Most parents know that leaving a baby in a hot car is dangerous. Young children have an increased risk of hyperthermia, also known as heat stroke, since their body's ability to regulate temperature is not fully developed until around age 4. Temperatures that would be uncomfortable for a healthy adult can severely injure or even kill an infant, since their body temperatures rise around three to five times faster than adults.
What many parents don't realize is that hot cars are not the only way that baby's can be exposed to unhealthy levels of heat. Researchers in Sweden have recently stated that covering a baby's stroller, in an attempt to shield them from the sun, can actually cause temperatures inside the stroller to skyrocket. Even when the stroller is only covered with a thin piece of cloth.
What makes covering strollers so dangerous?
According to Svante Norgren, a pediatrician at the Astrid Lindgren Children’s hospital in Stockholm, covering a child's stroller on a warm day is one of the worst mistakes a parent can make. “It gets extremely hot down in the pram, something like a thermos. There is also bad circulation of the air and it is hard to see the baby with a cover over the pram,” Norgren said, in an interview with Swedish newspaper, the Svenska Dagbladet.
In an effort to show the seriousness of Dr. Norgren's warning, the newspaper performed an experiment. On a warm day, they left an empty stroller out in the sun from 11:30 AM to 1 PM. Uncovered, the stroller stood at about 71 degrees Fahrenheit. But after just thirty minutes with a thin cover on, the stroller's temperature climbed to 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Thirty minutes is all it took for the stroller to reach life-threatening temperatures. After a full hour of being covered, the stroller's temperature had reached a whopping 98 degrees Fahrenheit.
It's worth noting that the highest outdoor temperature, on the day of the newspaper's experiment, was 86 degrees Fahrenheit. In many places, summer temperatures are far greater.
Dr. Norgren also makes an excellent point about the danger of not being able to fully see your baby. When outdoors, babies should be kept within their parents line of sight whenever possible. Signs of hyperthermia, such as shortness of breath, glassy eyes, sweaty or red skin, and even vomiting might not be noticed, even by a usually observant parent, if a cover is placed on a stroller. Worst of all, unconsciousness--one of the most severe signs of dangerous hyperthermia--could easily be confused for regular sleep, if a parent does not realize the dangers of having their stroller covered.
What can parents do instead of covering strollers?
It is easy to tell parents not to cover their children's strollers, but the temptation to protect our little ones from the sun is strong. It is obviously not a good idea to have young children, especially infants, exposed to the sun's UV rays for long. It begs the question, if we shouldn't cover our child's strollers even in the glare of direct sunlight, then what should we do instead? Luckily, there are several options.
As Michelle Stein explains at Baby Center, the first option, of course, is to keep children too young to walk by themselves out of the heat altogether. Staying indoors on days when the outdoor temperature is above 80 degrees Fahrenheit is a good idea for infants. Of course, staying inside isn't always an option, and as kids get older, they will naturally want to go play in the summer sun. For children under four who are old enough to play outdoors, close parental supervision is key.
Secondly, remember that clothing can be key in providing relief from the heat. Dress babies in light, loose-fitting clothing to prevent them from overheating as easily.
Third, keep to the shade. Remember that even though the outdoor temperature may feel comfortable for you, it might be very hot for your baby. Be sure that any time you need to stop pushing your stroller, even for a few moments, you are able to park it in a shady spot. If there is no shade nearby, try to seek out a building and park the stroller indoors.
Fourth, keep your child hydrated. Water, or chilled breast milk, if your baby is under six months old, is a great tool for lowering body temperature and preventing the onset of hyperthermia.
Fifth, if you do not have air conditioning in your home, but live in an area where outdoor temperatures reach at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit at some point during the year, seek relief in public, air-conditioned spaces with your baby whenever possible. Libraries, shopping malls and community centers almost always provide air conditioning, and may have benches or seating areas where you can rest during the hottest portion of the afternoon.
Lastly, be sure to apply sunscreen to your baby. It only takes a few moments, but can provide great peace of mind. If possible, use all-natural sunscreen that is free from the harmful chemicals often present in traditional sunscreens, and check out the healthy ways to protect young children from the sun.