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What You Need to Know About Overheating Before Hitting the Friendly Skies with Your Baby

On June 22nd, Emily France of Superior, Colorado, feared her overheated four-month-old baby would die in her arms while they waited to evacuate a United Airlines flight at Denver International Airport. By the time an ambulance rushed Owen away, the plane had been sitting on the tarmac for over two hours. Though crew members allowed France to come to the front of the plane and hold her son in front of the open door while they brought bags of ice, Owen was struggling with the heat. It was an unusually warm day, with temperatures in the 90’s.


France said, “His whole body flashed red and his eyes rolled back in his head and he was screaming. And then he went limp in my arms. It was the worst moment of my life.”

After the paramedics were called, another thirty minutes passed before Owen finally left by ambulance. Owen is now home and healthy. In a statement, United apologized and said they are taking steps to find out how this happened in order to prevent future occurrences.

While this situation may find many parents thinking twice before flying with little ones, it’s important to consider the facts before calling off your summer air travel plans.

Overheating happens when the rising temperature of your body outpaces its ability to regulate itself or to cool itself down. Overheating can lead to heat stroke, which is potentially fatal. Babies are especially vulnerable to heat stroke because their nervous systems, responsible for temperature regulation, are not yet mature. Physician and mother of three, Ivy Pointer, M.D., who works in the pediatric intensive care unit at Wake Med in North Carolina, explains why.

From a physiology standpoint, [babies and children] have a higher metabolic rate, meaning that they physically create more heat per kilogram of body weight. They have higher heat absorption due to the fact that they have a higher surface area to mass ratio. And they have a lower rate of sweating.

According to Florida physician and mother Micheyle Goldman, D.O., M.P.H., medical director of the pediatric emergency department at Memorial Hospital West, though heat cramps and heat exhaustion are common in the summer months, heat stroke, which is the most severe form of heat illness, is relatively rare. Goldman says that though young children and infants, in particular, are at higher risk, heat-related illnesses are more commonly seen in adolescent athletes who do not hydrate adequately.

Both Goldman and Pointer noted most infants who come to the hospital with heat-related illnesses were left in cars. Says Pointer, “Even on days which do not seem extraordinarily hot, the car can heat up quickly resulting in an infant’s death.”

Risk Factors

Babies are vulnerable to overheating when they are:

  • Exposed to a hot environment. This is especially true when there hasn’t been a chance to acclimate (i.e., during a heat wave, on vacation in a warmer climate, at the beginning of the summer).
  • Overdressed. According to the National Institutes of Health, SIDS is more likely to occur in the winter months than during the warmer months. It’s during the winter when caregivers are more likely to bundle babies in more blankets and layers than are necessary. Instead, babies should sleep in light clothing in a room set to a temperature an adult would find comfortable.
  • Dehydrated. Pointer recommends parents watch for fewer wet diapers, dry mouth, and a lack of tears.

Signs and Symptoms

Unfortunately, your baby can’t tell you she’d like to take her hat off or that she’s feeling parched. Fortunately, there are non-verbal cues you can pick up on.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion, which is milder than heat stroke, include:

  • Increased thirst.
  • Dehydration.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Skin that is cool and moist to the touch.

Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • A temperature of 103F, but the baby is not sweating.
  • Hot, red, dry skin.
  • Increased pulse rate. (Pointer advises parents to remember that an infant’s normal heart rate can be up to 150-160 beats per minute, depending on the age.)
  • Rapid, shallow breathing.
  • Vomiting.
  • Lethargy. Unlike a baby who is just sleepy, a lethargic baby may not rouse when you call his name, tickle him, or rub his back or chest in an attempt to wake him.
  • Loss of consciousness.

Care

If your baby is overheating, but the symptoms aren’t severe enough to warrant emergency medical care,

  • Offer your baby fluids. Experts recommend babies under four months old drink breastmilk and/or formula, as opposed to water.
  • Get your baby into a cooler environment. If you’re outside, go inside to an air-conditioned place, or find a shady spot if indoor shelter isn’t available.
  • Give your baby a bath in cool water.
  • If symptoms do not improve or if they worsen, seek medical care.

Prevention

According to Goldman, it’s vital to be prepared for overheating when flying. She advises parents to:

  • Bring extra fluids for your kiddos in case the airline doesn’t have the beverage your child will drink.
  • Travel in lightweight clothing.
  • Bring a small, battery operated fan. On an upcoming flight with her eight-year-old, Goldman said she plans to bring a battery operated misting fan.

When most of us fly with an infant, our biggest concerns are that they’ll have a blow-out or an earache. The fact that they might overheat during a delay doesn’t enter our minds. While the recent United incident is certainly not the norm – Goldman says she’s never seen or heard of anything like it in over a decade of working in emergency pediatric medicine – it’s something to be prepared for.

Says Pointer, “I can understand how boarding a plane with an infant, already an anxiety-provoking moment, could be even scarier now, but I think moms can make sure they prepare by bringing plenty of fluids (either for themselves if breastfeeding or for their infant) and layers of clothing for their infant. I hope that the airlines will also be more cognizant of specific needs of an infant and adjust protocols accordingly.”

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

My Instagram feed has been full of pictures of friends that their kids to the beach. I get it, I like the beach a lot. But the forest and the mountains are my real loves.

The way the damp leaves smell in the morning. The peace of walking underneath a canopy of trees. The sound of firewood crackling at night. Sigh, heaven.

I also grew up camping with my family and have done some intense hiking, backpacking and search and rescue. So it's kind of in my blood—I wear my frostbite scars with honor.

So I couldn't wait to get my future kids out into nature (minus the frostbite). I had visions of us hiking to a stream, swimming and splashing all day, then cooking a big meal over a campfire as we sing songs and laugh.

Then, I actually became a parent. Of three kids, actually, all of whom are still very young… and a dog… and a husband who doesn't really like camping.

Despite the realization that it wouldn't be exactly as I planned, this summer we finally decided to take our first camping trip as a family.

Here is what I learned:

1. Set the bar low

I had to remind myself over and over again that this trip would not live up to my expectations. I know this sounds like a bummer way to start a trip, but it really helped. I have the tendency to over-plan and get really (really) excited about things. This is not a bad quality, but it can lend itself to disappointment when things don't go as hoped. I didn't want us to leave the trip feeling like it was a failure in any way.

This trip was a success, and a big moment for our family, no matter how it turned out.

Instead of forcing activities or memories, I forced myself to just… be. Not expecting the trip to be magical opened us up to appreciate the unexpected moments of magic as they occurred naturally, without being forced.

This got harder, of course, when our car got stuck in the mud (true story), and we had to wait three hours for AAA to arrive. But when our kids talk about the camping trip now they still squeal with delight as they recount the story of the tow truck coming. You're welcome (I guess)?

2. We made it really easy

I put my camping ego aside, and we took a lot of shortcuts on this first trip. We didn't stay in a tent but rented a barebones cabin instead. For dinner, we ordered a pizza. And we let the kids play on our phones for a little bit in the evening.

Those things didn't make for a truly authentic experience, but goodness, they really helped. I have started to realize that there is no shame in making things easy, especially when you have little kids. And they didn't know any different. As far as they are concerned, we hiked the Appalachian Trail and gathered all our own food from the earth.

This was a lazy camping trip, for sure—and that was exactly what we needed.

3. I over-prepped for safety so I could calm down

I have hiked and camped in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in February—this was not that. At any given moment on our trip, an ambulance could have easily reached us, and we were only a few minutes away from a hospital at any point. But it made me feel much better to know that we were safe and ready for anything that should happen.

We bought a first aid kit, a survival kit, too many flashlights and bottled water. I was really big on everyone wearing good footwear and teaching them how to walk carefully on uneven terrain.

We also used the opportunity to teach about other areas, like water safety. Rita Goldberg of the British Swim School recommends "[teaching kids] to avoid water hazards and to not approach a fountain, river, pool or lake without an adult's supervision and permission."

We also incorporated their "Water Watcher" program, which assigns a "badge of responsibility" to one adult at all times, who maintains a constant watch over the kids while they are near water.

These easy steps, that we decided on ahead of time, made me feel much more relaxed, and therefore better able to enjoy our time.

This trip took some emotional adjustments on my part. It wasn't glamorous, or particularly exciting. But that was exactly what it needed to be. Emily Glover wrote that "by getting away from the distractions of home and focusing on each other...we're reminded of what really matters."

We found that in the woods—together.

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