I don't normally take to the blog on controversial issues but a story from a Swedish newspaper has made my blood boil.
The news at the heart of this claims that parents are risking their children's lives by putting blankets over their prams in hot weather. This to me is scaremongering for publicity rather than a responsibly written and researched article.
Unscientific testing means nothing
As someone who has spent the last 6 years working with products that cover prams I am shocked that this story has even been published as it scares parents unnecessarily and without any scientific facts to back it up. It quotes a random test carried out by a journalist from a newspaper as if it is proves something credible. The only 'credentials' it has is that a comment is made by a Swedish paediatrician (who does not seem to have been involved in the experiment). This does not make it a valid test.
I have spent tens of thousands of pounds on safety testing for my products and am horrified that 'stick a pram in the sun and put a thermometer in it' has been given pseudo-scientific credibility and then shared tens of thousands of times in order to scare parents and actually potentially expose small children to UV when it could be dangerous (ie at the hottest time of the day).
Don't get me wrong - I'm no fan of blankets
Parents have been covering prams with various items including blankets, muslins (even coats) for many years ( I did it myself which is why I invented SnoozeShade as it didn't work for me).
I am not saying that a blanket is the best way to protect babies from the sun but, as a short term measure (and when the parent regularly checks on their child), a carefully and loosely draped blanket over the handlebars (so air can flow around it) will provide some protection from harsh UV which is better than no protection at all which leaves delicate baby skin exposed.
Doctors around the world state that babies aged under 6 months must not be exposed to direct sunlight for any reason. A child's skin is delicate and it takes just FIVE sunburns in childhood to increase the risk of melanoma in later life by 80%. If it's hot enough to worry about the heat then UV levels will also be high!
Fortunately, I have not heard of a child dying due to a blanket on a pram. I have heard of children burned when parents have left them exposed to the sun and, sadly, there are far too many accidents where children have been left in a hot car (which is totally different from being in a pram which is not a sealed unit made of glass and metal).
Sun protection facts
A professionally manufactured sunshade that is made from a woven mesh fabric is the best thing to use to protect a baby or small child from the sun. It is designed for that purpose and will adhere to set UV safety standards to ease parents' minds.
In order to claim that a sun shade gives UV protection the fabric must be laboratory-tested to ensure it meets certain criteria.
If you want to double check what UV protection is provided then most manufacturers will be happy to provide you with the proof of this testing.
If the fabric does not provide over 97.5% protection (UPF40+) then it cannot be considered to be a UV shade. Do check carefully as I have seen many products that baffle parents with science and numbers. You cannot claim that anything under 97.5% is UV protection. Shade - yes/ UV protection - no.
If you can see your baby then so can the sun
One other important thing to check is how visible your child is through the shade. The science of sun protection is simple - the darker the fabric the better unless it has been chemically treated - that is why so many are black. Many baby sun shades claim to have UPF50+ (maximum) protection but when you check into the detail there is one strip of fabric somewhere on the product that is UPF50+ but if there is a mesh that you can clearly see your child through it will not be giving UPF50+ protection - it's just not possible.
When SnoozeShade fabric is in a single layer it blocks 80% of UV and I make best efforts to ensure that this is very clear so customers know what they are buying. This makes it harder to see your child but is why I built in zips which you can use to check on your child. 80% is the best I've seen for a single layer of mesh with no chemical additives.
In addition, I have gone one step further with SnoozeShade and had the fabric tested in a respected independent laboratory specifically for breathability and air permeability (even though it is not necessary to do this).
I did this as we have many parents using the products in hot climates worldwide and I wanted to be absolutely sure that I could say I had done everything I can to ensure my products are ultra safe. And they are.
What does breathable actually mean?
Breathability does not, as you might think, relate to an exchange of air. Instead it is the ability of a fabric to allow moisture vapour to pass through it. This is a word used frequently in relation to sportswear and the ability of a fabric to let sweat escape. Many fabric-based products claim to be breathable but if you were to actually hold it up to your face and try and breathe through it you would struggle to do so comfortably.
One concerning trend I have seen - particularly in car seat canopies - is the use of fluffy minky-like fabrics. As a parent I would be worried as the air will not be able to move if a car seat or stroller is completely covered with this type of fabric. Science dictates that hot air will rise unless it us unable to. I would not want my baby's face to be accidentally covered with this type of solid fabric.
Air permeability is king
Air permeability is intrinsically linked to breathability. Air permeability is “the velocity of an air flow passing perpendicularly through a test specimen under specified conditions of test area, pressure drop, and time” (according to BS EN ISO 9237: 1995). All air permeable fabrics are breathable to some extent, though not all breathable fabrics are air permeable.
The best way to quickly test if a fabric is air permeable is to pop it over your face and nose and see if you can breathe comfortably through it. If you can't then it is not letting air pass through it easily - try it with a towel or blanket and you'll see what I mean.
What causes heat stroke anyway?
According to American paediatrician Dr Paul there are 3 things that contribute to heat stress in children. The biggest culprit in causing heat stroke is humidity (70%) which , if you're outside, there's not a lot you can do about - other than get inside to air conditioning. The second biggest contributor of 20% is UV radiation from the sun - so keeping baby shaded from UV is important. Only 10% of the cause of heat stroke in children is the ambient temperature. So if you're out and it's hot and humid - the advice would be firstly try and get somewhere out of the humidity. Whether it's humid or not you should firstly cover your child from the sun (ideally using a product designed for purpose) and seek shade and then do what you can to get cooler.
Key points for parents to remember are:
* Doctors and health professionals state that babies aged under 6 months must be kept out of direct sunlight at all times. This is due to the thinness of their skin and how easily they could burn. Keeping your child shaded from the sun when it is very hot is always going to be better than a sunburned baby which can have both short and long term consequences.
* If it's very hot outside stay indoors during the hottest part of the day (usually between 11am - 3pm). If this is not possible then keep in the shade wherever possible and turn the pram away from direct sun.
* Do not bundle baby up in lots of thick layers when it's hot outside. Loose, thin and cool is the best way to go.
* Use lightweight air-permeable fabrics (or sunshades that have been designed for purpose) to shade the pram. Synthetic fabrics are better as they do not absorb any moisture from humidity (fibres in a woollen blanket would swell if they get damp).
Air permeable fabrics are those that you can literally breathe comfortably through if you held it over your own face - so that thick minky blanket or solid towel may not be a good choice but if it is loosely draped over to allow air to move then it is better than nothing.
* The most important thing that any parent can do is to regularly check on their child (at all times not just on hot days). It is better to have a grumpy tired child than one with heat exhaustion.
Enjoying the sun safely is something every family can do. We have also produced a few tips on how to keep your child cooler on a hot day and also some extra tips on sun safety which I hope you find helpful.