At age 6 months and younger, babies need to be kept in the shade. After that you can apply sunscreen and let them enjoy a little sunshine. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

When you’re out and about this summer, take notice of all the babies and toddlers out there with their families—at the pool, the beach, the park.

They all have one big thing in common: delicate skin.

It’s critical to keep your child’s skin well-protected all year long, especially in the hot summer months.

And if you’re new to the baby game, here is square one: Babies younger than 6 months old should be kept out of the sun altogether. A baby’s skin is simply too sensitive at that age, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

“An infant’s skin possesses little melanin, the pigment that gives color to skin, hair and eyes and provides some sun protection,” the foundation states. “Therefore, babies are especially susceptible to the sun’s damaging effects.”

The prime sunshine hours are 10 a.m. to about 4 p.m., so babies should definitely not be out in that timeframe.

Some other tips to keep the 6-months-and-younger crowd protected:

  • Keep a protective cover on the stroller and on the baby’s car window.
  • Place a big, brimmed hat on your baby. As with anything you put on their head, or in their hair, the younger they wear them the easier it is for them to get used to it.
  • Keep your baby dressed in light-colored, lightweight clothing. This keeps them cool and provides much better protection.

Once your baby passes the 6-month mark, you can start using sunscreen on them. Use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or stronger and apply it at least 15 to 30 minutes before heading out into the sun. Reapply every two hours.

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Look before you lock

Last year, more than 42 children died after being left inside a vehicle in hot weather. So far this year there have been seven such cases. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends three important steps to prevent this type of tragedy:

  • Look before you lock. Make it a habit to check your car before you leave it.
  • Keep your vehicle locked and keep your keys out of reach. Nearly a third of heatstroke deaths happen because an unattended child gained access to the vehicle.
  • Take action if you notice a child alone in a car.

With all this in mind, you can take your babies and toddlers out into the beautiful weather without too many problems. If you’re at the park, keep your baby under shade. If you’re at the beach, purchase an outdoor sun tent with UV protection.

An important point to remember: It’s not just sunshine that affects your baby—heat plays a role, too.

Watch for heat exhaustion, a milder form of heat stroke. In such cases, you would notice your baby acting unusually tired or thirsty. Check your baby’s skin to see if it feels moist and cool.

Leg or stomach cramps can be another symptom. Learn to recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion, heat stroke and associated problems. Watch for signs of dehydration.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers tips to avoid these types of heat problems, including:

  • Find an air-conditioned space
  • Stay hydrated
  • Dress in lightweight clothing
  • Plan for extra rest
  • Cool off