Winter is coming and for many that means dreaming of tropical getaways. Last winter, like most Canadians, we started daydreaming about a trip to a tropical paradise, but we didn't know if it was safe to bring our baby. We did some research and found our destination near Cancun was safe, given certain precautions (read our Guide to an All-Inclusive Vacation). Here are 7 important things you need to know before taking your baby on a tropical holiday:
The sun is more powerful in the tropics
The area between the Tropic of Cancer (in the northern hemisphere) and the Tropic of Capricorn (in the southern hemisphere) is at the most direct angle to the sun and therefore receives the most intense UV radiation on the planet. While this should concern you, there are effective ways to keep your baby's skin healthy.
Babies under 6 months old: It is generally not recommended to put sunscreen on your baby if they are under 6 months old. Why? Their younger skin increases their exposure to the chemicals in the sunscreen, therefore increasing the risk of side effects. If direct sunlight cannot be avoided, consult your pediatrician to determine whether sunscreen is right for your baby.
Babies over 6 months old: Your older baby can now safely wear sunscreen. Liberally apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF factor of at least 30 (or higher) to all exposed skin areas. Reapply at least every two hours, or more frequently if they have been in the water or are sweating.
2. Sun Avoidance
The sun is most powerful between 10AM - 2PM and it is advised that you keep your baby out of direct sunlight during this time. This is a perfect time to grab some lunch, check out the indoor activities at your resort or put your baby down for a nap. If you can't be indoors during this time, find a shady spot under a tree or use a UV protected beach umbrella or tent.
Take advantage of your 'unusual' schedule - while the late-night partiers are sleeping in until noon, go to the beach early in the morning when there is no one around. As a bonus, this is when the beach is at its most beautiful, nearly deserted with the sun hanging low in the sky.
Not happy about missing the tanning opportunity? Consider taking turns with your spouse watching the baby during nap time, while the other hits the beach for a little fun in the sun.
Use clothing strategically to protect your baby from the sun - the more skin you can cover the better. Be sure that the fabric is thick enough to provide protection, yet remains breathable - cotton works well for this. A good idea is to buy a long sleeve, long leg bathing suit with built-in UV protection. A wide brimmed hat is also essential to keep their delicate face, ears and neck away from the burning rays of the sun. And finally, complete the safety look with baby-friendly sunglasses with UV protection.
Babies are at risk of dehydration in the heat as they don't sweat as effectively as grown-ups. Be sure to offer them breast milk or formula on a regular basis to ensure they get the fluids they need to stay safe. Signs of dehydration include redness of the skin, fussiness, less frequent urination or excessive crying.
The most common health issues reported amongst children travellers are diarrhea, skin conditions (insect bites & sunburn), malaria and respiratory disorders. It is strongly advised that you seek advice from a professional specializing in travel illnesses prior to booking your trip, but in the meantime here are a few things to think about:
Given diarrhea is often caused by food or water, breastfeeding is the best way to reduce the risks for your baby. If your baby is formula fed or on solid foods, ensure that all water given to your baby has been disinfected and that all food has been cooked to a safe temperature. Peel all fruit immediately before eating and ensure that all dairy products have been pasteurized. Be very careful and thorough when cleaning items which will enter your baby's mouth, such as pacifiers, bottles, etc. Again, ensure the water being used to clean is disinfected.
Babies with diarrhea become dehydrated more quickly than adults so make every effort to keep them hydrated. Seek medical attention if you see signs of dehydration, blood in the diarrhea, temperature greater than 101.5°F (38.6°C) or persistent vomiting.
6. Malaria and other Tropical Diseases
Thankfully, most major tropical tourist destinations are free of diseases, such as malaria and dengue. It is very important that you learn what the risks are for your destination, as babies are at a higher risk of complications than adults. It is especially important to seek professional advice on prevention for the whole family prior to travelling to an area where risks are present.
7. Insect Bites
Insect repellent is generally acceptable for use on babies older than 2 months. Read the label on your product very carefully for any stated usage limitations on babies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using repellent with less than 30% DEET. Avoid applying repellent to open cuts, hands, eyes, ears, mouth, etc. as this will allow it to enter the body of your baby. Also avoid applying it to their hands, as they will always end up in your child's mouth. Wash your baby thoroughly with soap once you have returned indoors. Finally, be aware that the use of insect repellent on top of sunscreen reduces the effectiveness of the sunscreen by up to 33%.
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