Summer Safety Tips from Doctor Mom



Short version: Sun exposure causes cancer.  Sunscreen has chemicals in it.  Chemicals are bad but cancer is worse.

Long version: Sunscreen is recommended to cover exposed skin areas on days that sun is unavoidable. Ideally we should avoid sun between 10 and 2, wear a large brimmed hat and cover skin with light weight clothing. For all day family picnics or days at the beach, applying sunscreen with at least SPF 30 to the exposed areas every two hours is important. SPF 30 blocks 97% of the sun’s rays while SPF 50 blocks a little more. Just make sure your child gets a good scrub on the days that they wear sunscreen.

Bug Spray

Short version: Chemicals are bad but brain infections are worse.  Avoid being out at dusk & dawn without long sleeves. Spray your clothes and exposed skin with DEET containing bug spray.

Long version: When I was initially starting out in private practice, a mother asked me about bug spray. I had no idea of the actual recommendations, and I had recently purchased citronella based spray for my children.  Overhearing me, my partner pointed me to the AAP recommendations on bug safety. He told me that DEET containing spray was actually recommended for children. A quick glance at the guidelines myself confirmed this. The AAP recommends bug spray containing DEET of 10-15%.  Spray clothing and pat spray on the exposed skin (necks, cheeks).  As we learned with the Zika outbreak, mosquitoes can carry very deadly viruses. In the Northeast where I live they can carry West Nile virus which causes encephalitis, a dangerous brain infection.  Of course, on these days, again please make sure your child gets a thorough wash.

Car seats

Short version: Kids die of accidents. Car seats and booster seats save lives.

Long version: According to the CDC, the leading cause of death for children over the age of 1 is unintentional injury.  Motor vehicle crashes make up a large majority of these deaths. It has been almost 10 years since the “new” car seat recommendations came out.  They blew everyone’s mind with the recommendation to rear face until age 2.  Ten years is a long time (I became a doctor and had three kids in that time frame!) and everyone should now be on board.

Around one year of age children usually outgrow the baby carrier, transitioning to a convertible car seat. It is recommended that these car seats be installed rear facing until at least age 2.  This is really important for reducing the risk of head and neck injuries. There is a slight increase in long bone fractures, however I point out to parents in my practice that everything their child is and will be is contained in their head and neck.  Talented orthopedic surgeons can fix broken legs, but no one can give you a new brain.

Children stay in convertible car seats until between ages four and five.  I tell parents that when you can no longer squish them into their car seat, it’s time for a booster.  The safest booster seat is the five point harness.  Boosters elevate the child so that the lap belt fits properly, protecting against internal organ damage during an accident. The recommendation is to stay in the booster seat until FOUR FEET NINE INCHES.  I have had kids guiltily look at their parents upon learning this and ask to get their boosters back out.  For most children this is an older elementary school grades.

While some people may argue that they were fine without car seats, as a pediatrician, I am very happy that we have these safer guidelines in place.  We have come a long way from the time where your parents just plopped your bassinette in the middle of the long bench front seat and were on their way.  For more information you can check out the great website

Pool safety

Short version: Pools are fun.  Unsupervised and unlocked they are deadly.

Long version:  I grew up with an above ground pool and we were in it daily as kids (in the summer at least…this is after all Buffalo).  Pools are refreshing and a good form of exercise.  As a pediatrician however, you could not pay me enough money to buy a house with a pool in it.  It only took one month of residency training to cement this viewpoint.  One remarkable June at our local Children’s Hospital had me taking care of five children who drowned.  It is imperative that anyone with a pool have safety precautions in place to prevent accidental drowning. Whether that be a fence, gate, a pool alarm or even an alarms for your patio door, please ensure there are safety systems in place if you yourself have a pool or your young child is spending time at a house with a pool.


Short version: Helmets protect your brain. Enough said.

Long version: Again, we can replace pretty much every organ.  But not your brain.  Set the example early by requiring your kids wear helmets on any wheeled toy (tricycle, scooter, training wheels, you name it).

And with that, let summer begin!

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