5 expert tips on how to look after your baby in a heatwave

December 20, 2023
Shelley Pritchett
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Extreme heat events are becoming more frequent and intense in Australia, causing illness or worsening existing conditions and leading to increased hospital admissions and deaths, particularly among vulnerable populations like babies.
To address this issue, Karleen Gribble, Michelle Hamrosi, and Nina Chad published an article on The Conversation, providing practical tips for caring for a baby during extreme heat.
Karleen Gribble leads the Australian Breastfeeding Association's Bushfire Emergencies Project. Michelle Hamrosi is a GP, lactation consultant, and community engagement officer. Nina Chad is an infant and young child feeding consultant for the World Health Organization and a member of various health associations.
Their research shows that babies are particularly prone to heat stress, and their recommendations aim to help parents and caregivers keep babies safe and healthy during hot weather. Here are their five practical tips.
Read more: Extreme weather is landing more Australians in hospital – and heat is the biggest culprit

Why are babies particularly at risk?

Babies are more vulnerable to extreme heat for several reasons.
They have a higher metabolic rate than older children and adults, so their body generates more internal heat.
They also have a larger surface area compared with the volume of their body. So they absorb heat more easily from the environment.
Their sweat glands are not fully developed. So they cannot lose heat by sweating as easily as older children and adults.
Babies must also rely on adults to keep them safe when the weather is hot. They cannot move to a cooler place or drink more fluids without help from their parents or caregivers.
  • Plan ahead

    Knowing if hot weather is coming allows you to prepare and avoid, or reduce, your baby’s exposure to heat. So keep an eye on forecasts from the Bureau of Meteorology (including its heatwave warning service). Your local ABC radio station broadcasts emergency information, and you can search for emergency conditions on the ABC website.
    Read more: Worried about heat and fire this summer? Here's how to prepare
  • Keep your home cool

    On hot days, close windows, blinds and curtains early in the day and keep outside doors shut. If you live in a multi-storey building, stay downstairs, where the air will be cooler.
    Air conditioning will keep you cool if you have it. Staying in one part of the house and closing doors to the rest can make air conditioning more effective and reduce your energy use. Ensure rooms do not become too cold, and that airflow from air conditioners or fans is not directed at your baby. That’s because babies also have difficulty regulating their temperature in the cold, and their temperature can quickly drop.
    keeping babies in a heatwave with tips from Queen Street Medical Centre

    Make sure your fan isn’t blowing directly at your baby.

    Read more: Worried about heat and fire this summer? Here's how to prepare
  • Take care if you need to go out

    If you do have to go out, ensure your baby is sheltered from the sun and heat as much as possible. Use a sunshade on car windows to protect your baby from direct sunlight. Never leave a baby or young child in a parked car. You can help keep your baby cool in their pram by covering it with a light, damp cloth and spraying it with water every 15-20 minutes. Don’t let the cloth dry out completely because this can increase the temperature in the pram. Once the day starts to cool down, playing with water in a shady spot outside is a great way to cool down. Always supervise babies in or near water.
  • Offer babies extra fluids

    Babies need extra fluids during hot weather, but their feeding patterns can change when it’s hot.
    Breastfed babies often start fussing or crying at the breast after just a few minutes, then want to breastfeed again as soon as 30-40 minutes later.
    Mothers may worry their breasts have run out of milk, but they haven’t. These short feeds provide milk that is higher in water than a longer breastfeed.
    Babies don’t want to eat a full meal when they’re hot like adults. Once the day cools down, most babies will have several longer, more satisfying feeds.
    Similarly, formula-fed babies will often take less milk at a feed during the heat of the day but look for another feed sooner than usual.
    Instead of making a baby finish a whole bottle, try splitting their usual feed into two. If the baby finishes the first bottle, you can top it up from the second bottle or keep it in the fridge and warm it up again when it starts looking hungry again. Just like breastfed babies, they usually look for slightly bigger feeds as the day cools.
    Do not give babies under six months old water, as this can make them very ill. Their kidneys are not mature and cannot handle the extra water.
    You can tell your baby is getting enough fluids if they have five heavy, wet disposable nappies in 24 hours. Their urine is pale yellow and doesn’t have a strong smell.
    If this isn’t happening, your baby needs more fluids, and you need to offer more frequent feeds.
    Watermelon for older babies

    For older babies, try offering watermelon or strawberries.

    Read more: Health Check: how do I tell if I'm dehydrated?
  • Prepare for sleep

    Everyone struggles to sleep in hot weather. A lukewarm bath may help your baby cool off enough to fall asleep. However, avoid cold baths as your baby’s temperature may drop too much.
    Nobody sleeps well on hot nights and we all need to catch up on sleep when the weather cools.
In extreme heat, if your baby won’t feed well, is limp or floppy, has dull sunken eyes and a sunken soft spot in the skull (fontanelle), seek medical treatment straight away. In an emergency, call 000.