Ask the Pediatrician: How Do I Protect Baby From Sunburns and Bug Bites?

The downside to summertime? Sunburns and bug bites. Here's how to safely protect baby from both.
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Meet Dina DiMaggio, MD, and Anthony F. Porto MD, MPH, official spokespeople for the American Academy of Pediatrics and the co-authors of The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies and Toddlers. Each month, they’ll write about the latest AAP guidelines, studies and seasonal issues affecting babies and toddlers. Follow them on Instagram @pediatriciansguide.

It’s getting hot out there! With the start of summer, vacation and beach time, we wanted to share tips on how to keep your babies burn- and bug bite-free.

Sun Safety

Babies under 6 months old have thinner, more delicate skin. For this age group, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends staying out of both direct and indiret sunlight to avoid sunburns and heatstroke. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors.

  • Try keeping babies in the shade of an umbrella, tree or stroller canopy as much as possible
  • Avoid tying a blanket over a stroller for extra coverage, because that can trap heat in and become dangerous
  • Dress babies in lightweight clothing with long sleeves and pants and wide-brimmed hats that shade the ears and neck
  • If avoiding the sun is not possible, sunblock can be applied to small areas of exposed skin such as the face and hands

Babies and toddlers over 6 months old are still advised to stay in the shade or under an umbrella as much as possible. If you’re at the beach, remember to position your child under the center of the umbrella to protect them from the sun. We have seen children who have gotten burned just on the side of their body exposed to the sun.

  • Try to limit sun exposure during peak times: from 10 am to 4 pm
  • Dress babies in lightweight, light-colored clothing. Long sleeves and pants with tight weaves or with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) should be worn when possible
  • Accessorize with hats with 3-inch brims and sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection
  • Sunscreen that is broad spectrum with UVA/UVB protection and an SPF of 15 or greater (more research needs to be done to determine if SPF 50 or greater offers any added protection) should be applied 15 to 30 minutes before going outside and reapplied after two hours, as well as after swimming or sweating

Although using any sunscreen at all is important, there are some concerns about the ingredient oxybenzone. Sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium oxide are preferable ingredients. Talk to your pediatrician who knows your child’s skin best and can help you determine which sunscreen is best for your baby.

Some examples we use on our own children include:

When using any sunscreen for the first time, apply a small amount to a patch of your child’s skin and leave it on for a few hours to make sure there is no reaction before applying it all over their body.

Related Video

Keeping Bugs and Other Creepy Crawlies at Bay

Although most children only experience minor irritation with bug bites, other children suffer from multiple bites that make them uncomfortable, may require antibiotics if they become infected, or even may experience a more serious allergic reaction.

To protect from bug bites without insect repellent:

  • Wear lightweight long sleeves and pants

  • Avoid floral and bright colors. White, green, tan or khaki are less likely to attract bugs

  • Wear closed-toe shoes

  • Avoid any scents that may attract bugs

  • Place mosquito netting over your stroller

Things to consider when using insect repellent:

You can use insect repellent on your child if they are over 2 months old (EXCEPT oil of lemon eucalyptus, which should not be used on children under 3 years old). Since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates repellent products in the United States, we recommend choosing a repellent that has been registered by EPA, which means the materials have been approved for both efficacy and human safety when they are applied correctly.

How to apply insect repellent:

  • Follow all the instructions listed by the brand of repellent you choose and only apply on the outside of clothing and on exposed skin (permethrin is an exception, and should only be applied to clothing)

  • Apply repellents to your own hands first, and then spread on your child’s exposed skin

  • Avoid applying repellents directly to a child’s hands

  • When applying to a child’s face, first spray your hands and then rub onto your child’s face, avoiding the eyes, mouth and any cuts, wounds or irritated skin

  • Apply sparingly around the ears

  • Wash off the repellent from your child with soap and water as soon as possible and wash their clothes as well

  • Try to avoid using combined insect repellent/sunscreen products, since the combination may make each one less effective

Insect repellents are available in a few different forms:

Ineffective repellents that should not be used:

  • Wristbands
  • Garlic
  • Ultrasonic devices marketed to keep insects away
  • Bird or bat houses
  • Bug zappers

About the authors:

Dina works as a board certified pediatrician at Pediatric Associates of NYC and at NYU Langone Medical Center. She has received numerous research awards, along with Patient’s Choice award, compassionate doctor recognition and was featured in the New York Times Magazine as a Super Doctors and New York Rising Star. She is dedicated to educating parents on baby and toddler nutrition and gives talks to parent groups throughout New York.

Anthony is a board certified pediatrician and board certified pediatric gastroenterologist. He is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Associate Clinical Chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology at Yale University. He has won numerous awards including the Norman J. Siegel Award at Yale University for leadership and providing outstanding clinical care as well as Physician of the Year during his time at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. He has been named Castle Connolly Top Doctors since 2012. Anthony is interested in nutrition, especially in the care of children with difficulty gaining weight, feeding issues, and celiac disease. He loves teaching and educating parents and gives lectures to parents throughout New York and Connecticut.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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