It might feel like we’ve been living through this heatwave for months now but the sun isn’t showing any signs of disappearing, as the Met Office has issued an amber “heat health watch warning” for parts of England this week.
The warning - only made when temperatures are predicted to hit 30 degrees during the day - urges people to either stay out of the sun or avoid being outside when it is at its strongest between 11am and 3pm.
For adults the high temperatures make it hard to sleep and getting dressed a chore, but what about for children who may find it harder to articulate when they are hot or thirsty? Registered GP, Dr Kenny Livingstone, tells HuffPost UK that children are one of the biggest risk groups during heatwaves.
So here’s how to avoid dehydration, sunburn, heatstroke and sleepless nights with kids for the rest of the summer:
Children younger than six months old can get dehydrated very quickly, Livingstone says, so parents need to be extra vigilant to their needs.
Some signs a baby is experiencing dehydration include: drier nappies than normal (they’re not urinating as much), and the soft spot on the top of the head (fontanelle) becoming quite sunken. They might also cry but with few tears.
Older children are more likely to be able to articulate if they are thirsty. Just make sure to keep track of when and how much they’re drinking, in case they’re too wrapped up in playing to remember to ask for some water.
Livingstone recommends introducing small quantities of liquid at regular intervals rather than all in one go: it doesn’t matter whether it’s water or milk. Plus, he suggests ice lollies are a fun way to prevent dehydration
Fully breastfed babies don’t need any water until they’ve started eating solid foods as they will get all the hydration they need from breast milk. However, bottle-fed babies may need some extra water in hot weather.
For babies under six months, NHS Choices advises boiling then cooling water from the mains tap in your kitchen (as it’s not sterile straight from the tap). Water for babies over six months doesn’t need to be boiled.
Livingstone advises parents make sure they put sunscreen on their children at the start of each day and regularly reapply it throughout the day.
Dr Emma Wedgeworth, consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation says: “higher factors, for example SPF 30-50, should be chosen for children,” and adds that the absolute minimum SPF you should use on kids is 30.
It’s likely that you need to put more sunscreen on your kids that you expect, as Cancer Research’s health expert, Sophia Lowes says people usually only use a quarter of the amount of suncream that they should. She advises following directions on the bottle, which will state how much should be applied.
But even if kids are wearing suncream you should still make sure they come indoors at regular intervals, says Livingstone, and extra care should be taken whenever they are playing with water (in a paddling pool for example) as it may wash off the sunscreen.
Head Off Heatstroke
Even if your child is well protected from sunburn with suncream, being outside for long periods can expose them to heatstroke.
The NHS says symptoms of heatstroke in children are very similar to symptoms in adults, and include headaches, confusion, loss of appetite, excessive sweating, fast breathing and intense thirst. Children may become floppy and sleepy as well. So be sure to keep your children in shaded areas or bring them inside for breaks.
NCT parent content editor Sanjima DeZoysa, advised this is especially important 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,” she added. “If you are out, try and create shade yourself.”
And for babies, you might think that you are helping by shading their pram with a blanket, but Svante Norgren, a children’s doctor in Stockholm, said covering a pram with anything, including thin muslin cloth, creates furnace-like heat.
In an experiment, without a cover the pram temperate reached 22C. But with a thin cover over it for 30 minutes, the pram temperature rose to 34C.
Don’t Let The Heat Spoil Your Sleep
Even for adults sleeping in heat can be a challenge. The NHS advises babies will sleep most comfortably between 16 and 20 degrees, so throughout the day it might be useful to keep curtains or blinds drawn, but with the windows open behind to keep the air circulating and prevent the room from becoming stuffy.
Infant sleep consultant, Helen Broadhead, advises: “Keep nightwear to a minimum in hot weather, this can be just a nappy. And if they tend to kick the covers off during the night, try putting them on a fitted sheet as this should help to keep their body temperature down.”
Struggling to get kids to cool down? Vicki Dawson from the Children’s Sleep Charity recommends running a cool bath before bed. And If your baby or child is really irritated and struggling to settle, try placing a damp flannel on their forehead for short intervals, as this will calm them down.