Health conditions

Heat stress in babies and young children

Babies and young children up to 4 are very sensitive to high temperatures and can get heat stress quickly.

It is very important to watch them closely to keep them from getting dehydrated or overheated.

Signs and symptoms

Unlike adults, babies and young children may not show the early signs and symptoms of heat stress. Your baby or child may just look unwell or be more irritable than usual.

Babies may, however:

  • seem floppy
  • have drier skin
  • refuse to drink
  • have fewer wet nappies than usual.

The soft spot on top of a baby’s head (fontanelle) may also be lower than usual.

How can heat stress be prevented?

Offer drinks regularly

  • Your baby cannot tell you that he or she is thirsty, so it is important to make sure they are getting enough to drink.
    • During hot weather, breastfed babies (including expressed breast milk fed) may need extra breast milk feeds. 
    • Bottle (formula) fed babies may need small amounts of cool boiled water in between feeds. This also applies to older babies, especially if the baby is having other foods. 
  • Give young children regular drinks throughout the day, ideally water. Avoid giving them sugary soft drinks.

A refreshing idea for children who are old enough is to freeze fruit pieces (for example orange quarters or watermelon) for them to suck on – but be prepared for the sticky mess!

Keep cool

  • Dress your baby or young child in light, loose clothing, for example a singlet and nappy or a loose fitting shirt.
  • Giving your baby a lukewarm bath or regularly sponging them with lukewarm water may help. Do not use cool or cold water.
  • Choose the coolest place in the house for your baby or young child to sleep. Make sure the air can circulate around the bassinette or cot (remove any liners or padding). Don’t leave babies to sleep in a pram in hot weather.
  • If you have do not have a fan or airconditioner, you can sponge your baby or toddler’s body with cool damp cloths and place wet towels or sheets near (but not on or over) the bassinette or cot to cool the air immediately near them. Check your baby regularly to make sure they are not getting too cold.
  • For more information on safe sleeping for babies, please refer to the SIDS and Kids website (external site)
  • If you use a fan, do not point it towards your baby but instead use it to circulate air around the room.
  • If you have an airconditioner, make sure the room does not get too cold (about 24 to 26 °C is low enough).

Going outside

  • Whenever possible, avoid taking your baby or young child out in very hot weather.
  • If you are outside, protect your baby or child's skin from the sun by:
    • keeping your baby or child in the shade
    • covering their skin with loose clothing and a hat
    • using baby or toddler sunscreen on skin that cannot be covered by clothing. Always check the label before applying.

Travelling in cars

Your car can heat up to a dangerous temperature very quickly.

  • Whenever possible, avoid travelling in hot weather. If you do need to travel, try to do it early in the day.
  • Never leave your baby or child alone in a car, even if the airconditioning is on, as they can still get heat stress.
  • Make sure the sun is not shining directly on your baby or child when they are in the car as this can cause overheating. Your baby’s skin is also very thin. If left unprotected, it can burn in sunlight which has passed through your car windows.
  • Never cover a baby capsule in a car with a rug or towel to shade your baby from the sun. This will restrict air moving around your baby and only make them hotter.
  • Consider using a window shield to protect your baby from the sun.

Where to get help

  • If you have severe symptoms, always dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance in a medical emergency
  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Remember

  • Babies and young children can get heat stress very quickly and without showing the symptoms that adults do.
  • Reduce the risk of heat stress by offering regular drinks, keeping your baby or child cool, and reducing time outside in hot weather.

Acknowledgements
Disaster Preparedness Management Unit

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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