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On clear, bright days, parents enjoying a walk or jog outside with their baby often drape a blanket over the stroller to shield the little passenger from the sun.
Many may be alarmed by recent headlines declaring the practice unsafe. Even the thinnest of covers can reduce the air circulation and raise the temperature inside the stroller to dangerous levels, a pediatrician in Stockholm, Sweden, has warned.
His 2014 comments are making the rounds again as summer temperatures reach dangerous levels in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
"It gets extremely hot down in the pram, something like a thermos,” Svante Norgren told the Svenska Dagbladet, a Swedish newspaper.
"It would quickly become uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for the child.”
The newspaper tested that theory, leaving an empty stroller in the sun on a hot day. Without any coverings, the temperature inside reached about 71 degrees. With a thin cover, it soared to 93 degrees within 30 minutes. After an hour, it reached almost 99 degrees, according to The Local.
The results didn’t surprise Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a Seattle pediatrician who writes the Seattle Mama Doc blog, but she urged families not to panic.
“Let’s not be crazy about this,” Swanson told TODAY. “For a hundred years, parents have been draping blankets carefully and safely over their baby strollers to protect them from the sun, and we still want them to do that. But we can be thoughtful about it and this is a good reminder.”
On warm days, it’s certainly possible to create a greenhouse effect in an enclosed space, like a stroller, even if you use a muslin cloth or other thin, free-flowing fabric that appears to be very breathable, she said.
There’s also the issue of not being able to see your baby, said Dr. Sarah Adams, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio. Plus, babies tend to get hotter faster than adults, she added.
“I don’t like it because it will create more heat,” Adams noted. “You are stopping the circulation of the air, which will impact the baby’s breathing and temperature.”
It’s possible for a baby to have heatstroke, both Swanson and Adams said, but neither doctor had ever heard of a child becoming hurt or dying because of this scenario.
Good ventilation is important for the comfort and safety of the baby, so think about the alternatives to coverings on hot days.
How to protect your child from the sun
The doctors had the following tips:
Avoid going outside with your baby on hot days, if at all possible.
Stay in the shade — it’s the No. 1 easy way to avoid the sun’s harmful rays.
Use an umbrella — it won’t restrict the air circulation.
Find a stroller that has a canopy and some kind of opening in the back so that the air is flowing. It may also be helpful to buy a stroller with light fabric.
Frequently check in on your baby: When walking or jogging with a child in a stroller, check in every 10-15 minutes. “Look at your child and their response… if their cheeks are flushed, if they’re sweating, if they’re warm to the touch, that’s probably too hot,” Swanson said.
Look for signs of trouble: “If they seem extremely irritable, or just the opposite — lethargic or unrousable,” Adams said. “Any change in their breathing, particularly rapid breathing.”
If you suspect your child is suffering from heat exhaustion:
Get out of the heat as fast as possible and into an air-conditioned space.
Give your child fluids.
Make sure your child is acting normally: Responding to you, interacting, taking in the fluids and keeping them down.
If you have any concerns that your baby is not cooling down, seek emergency care.