Keeping Baby Safe this Summer
The weather's warm and you're ready to grab a sippy cup and head outside. When strolling in the park or building sand castles on the beach, experts say basic safety precautions apply to just about any outdoor summer situation.
"Never, ever leave a child unattended near any water — even shallow water, even for a second— and always keep children away from grills to prevent accidental burns," says Dr. JJ Levenstein, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles.
Other scenarios, however, aren't always so clear-cut. For instance, what should you do if your toddler eats a bug? (Yes, some kids really do that! But it's protein, right?) Before you worry your summer away, take a look at what experts say will make sure your child has tons of safe summertime fun.
IN THE YARD
Backyard plus kids equals potential for medical attention. Sunburns and slivers can happen to any babe outside in the summer unless you follow these suggestions.
Staying safe one grain at a time
Even kids who are supervised get sand in their ears, mouths or diapers. "They've had sand just about everywhere!" says Heather Shields, an Illinois mom to sons 3 years and 15 months. If that happens, a gentle rinse of warm water will clean your castle-builder. But to clear sand out of a child's eye, wash your hands then rinse his eye with a few handfuls of warm (not hot) water, says Yvonne Gustafson, a parenting consultant at Elizabeth Blackwell Center at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
Sandboxes can also double as a bathroom for cats, raccoons and other creatures, so keep your kids out of ones that aren't sealed when not in use.
The quest to conquer the swing set can be risky, a lesson Stacey Dolezal Susini, a Dallas, Texas, mother of a 2-year-old learned when he was kicked while walking too close to a swing. "It knocked the wind out of him, but thank goodness he was OK," she says.
Gustafson says to "err on the side of caution and keep kids at least 15 feet from the path of swings." Playing at the bottom of the slide or underneath the monkey bars are no-nos too.
Before letting your child explore a jungle gym, Gustafson says to check for exposed bolts. "Kids can fall into them resulting in serious head injuries," she says. And only allow play on gyms that have mulch, sand, pea gravel or recycled product beddings. "They absorb some of the shock if a child falls off," Gustafson says.
Steer clear of slides baking in the hot sun. "One trip down a hot slide can result in second-degree burns to hands, backs of legs or feet," she adds.
Skin is the largest organ, and during the summer, it is also the one with a good chance of having a mishap. Here's how to avoid warm-weather skin troubles like bug bites and burns.
A sunburn can occur in less than 20 minutes of direct exposure. But sunscreen isn't recommended for infants age 0 to 6 months, says Dr. Jack Lesher, chief of dermatology at MCGHealth Medical Center in August, Ga. That means young infants should never be in direct sun.
Even with sunscreen slathered on, children 6 to 24 months old should only spend an hour or two tops in the sun, preferably during nonpeak hours (before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.). And Lesher says all kids need sunscreen, but a child's complexion dictates which SPF to use. "Fair skin needs SPF30 while olive, brown or dark brown/black complexions may be OK with SPF15." No matter the number, vigilantly reapply sunscreen at least every two hours because the signs of a sunburn aren't usually noticed until it's too late. Reapply sooner if your child is in the water or sweating, Lesher says.
Also keep plenty of water on hand. Kids who are active outdoors need about 5 ounces of water an hour in 80 degree heat to prevent dehydration. That's about 10 kid-sized gulps.
Protect little piggies
Shoes are a parent's best summertime friend. They can be a barrier between feet and rocks, sharp objects, or, as Marty Billings found out, a bee. "My son started shrieking while playing barefoot in a friend's yard," the Montgomery, Ala., mother recalls. "I picked him up, and a bee was stuck in the bottom of his bare foot."
Shoes also keep deck slivers from sliding under the skin; help him maintain balance around wet pools; shield feet from hot sidewalks and driveways; and prevent lawn care products from being absorbed into skin on the feet. Bottom line: they're a really good idea.
The best shoes are ones that can't fall or be easily kicked off. Benjamin Lee, a pediatric hospitalist at Children's Medical Center in Dallas, says that rules out flip-flops and sandals. "Young kids need shoes that support and protect the whole foot," Lee says.
If a child does wiggle out of his shoes and steps on something sharp, be sure his tetanus shot is up to date. If it is, Lee says there's likely no need to go to the doctor. "Gently clean the wound with soap and water [and] apply an over-the-counter ointment like Neosporin."
DEALING WITH WINGED THINGS
Time outside means children will share space with a host of flying creatures. Here's what to do when they get a little too close for comfort.
The buzz on bees
The first time a child is stung by a bee there shouldn't be more than a local reaction like itching or minor discomfort, Levenstein says.
Keep an eye on subsequent stings, however.
"Hives, facial or lip swelling, wheezing or trouble breathing are symptoms of an allergic reaction that generally occur within seconds of a subsequent sting. They require immediate medical attention because of the possibility of anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction," she says.
If a child is stung, don't try to squeeze or pull out the stinger. Instead, use the edge of a credit card or the dull edge of a butter knife to gently drag out the stinger with its sac of venom attached. You'll minimize the venom spreading and lessen the reaction. Once the stinger is out, apply a cool compress or over-the-counter 1 percent hydrocortisone cream or a paste made from baking soda and water for itchiness. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen (if necessary) will ease the pain.
To reduce the chances your baby will get a bee in her bonnet, avoid brightly colored or patterned clothing. They're very attractive to bees.
If your baby eats a bug it's OK to be grossed out, but there's really no need to panic. Levenstein says despite seeming icky, most yard bugs are innocuous. "Generations of kids have eaten ants, slugs, snails, beetles and worms without any repercussions." If he makes a meal of them, though, he might have an upset tummy.
Playing with most bugs isn't bad, either. Worms and beetles won't do more than get a child's hands dirty, and despite being unwelcome picnic guests, black ants don't pose any potential health problems either. Red fire ants, on the other hand, bite. And those bites can be worrisome.
Levenstein says fire ant bites are usually treated like bee stings, with a topical hydrocortisone cream or a baking soda and water paste. Calamine lotion works well, too. If the bite is painful she suggests "an age-appropriate dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen."
Except for black widows and brown recluses, spiders aren't harmful, either. If one does bite your child, first clean the area with soap and water, apply a cool compress, and give acetaminophen to lessen the pain. If you suspect a black widow (they have a red hourglass symbol on their stomach) or a brown recluse (they have a violin-shaped shape on their backs) bite, call your doctor immediately. An anti-venom medication may be needed to treat a black widow bite or corticosteroids to treat a brown recluse bite.
Most common at dusk, mosquitoes are around during the day near stagnant water and will bite if disturbed. You'll know a child's been bitten when your babe starts itching or has a pinkish or red swollen bump. A cool compress is the easiest way to treat bites, but Levenstein says Calamine lotion is another good bet.
"If you've got some on hand, applying an antacid (like Maalox or Mylanta) topically cools the itch, too," she says. If your child's been bitten a few times, a non-drowsy oral antihistamine tames the reaction and decreases the impulse to scratch, reducing the risk of infection.
Summertime means spending extra time outside enjoying the long days of daylight. By following our pointers for safe outdoor play, you and your little ones will be prepared for the most common hazards of the season.
Gina Roberts Grey is a freelance writer who frequently covers parenting, women's and health topics.