Ready to let your baby dip a toe in the water? Here's your plan for a stress-free introduction to the beach for your little one.
The beach is a whole new world of sights, sounds, and experiences for your baby. But when is your baby really ready to hit the sand? Shana Bondo, MD, a pediatrician at Medical University of South Carolina, suggests waiting until babies are around two months old: Newborn babies can't regulate their body temperature as well as older babies, so it's easier for them to overheat.
But if you're ready to bundle your older baby off to the beach, here's how to do it right.
1. Pack baby's beach bag with essentials
A well-packed bag can make for a much smoother day at the beach, says Corinne McDermott, founder of Have Baby Will Travel. Go light on beach toys (there's plenty of all-natural playthings at the shore). Stock a tote or two with these essentials:
- Sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher (for use on you and on babies six months or older)
- UV-protectant swimwear, including onesies, shirts or rash guards
- A wide brimmed hat
- Shade, like a small tent, umbrella or pop up shelter
- A fresh change of clothes for your little one
- Swim diapers
- An approved flotation device, like an infant life vest
- Hydration options: fresh water, formula, or extra feedings
- A small cooler to store breast milk or formula
- Healthy snacks
- Beach towels or an old duvet cover to spread out because it's comfy and folds up easily
- A beach bucket, shovel and a few sand molds
2. Slather on the SPF
Sun exposure is particularly dangerous for your little one's delicate skin, and doctors don't recommend using sunscreen on babies under six months old. "The FDA does not endorse the use of sunscreen in babies less than 6 months of age," Bondo says. "It is a general recommendation that babies of that age should just avoid sun exposure all together. That said, most practitioners and other health-related organizations support a minimal use of sunscreen in younger infants as a last resort and when sun exposure cannot be avoided." So if you're taking your baby to the beach, ensure your little one stays in the shade at all times, and if your baby is over six months old, slather her thoroughly with broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, at least 15 minutes before you head to the beach. Don't forget to wear SPF clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses for extra protection. And make sure you reapply the sunscreen frequently: "The most important aspect of sunscreen use is frequent application, and that's where most users go wrong," Dr. Bondo advises.
3. Take a dip
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping babies out of the open water because of the risk of rip currents, pollution, toxins and marine animals, says Dr. Bondo. But having a splish splash party in the shallow waves with a caretaker close at hand is an excellent way to introduce your little one to the salt water. Make sure that baby always wears a flotation device in the water—and that a responsible adult is always right by her side.
4. Keep it cool
Overheating is a real risk for children, but it's easy to avoid if you're careful.
- Avoid peak sun hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Plan your beach trip either earlier in the morning or after naptime in the late afternoon.
- Offer hydration. It's important to offer additional feedings or water throughout the day to avoid dehydration, Dr. Bondo says.
- Look for signs of overheating like fatigue, increased fussiness, hot, flushed skin or dry, parched lips. If you're concerned about heat stroke, find shade and call your doctor immediately.
5. Set up for naptime
Babies often sleep really well at the beach, thanks to the soothing sound of ocean waves. Depending on when you go to the beach, you may need to put your little one down for a nap. Just make sure you're set up for napping success with available shade on hand and a non-sandy spot for your baby to close his eyes.
6. Expect to be on the move
The days of reading your favorite magazine followed by a relaxing snooze on the beach are long gone with kids in tow. You'll have a very different—but just as enjoyable—visit to the beach in store.