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Sun safety for children

We look at how to keep your child safe, comfortable and protected over the summer

When the sun’s out, many parents head out with their little one to get some fresh air and enjoy time outdoors.

It’s important that you know how to keep your baby sun safe though, as a baby’s skin can burn and damage easily. This is because they don’t yet have much natural protection from the sun.

Stay in the shade

Try and keep your little one in the shade, especially if your baby is younger than six months. It’s best to keep them out of direct sunlight, especially between 11am and 3pm, when the sun is strongest.

If you are out, try and create shade. Hoods or light sheets can make the inside of a buggy very hot though so it’s important to be aware of this in the summer and avoid leaving your baby in direct sunlight (even covered in their buggies).

A sunshade is probably a cooler option.

Cover up

It’s best to cover your baby’s body, arms and legs with loose clothing. Lightweight, natural material, such as cotton, offers the best protection.

Shoulders are particularly vulnerable and burn quickly so tops that cover your baby’s shoulders are ideal, particularly on very sunny days.

At the beach, sun protection tops and suits made of Lycra, or a mix of Lycra and nylon, are perfect for splashing in the sea as they dry quickly and block more of the sun than normal t-shirts.

They’re also relatively inexpensive; you can usually find them at an NCT Nearly New Sale!

Daytime tips for keeping cool

  • Babies and children like to play with water so, shaded from the sun, let them play with water in a bowl. For older children, a paddling pool is fun and helps them keep cool. Always stay with your baby when they are near water.
  • Loose, cool clothing is best in warm weather – anything that lets air circulate next to the skin.
  • Close blinds or curtains in the day where the sun comes in and leave windows open if it’s safe to do so.
  • Opening upstairs windows and leaving doors open may help to get a breeze flowing through the house. But with small children in the house avoid doing this if they can climb and reach the windows.
  • Cars are heat traps and it can be hard to stay cool in a car unless it’s air conditioned. If you can travel in the early morning or evening it will be more comfortable. Never leave a baby or toddler in a hot car even for a short time.

Keep your hat on

It may feel like mission impossible but try and get your little one to keep a wide-brimmed hat on. A hat with a flap to cover the neck is useful for toddlers.

If your little one constantly pulls their hat off, try one with an elasticated or Velcro strap that tucks under their chin to keep it in place. You can also encourage them by wearing a hat yourself and getting a little hat for their favourite teddy or toy. Pointing out ‘how nicely teddy is wearing his hat’ might encourage them to keep theirs on.

Slap on the sun cream

Sunscreens appear to be safe for babies and should be used rather than risking sunburn. It’s best to use a sunscreen cream, preferably with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, made for babies or toddlers that blocks both UVA and UVB. It's important to note that concern about the use of sunscreen on babies lowering Vitamin D levels appears to be unfounded, according to research.

Choose one that’s easiest for you to get on your child. A spray might be easier if you have a toddler trying to squirm away from you. Apply sun cream liberally to skin that isn’t covered by clothes or a hat. According to NHS Choices, most people don’t apply enough sunscreen and if sun cream is applied too thinly, it provides less protection.

It’s also important to allow enough time (around 30 minutes) for sun cream to sink into the skin before you head out. You will need to re-apply sunscreen regularly, particularly if your child is in and out of the sea, outdoor swimming or paddling pool.

Sun cream doesn’t offer 100% protection so covering your baby’s skin with appropriate clothing and keeping them out of direct sunlight is still important – regardless of how much cream they have on.

Nightime tips for keeping cool

  • It helps to keep your child’s bedroom cool during the day by closing blinds or curtains. You can also use a fan to circulate the air in the room but make sure to keep it out of reach from curious little fingers.
  • Open your windows and curtains at night if it’s safe.
  • Bowls of water in the house can help to cool the air through evaporation.
  • Babies won’t need much in the way of bedclothes or covers. You could dress your baby in just a nappy with a vest. If you use a sheet make sure it won’t work loose to cover their face or tangle them up during the night.

Keep your baby hydrated

Like adults, babies and young children need to drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated. This is especially true when the sun’s out.

Read our article to find out more about the signs and treatment for dehydration.

Updated July 2016

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and allow you to meet other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

The British Red Cross have useful information about coping in the heat.

Read more about heat exhaustion and heat stroke from NHS Choices.

Read about summer slings and keeping your baby cool.