A version of this story was originally published on July 13, 2021. It has been updated.
It seems like common sense: It's already a scorcher of a summer day when you're about to head out on a morning walk, so you cover the opening of your baby's stroller with a cloth cover to add a little shade and protect their precious skin from sunburn. You just want them to be comfortable, of course—but this seemingly harmless step might actually be putting baby at risk for dangerous heatstroke.
Experts in Sweden discovered that covering a baby's stroller with even a thin cotton or muslin blanket can unknowingly create oven-level temperatures while contributing to a higher risk of heatstroke—and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Stroller covers inadvertently reduce air circulation and trap heat within the stroller, creating dangerously high temperatures. They also block visibility—essential for spotting signs of heat exhaustion (a precursor to heatstroke), given the fact that babies are more sensitive to heat than older children and adults.
To show the effects of using a stroller cover in summer in action, the paper conducted a quick experiment in 2014:
- With no cover, the interior of a stroller left out in the heat measured 72º Fahrenheit.
- With a thin cloth covering the opening, the interior of the stroller reached 93º Fahrenheit in 30 minutes.
- After an hour with the cover on, the interior of the stroller reached 100º Fahrenheit.
It's the same concept as sitting in the car with the windows rolled up: On a hot summer day, temps can get sweltering and the situation can become dangerous—fast.
How to keep baby safe from heatstroke
So how do you keep your little one protected from both the heat and sun's rays while also still getting out for some necessary fresh air? Here are some safer options:
- Avoid using any type of cover over the stroller opening—even muslin or cotton swaddles or receiving blankets can contribute to rising temperatures
- Choose a stroller with a large canopy to provide shade
- Try propping an umbrella or parasol through the top handlebars to add extra coverage, or look for an umbrella attachment for your stroller
- Opt for light-colored strollers with limited padding, as dark-colored strollers can absorb more heat
- Look for a back air vent made of mesh to promote air circulation
- Attach a mini stroller fan to the handlebars or front tray
Be sure to also follow these safe sun habits:
- If your baby is over 6 months old, use SPF 30+ sunscreen for any outdoor time
- If your baby is younger than 6 months, aim to restrict walks to outside peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
Warning signs of heat exhaustion in babies and children
Signs of heat exhaustion (which may lead to heatstroke if left untreated) and dehydration aren't always obvious in babies and young kids. Keep these in mind as you venture out in the heat:
- Skin that feels clammy and cool
- Extreme thirst
- Acting tired, lethargic or weak
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Reduced number of wet diapers
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle cramps
If your baby seems to be suffering from heat exhaustion, be sure to quickly get them into a cool, air-conditioned environment and offer them plenty of fluids. If you're worried that their symptoms aren't improving, call your child's pediatrician immediately.
Kids Health from Nemours. First aid: heat illness. Updated July 2018.