Spring has sprung -- a trap! Sure, it's the season of cardigan-cleansed closets, checkered picnic blankets and Technicolor blooms, but for babies and toddlers spring also has its pitfalls. That's especially true with skin care: The things we rush outdoors to enjoy (sun, flowers, nature, etc.) can bring with them itchy irritants and sunburnt bugaboos. While half-naked tots running through sprinklers on a sunny day makes for an aw-shucks image on an Easter card, such frolicking requires a keen supervising eye (and stocked medicine cabinet). Here's how to protect your little ones from the elements.
Here Comes the Sun
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping babies younger than 6 months out of direct sunlight. That's particularly important between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is at its strongest. Unlike an adult's, a baby's skin is not equipped with much melanin, the natural pigment that absorbs and protects against the sun's rays. For outdoor outings with babies under 6 months, dress your baby in light, long-sleeved shirts and long pants. The best options are those made from tightly woven fabrics that the sun can't penetrate. Use a wide-brimmed hat or cap to cover her face and neck. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (one that protects against UVA and UVB rays) that's at least SPF 15 on any exposed areas of the body like the back of her hands. Look for a chemical-free version that uses zinc or titanium dioxide. If she's cruising in a stroller, be sure to keep the canopy up. For babies older than 6 months, apply a sunscreen with SPF 15. Reapply every two hours or so.
Stings, Bites and Bumps
With the blossoming flowers comes the return of all kinds of insects: bees and wasps, ants and yellow jackets, mosquitoes and ticks. We all know that stings and bites bring on itchy, tender bumps, but they can also cause dangerous allergic reactions. For example, if a bee stings a small child with asthma or other breathing problems, it may lead to the shrinking of air passages.
Bugs tend to be most active early in the morning and late in the afternoon. No one wants to stay inside due to pesky bugs, so it's best to safeguard the skin with the proper repellent. If the baby is over 2 months, the AAP recommends insect repellants with DEET, an effective chemical that lasts three to eight hours. Those made with essential oils from plants like citronella and eucalyptus are less effective and last a much shorter amount of time. Avoid gimmicky gadgets like ultrasound devices and bug zappers, which may actually attract bugs to your backyard.
Spray repellent on the clothing and exposed parts of baby's skin. (Do it outside to avoid inhaling fumes.) Don't overuse: Spraying on an extra dose does not make it more effective. At the end of the day, wash the spray off baby with soap and water, and wash clothes before wearing again. If your tot is bitten, use a cold compress or cloth filled with ice to ease inflammation or apply calamine lotion.
Plant Scratch Fever
Thanks to those April showers, it's wall-to-wall green in your backyard again. But it's important to know what's growing back there, as some plants may mean trouble. Request a list of poisonous plants in your area by visiting poison.org or calling 800-222-1222. Some of the treatments for keeping your yard healthy may not be safe for children. If you're using herbicides and pesticides, don't allow children to play on treated parts of the lawn for 48 hours.
The season's biggest leaf-laden perpetrators are poison ivy and poison oak (three-leafed plants with wide, shiny green leaves). The skin rash, which typically appears four days after exposure, is marked by red, swollen skin and tiny, blister-like bumps that burn and itch. If your baby has touched poison ivy or poison oak, keep his hands away from his eyes. Wash him immediately with soap and water to remove any lingering oil and sap. This will keep absorption into the skin to a minimum. While the rash will heal on its own in approximately two weeks, you can use cold compresses, cool baths and calamine lotion to ease discomfort.
While these rashes are not transferable between children, you may want to rinse down Fido: Pets playing in and around poison oak or poison ivy can transmit the oil to family members.