Coastal Georgia has a year-round offering of outdoor activities for your family, but summertime is really when options are most plentiful. The beach, the pool, the boat, and the park are great places to have family fun with kids of all ages. A successful outing comes with just a little preparation, to make sure the smallest ones are safe from common outdoor hazards. Below are a few tips that may help you make the most out of your summer.
Protection from the sun can be easily forgotten, especially on a cloudy day, or when the expectation of a short day in the sun becomes longer. There are many excellent brands of sunscreen available, but it’s important to make sure to choose one that offers “broad spectrum” coverage (both UVA and UVB protection). It should be applied at least 30 minutes before going outside, and should be reapplied about every 2 hours, especially with water activities (the term “waterproof” is less effective than you think). And yes, even on a cloudy day, or away from the peak of Summer, the sun is bright enough to cause sunburn. I’m at my laptop writing this just after most schools in our area have had spring break, and already seeing so many babies and children with first sunburns of the season. As usual, many parents forgot the March and April sun is indeed bright enough to cause damage. Sunscreen can be used as young as 4 to 6 months old. And for the youngest, barrier protection is key, including canopies, hats, and other shelters from early sun exposure.
Bug repellant is also essential, especially in the coastal areas where mosquito season lasts most of the year. Insect bites are a common cause of superficial skin infections (often caused by bacteria that live on our own skin), called cellulitis or impetigo. Also, mosquitos in our area can in rare cases transmit severe diseases, such as West Nile Virus, Zika Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and others. Bug sprays can be used safely starting at 2 months old. And yes, DEET is both safe this young, and, the most effective for mosquito bites. The DEET concentration is found on the front label of most commercially available insect repellant, written out as “N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide”. The concentration of DEET is an indicator of how long the protection will last; expect about an hour of protection for each 5% of DEET concentration (10% should last 2 hours, 25% should last about 5 hours). Concentrations above 30% have shown little increased benefit, and not recommended for children. DEET products should be applied just once and not be reapplied throughout the day. There are DEET free alternatives that some parents prefer, which include eucalyptus, citronella, or cedar. These are safe to try, but often less effective than DEET.
There are also combination “bug and sun” products available, but these are not recommended for children by the AAP. The reason is sunscreen should be reapplied frequently, but insect repellant should not. And, the insect repellant may make the SPF less effective.
For a baby spending excessive time outdoors, hydration is an important concern as well. Water is a large component of both breastmilk and formula, thus generous feedings are the best help in ensuring good hydration. Commercially available electrolyte solutions such as Pedialyte are a useful supplement at times. While plain water is ideal for rehydration of older children, it should be avoided in infants, since it does not contain important electrolytes. A common question from parents is to how to tell if their infant or child is showing signs of dehydration. There are indeed subtle signs, such as decreased urination, warm skin, or dry lips and mucous membranes. These, however, can be difficult for even the most experienced parents to identify, thus any concerns you have should be taken seriously and addressed by your physician or other medical personnel immediately.
Swimming pools are another fun experience with your baby, starting at about 4 months of age. Younger than this the effects of chlorine are not fully known, and new studies suggest early chlorine exposure may lead to respiratory issues. Also, under 4 months old infants are less able to regulate their body temperatures, especially when submerged for long periods of time in cold water. Infants in swimming pools should have “touch supervision” at all times, which means an adult is always within touch distance, even when the infant has some sort of flotation device attached. And, pool barrier safety is key, as the most severe pool accidents happen when toddlers and children wander into the pool area alone. Most experts recommend childproofing include a fence directly around the edge of the pool, even if the pool area itself if fenced in. These fences include alarms if the fence is penetrated, and should have no furniture pushed up against them that a child could climb up on.
Go outside, and have fun!
Ben Spitalnick, MD, MBA, FAAP
“Dr Ben” is Co-Author of the AAP parenting book “Baby Care Anywhere: A Quick Guide to Parenting On the Go”, and President of the American Academy of Pediatrics Georgia Chapter. He practices with Pediatric Associates of Savannah at their Waters Avenue and Whitemarsh Island locations.
All photos in this blog post were taken by Monica Jean Photography.