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By Beth Weinhouse
When the days grow longer and the sun warmer, most families can't wait to take to the outdoors. But when there's an infant in the family, being outside requires special precautions. In fact, most pediatricians advise keeping infants out of direct sunlight entirely. Infant skin is thinner and more delicate than adults', or even than older children's. And because the skin's sun protection mechanism isn't fully developed yet, newborn and infant skin burns more easily. Even babies with darker skin need to be protected.
While keeping a baby indoors all summer may be the ideal from a medical point of view, it certainly isn't practical. Few babies spend an entire summer cooped up indoors. So if you plan to be outside with your baby this summer, learn how to protect the littlest family members so they can have safe fun in the sun, too. Dermatologists caution that the damage from the sun is cumulative, and most people receive up to 80 percent of their lifetime exposure to the sun before age eighteen. Beginning a sun protection program early will help protect babies from sunburn now... and from skin cancer later.
Minimizing Sun Exposure
When possible, try to avoid being outdoors in direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun's rays are strongest. Plan walks for the early morning or late afternoon.
Buy a carriage/stroller with a canopy top that can be adjusted to protect your child from the sun, no matter which direction the rays are coming from.
Have window shades in the back seat of your car to provide shade for your baby while you're driving.
Keep a sun shade/umbrella in the trunk of your car to be used at the beach, park, in a friend's backyard, etc.
Check your baby frequently to make sure he's out of direct sunlight. The angle of the sun shifts over the course of a day, so even the most carefully positioned umbrella or stroller shade will have to be constantly adjusted.
Dressing the Part
Even shade is not total protection from the sun, since the sun's rays can be reflected off many surfaces, such as sun, sand and concrete. Dressing babies properly will help protect them even when they're not exposed to direct sunlight.
Choose clothes that cover the arms and legs. Loose-fitting clothes made of natural fibers (such as cotton) will help keep your baby cooler.
Tightly woven fabrics are more protective than loose weaves.
Sunglasses don't just look cool; they also help protect babies' eyes. Find infant shades that say on the label that they block at least 99 percent of the sun's rays.
ALWAYS put a hat on a baby who's going to be outdoors in the summer sun. The hat should cover the top of the head (i.e., no headband visors), and should have a wide brim in front to shade the face. Hats with soft cloth neck flaps are ideal.
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Beth Weinhouse is a frequent contributor to Your Baby Today. She specializes in women's and children's health issues and lives in Oxford, Mississippi with her husband and 6-year-old son.