoid spending time outdoors during those hours. Plan to play outside in the mornings, when it’s cooler and the sun is less bright. (Luckily, many babies seem to be in the best mood before lunch, so the timing is perfect!) Evenings are also optimal for outdoor play sun-wise, but bugs might present a problem.
If you’re not sure whether it’s too sunny to head out, try the shadow test: If your shadow appears to be shorter than you, the sun is too bright—save playtime for later and find an indoor activity for you and baby to enjoy.
Dress for the occasion
Your best defenses against the sun might be found in your baby’s closet. Dress your little one in light-colored cotton clothing, which will reflect the sun’s rays and help keep her cool. Avoid dark-colored clothing, which tends to absorb heat. Even though you might think summer equals shorts and tanks, cover your baby in long pants and long sleeves if you plan to be in the sun. To avoid the potential of your baby becoming overheated, limit your time outdoors and keep her hydrated.
When choosing clothing for outdoor adventures, opt for pieces with a tight weave. If you’re unsure of exactly what that means, hold the clothing in question up to a lamp: If a lot of light comes through, it’s not a good choice. The less light that shows through, the better the weave is for sun protection.
Many companies make clothing for little ones with UV protection built right in. While these outfits aren’t necessary for everyday wear, they can be of benefit in a baby’s wardrobe. Consider having your baby don this special gear on days when you’ll be spending extended time in the sun.
Hats are undoubtedly the cutest addition to any babe’s attire, and they’re one of the most important too. Every time you plan to have your baby in the sun, cover her noggin with a wide-brimmed hat. It will keep her head, eyes, ears, face and neck protected (and make for many priceless photo ops). If she keeps pulling her hat off, look for one that snaps or ties below the chin.
Don’t forget that baby’s eyes need protection too! Buy a pair of wraparound sunglasses made for infants (like those by Baby Banz) and cover baby’s peepers when she’s exposed to the brightness of the day. While you can pick up a cute pair of kiddie shades just about anywhere, all sunglasses are not created equal: Choose a pair that offers UVA protection.
Play it safe
For all areas of baby’s body that aren’t covered by clothing, sunscreen is a must. Apply on any exposed areas, including the face, hands and neck. If your little one is under 6 months, use sunblock sparingly and only on small areas of the body (such as the face and backs of hands). Some old-schoolers might tell you that sunscreen shouldn’t be used on babies under 6 months, but that recommendation has changed—the AAP now recommends that applying sunscreen in small amounts when necessary is the second safest option (avoiding sunlight altogether is the first). Once your baby has crossed the 6-month mark, generously lather her up with a block containing an SPF of 15 or higher.
When sunblock shopping for babies, keep in mind that a higher SPF is better, and many companies make baby-specific formulas that are designed to protect sensitive infant and toddler skin. If you prefer natural goods for your baby, look for one made of zinc oxide—a micronized version won’t show up as thick and white as you might expect. Always make sure your baby’s sunscreen says “broad spectrum” on the label, which indicates that it will screen out both UVA and UVB rays.
Put sunscreen on your baby 30 minutes before heading outdoors so it has time to absorb into the skin. Reapply every two hours while you’re in the sun. And remember that skin can burn even on cloudy days—using sunscreen year-round when you’re outside is the safest option for properly protecting baby against sun damage.
Like mama, like baby
Many of us can use these guidelines as a refresher for our own sun safety techniques. Just as we do for our babies, we should be applying sunblock regularly, sticking to the shade, and protecting our eyes against dangerous UV rays. From the very beginning stages of our little ones’ lives we are setting examples with our own behavior and practices, so be a good model for sun safety. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the great outdoors, but staying safe while enjoying the weather will offer your baby lifelong protection and instill good habits she’ll carry over into adulthood.