Please don't be scared by the 'it's dangerous to cover your pram with blankets' urban myth
I am known by friends and family as someone who speaks my mind; who takes action on things I am passionate about and for being curious (tell me something I don't know and I will hunt it down and learn all about it).
Since inventing SnoozeShade I've been given another title - that of 'safety nerd'. I am obsessed with it. Because I am the mother of one amazingly precious miracle baby I know how important it is to keep our little ones safe with the products we use.
One of the first things I did when I thought about launching a product was to consult safety laboratories on what I had to do to make my products super safe, what extra testing could I do and how could I design them to be the safest on the market.
I even approached the UK's leading thermo-physicist to ask about how dark colours and heat work (as I was worried about what I now know is a misconception that 'anything black' absorbs heat). I admit I was never good at physics at school (sorry Mr Crewe). My knowledge on fabrics, heat transmission, UV protection etc has grown immensely over the last 8 years.
As my business has grown I have become a bit more careful of what I say and how I say it. I know it reflects on the brand and I can be quite outspoken so I've railed it in a bit - something I am reconsidering.
So what has brought about this post?
Simply put I am cross about a couple of irresponsible news stories that are being shared widely on social media that could
a) potentially put a generation of babies in danger of increased risk of skin cancer
b) scare parents into leaving their baby exposed to the sun
c) encourage parents to go up to other parents and berate them for covering their pram
Four years ago in 2014, a Swedish newspaper published an article dramatically called "Swedes risk infants' lives by covering up prams"
The story stated that covering a pram with anything, even a thin muslin, could be very dangerous to babies - mentioning the potential of SIDS and death. Scary stuff indeed!
So what are the origins of this immense danger? What intensive medical and scientific research study was done? The answer is - NONE.
The newspaper put a stationary pram (with its winter cover on) out in the midday sun (we don't know what the temperature was or what humidity levels were or how it was measured), left it (we don't know for how long), then put a blanket on and measured the temperature.
Unsurprisingly, the temperature rose and a paediatrician was asked to comment who did so quite dramatically "It would quickly become uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for the child... if a child gets too hot then the child may think that it is back in the womb, which is why breathing may stop," said Svante. This from someone who was not even involved in this so-called study.
Subsequently, pretty much every time the sun comes out over the last four years, every major national and regional newspaper and parenting website has featured a story with titles including: "Dangerous mistake parents make with prams during hot weather" (The Sun) "Why covering your baby’s pram with a blanket could put their life at risk"(MadeForMums) "Prams can be dangerous if you do THIS" (The Express).
And the huge scientific research study they referred to when scaring parents like this was.... yes .. you guessed it.. a Swedish study (which is what it is now referred to as if it had scientific validity).
Recently a Scandinavian baby product retailer called BabyBanden ran a video on its Facebook page showing two prams sitting in blazing sun with digital thermometers to ‘prove’ how dangerous it was to place a blanket over one of them. Again there was no methodology or details of how this experiment was carried out. Most of their normal videos get between 1,000 and 20,000 views. This video currently stands at 11 million views. They knew exactly what they were doing when they did this video and their only intention was to scare and so be shared or else they would have put in helpful sun protection advice.
When you create a baby product, in order to make a claim for its safety you have to have it properly tested. Putting my daughter under a SnoozeShade, waiting to see if she burns and then, if she doesn't, claiming it has UV protection wouldn't get me very far in court if I was ever to have a customer complaint.
In order to be able to make a claim of safety for my product that it has a UPF rating I have to have it tested in a laboratory who follow certain standardised protocols that ensure that the test results are scientific, reliable and importantly - repeatable. This reliability of results should also apply for claims of danger.
In addition, there are teams of people out there who are interested in spotting patterns of danger in order to prevent it. and, if covering a pram was so dangerous that it was causing many fatalities and injuries (which these stories would suggest is likely) then surely it would have been spotted by now.
When there was a scare about cot bumpers it originated from a research study done by a team from Washington University School of Medicine who had noted a number of infant deaths due to cot bumpers. 47 deaths were reported over a period of 28 years before this investigation was undertaken (this is less than 2 a year). There had also been several hundred incidents of babies injured (but fortunately not fatally) by cot bumpers and so there was a solid reason for the research to be done and for dangers to be highlighted.
When medical professionals recommend that babies are not left in car seats for any long period of time (due to the danger of suffocation because of weak necks) they do so because a team from Penn State Medical Centre, Pennsylvania had noted a pattern and investigated it.
To this day, there has not been a single case of a baby's death in a pram due to being covered by a muslin or blanket or towel.
I know this is not a nice subject to be discussing but, the facts are, that if a muslin was a direct cause of a baby's death then a coroner would legally have to state this. If this became a common occurrence (as these stories claim it is so dangerous after all surely there must be many many examples) then there would be a research team who, with the widespread social media sharing of this article, would research it and then reinforce that this was genuine risk.
In four years this hasn’t happened. And that is simply because there are safe ways of covering and protecting a baby from the elements and most parents would naturally do this.
I love social media and I use most forms of it regularly, both personally and professionally, however one of the downsides is that information gets shared very quickly and not always responsibly.
The reason I have written this article is because my local NHS Maternity Unit shared this post on Facebook
"Enjoy this glorious weather, but please don't cover your baby's pram or car seats (even with a thin muslin) - under the cover becomes 15 degrees hotter than a pram left uncovered. “
I saw red. Where is the countering sensible advice on how you can safely protect your child from the sun? Where is the science behind this 15 degree increase? All this is is a massive 'share and scare' story.
To date this page's post (which has just 500 fans) has been shared 4,417 times. On this Facebook page, parents were berating themselves for being bad parents because they had used a muslin over their child - and they would never risk their child’s life like this again! Don’t parents have enough genuine things to feel worried about? Why should there be this story that is genuinely scaring people?
Just one instance of sunburn as a baby increases the risk of developing skin cancer by 50% and five instances increase it to 80%. Yes I have invented a safe sunshade - but this is not about sunshades. This is about the reality of parenting and the fact that our fears that we are not doing the best for our babies are being exploited to no good end.
What are the parents who can’t afford a parasol or sunshade; just haven’t thought about it; have left it at home or have been caught out by a suddenly sunny day supposed to do?
What this story (and subsequent video) was encouraging was just downright stupid! It was basically saying that it is safer to leave baby exposed to the UV than loosely attach some sort of shield to the pram while the parent tries to get out of the sun.
FACT: Medical professionals world-wide say to keep babies aged under 6 months out of direct sunlight completely. The American Academy of Dermatology say that sunscreen in infants should be considered “the last layer of protection,” used only on exposed areas when adequate clothing and shade are not available. So slathering your under 6 month old in suncream is not the best course of action. So keeping them shaded is the first line of defence.
FACT: Muslins are generally made of cotton which, although not as air permeable as a synthetic mesh, have air-permeable qualities. So hot air cannot be trapped by a muslin. It is not the same as being in a car with closed windows; a greenhouse effect cannot be created with a muslin and it cannot cut off oxygen in a pram (all these have been used as reasons why it’s dangerous). There are many ways of draping the muslin over the pram and attaching it to the handles so it acts as an overhead shade without compromising air flow.
The best analogy I can come up with is - imagine a hot air balloon. Air balloon fabric is made from a tightly woven and air-impermeable fabric so that it can trap hot air. That is its whole purpose. It traps hot air and hot air wants to rise so it can’t go anywhere so takes the balloon with it.
Now imagine a hot air balloon made of a muslin - let me tell you that it couldn’t inflate in the first place and would just be a mess around the base of the balloon basket. The fabric is just not capable of trapping hot air.
So I won’t say much more as the article in The Mirror spells out my practical advice on what to do if you are a parent caught out on a sunny day.
The key thing with all these things is the application of common sense (which I know is not always common) and also the parental responsibility to check in on your child, learn about the symptoms of heat stroke and learn what to do if your child has it.
What I will say is please, if you are a health professional - check out the validity of these so-called ‘babies in danger stories”. Don’t rely on the volume of social media sharing as proof of validity. Just because something is shared a million times does not mean that not is true.
I am very disappointed to see that The Lullaby Trust is causing further confusion by stating that it is unsafe to cover a pram with a blanket or cloth or any cover (without clearly specifying that it would equally dangerous to leave a baby uncovered and stating ways in which you can do it safely) they had a note added to The Mirror piece
The note from SIDS charity The Lullaby Trust says: "There are very strong reasons why medical professionals recommend that babies’ prams and buggies should not be covered with blankets, cloths or any cover that prevents the air circulating."
I just wish that they had stated that there are safe ways to cover with air circulating - as parents might believe that any kind of cover at all might be dangerous and there are definitely ways to cover safely with a muslin or equivalent with plenty of air circulating but safely shading baby from the sun. Certainly I have seen this confusion where parents just worry about doing the best thing and, in the absence of guidance from experts, may choose to just do what is suggested as they see fit ie just not cover the baby at all.
There are many medical professionals who agree that there are safe ways to shade a baby (and many midwives and doctors that I have spoken to have been concerned about the potential increase in numbers of sunburned babies with these stories circulating).
Dr Rahul Chodhari from the Royal College of Paediatrics was recently quoted as giving what seems to be sensible advice:
"It is OK to cover them because most prams have enough ventilation," he told The Sun Online. "The highest risk of overheating is between 11am and 3pm, which is when the sun is at it's strongest. When NHS England has declared a heat wave warning, and there are three levels of this, a level three warning is when we expect significant dehydration. That is the time I would say parents need to be careful and avoid going out between 11am and 3pm. Woollen materials will get considerable warm, but generally a cover is not a risk if it is a mesh material. Dark synthetic meshes are slighter better than lighter colours. Darker shades don't absorb most of the heat and reflect it back in some ways."
This is the reality and the science - prams are not the same as a car which is a closed metal and glass structure which will absolutely trap hot air and increase temperatures. A pram (particularly a moving one) will have air flowing around it.
So, if you are a parent and you hear a scary story and worry about whether you are doing the right thing for your child - please go ahead and do some research and feel free to question the sources of these scare stories. If it's a genuine story it will be easy to see where it has originated from and if there is a valid cause of concern.
Rant over (and I genuinely hope you've found it helpful).