The human body generates an enormous amount of heat through its metabolic activities that keep us alive. But nature has designed a cooling mechanism that gets rid of this heat - otherwise our temperatures would keep rising to fatal levels.
When we are hot, the body’s cooling mechanisms kick in and we breathe out warmer air and the blood flow to the skin increases where it is cooled in the dilated blood vessels that allow more blood to reach the surface of the skin. In addition, our own in-built air conditioners, the sweat glands, secrete more sweat, which evaporates from our skin and in the process cools us off. Sweating accounts for 90 per cent of our cooling ability.
This also applies in babies and young children, but they should be watched carefully during hot weather as they can lose body fluids very quickly through sweating and end up dehydrated. They need to drink regularly, wear light clothing and be kept cool. What do you do when you need to go out with children in hot weather?
• Make your trips during the coolest part of the day and keep the windows open while the car is moving.
• Give them frequent drinks to avoid dehydration and if you are breastfeeding, feed your baby more often while having plenty of fluids yourself, including a cool drink at every feed. Water is best for both of you. If bottle-feeding, give extra cool boiled water after the bottle.
• Dress the baby in a nappy, a light top and a well-fitting sun hat and use baby sunscreen with SPF of 15 and reapply it regularly.
• Keep in the shade and give plenty of drinks to the child.
• Give them frequent lukewarm baths or sponge them down with cool water.
• Let them sleep in the coolest place in the house and make sure the air circulates around them by removing any padding around the cot and avoid using a pillow or mattress that lets your baby sink into it or a pram because they become hot and airless. If the weather is particularly hot, cool the air by hanging wet towels over chairs or windows to cool the air. You can also use a fan, but do not direct it at the child.
• Cover mattresses and waterproof sheets with thick layers of cotton sheets to absorb perspiration and prevent prickly heat rash.
• Sick children need special care in hot weather however minor the illness. Illness often leads to a slight rise in temperature. In hot weather and this could lead to dehydration. Frequent breastfeeding and extra drinks are therefore very important if your baby is ill.
• Never leave babies or young children alone in a car in any weather. Cars quickly become too hot for small children even in the mildest of weather. On a typical hot day, the temperature inside a parked car can rise up to 40 degrees hotter than the outside temperature.
This temperature rise occurs within five minutes of locking up the car. Having the windows down causes only a slight drop in temperature.
• Dark coloured vehicles reach slightly higher temperatures than light coloured vehicles. The more glass the car has, the faster the rise in temperature, and larger cars heat up just as fast as smaller cars. The airflow decreases as the temperature and humidity inside the car begins to rise. As the temperature rises, the child begins to overheat, dehydrate and can easily develop heat stroke rapidly; the younger the child, the faster this happens.
• If you have to leave the car, even to run a quick errand, always take your children with you. Never use the car as a substitute for a babysitter.