By: Annie In June several years ago, I arrived in France blearily and wearily breastfeeding a four-month-old baby. My husband’s job had been relocated and I didn’t know anything about life in France. We moved into a new apartment building I had never visited before the move, in a city in the suburbs I had never been to before, without a car, and without any local contacts or family (neither of us is French). We were trying to rebuild our life as new residents of France and first-time parents when the canicules, the heat waves, started. It turns out our only windows faced west and got full sun for most of the day and our tiny apartment felt like a furnace.
That summer was untenable, the heatwaves were record-breaking, and it was…not fun to put it lightly. However, I now know enough to share my knowledge with other families who might be experiencing their first summer in France and give you some ideas to make it bearable.
Here are my tips for caring for a baby during a heatwave:
Baby Transportation Tips During Heatwaves
What to pack when going out in the heat:
When going out with a baby in the summer, some helpful items include:
brumisateurs, which are spray water bottles you can find in any French pharmacy or grocery store (store in the fridge and remove just before leaving to make them cold)
a handheld electric fan
a washcloth soaked in water to lay on the baby’s head and wipe down their limbs, hats for baby and yourself
tons of water bottles for drinking for the parents/caregivers.
Summer Stroller Tips
Babies and sun do not mix, so it is important to always keep babies out of the sun. For safety, never drape a muslin cloth over a baby stroller! It quickly creates an oven-like environment for your baby. Strollers are now sold with umbrella accessories to create shade as you walk instead. Stick to the shady side of the street when walking and if you are sitting down on a terrace, for example, always keep the stroller entirely in the shade. You can also buy baby tents for picnics or the beach.
Tips for Baby Wearing in the Summer
When babywearing, always dress the baby in one layer less than you would for a stroller, no matter the season because your two bodies heat each other up. In the summer, opt for a warm-temperature baby carrier made with mesh. Dress the baby in a hat and stay in the shade. Continually check their temperature to make sure they aren’t too hot by touching the back of their neck to see if they are sweating and take them out if they are showing signs of overheating.
Tips for Taking Public Transportation in the Summer
If you can help it, avoid non-airconditioned public transportation with a baby in the summer. Most of the metro of Paris was built way before the invention of air conditioning, and it gets sweltering. Learn which options near you are air-conditioned (looking at you Metro 14) and if you have to go far and there isn’t any air-conditioned public transportation, consider taking a car service to keep your baby cool. The buses and metro lines that aren’t air conditioned are brutally and dangerously hot for vulnerable people like babies, and I would argue, tired, hormonally hot, breastfeeding people.
Additionally, plan outings and appointments (and there are so many after you have a baby!) for the morning when it is coolest. If you have to take hot public transportation, spray your baby down regularly and dress them in a single layer. If you are pregnant and have to take hot public transportation, I recommend freezing water bottles and taking them with you to hold against your face and neck throughout the trip.
How to Keep a Baby Cool at Home During a Heatwave
My first tip, honestly, is to leave during the summer (there is a reason Paris empties out in August!), and my second tip is to get an air conditioning unit if your apartment/home is very hot like our first apartment was. We were hovering between 28-30 degrees around the clock sans air conditioning and it was awful breastfeeding and trying to sleep (even with a fan), and worrying about how to keep my baby cool.
Here are my additional tried and true tips for keeping a baby cool inside:
Stock up on fans. Fans tend to sell out around the first heatwave of the year, so if you see them in a shop, buy them then.
Close your shutters starting when direct sunlight comes inside, to keep your apartment cool.
Do not turn on your oven or stove if you can help it, and open your windows at night when the outside air is cooler than your inside air.
If you have a north-facing room, spend as much time in it as you can, play with the baby/older kids in there and sleep in there.
If you have a multi-story house, consider sleeping on the ground floor to stay cool (a friend told us he does this with
his family during the summer).
Fill a shallow bucket with some water and place your baby’s feet in it, if you do not want to do a full bath with changes. Do this several times a day to keep the baby cool-they also love the stimulation from water play! Spray the baby with the water bottles throughout the day too. You can also buy water mats for tummy time, and they will also be entertaining and cool for the baby.
Sleeping tips: dress the baby in a sleeveless vest, and expect the baby to nap a lot in the afternoon when it is hottest and be a little more restless at night when it is too hot to sleep comfortably. If the baby is breastfeeding, expect the baby to feed more to manage their increased thirst. Additional tip: buy a mosquito net to wrap around the crib, there are no screens in windows here, yet a lot of mosquitos! You can also buy screen material online and tape it to your window frames (we have tried both methods since eventually, the baby can stand up and will pull off a mosquito net).
Cool Places to Go out With a Baby in a Heatwave
I really struggled to find cool places to take my baby especially when we didn’t have a car. The best option was the local public pool (check hours before you leave). If you can find a spot in a park in the shade with a slight breeze, you are golden. I live outside of Paris, and had a shock to learn the local mall was barely air conditioned (and the bus to get there was not air conditioned!), so you have been warned, French malls are not American malls (if you know you know). If you are looking for dining options, find restaurants that say they have a salle climatisée. Churches are cool and open during the day so if you need a good place to feed the baby, you can always pop into one. Again, my tip would be to get out of town if you can.
Don't forget about yourself!
Take care of yourself too in a heatwave: if you are breastfeeding, you need even more water than normal. Add breastfeeding during the summer, and you are going to become best friends with your water bottles. It is easy to forget about your needs when keeping children alive, but if you have headaches, dry skin, or other symptoms of dehydration, you have to drink more water. When spraying your baby down, also spray yourself down. When putting a hat on your baby, also put a hat on yourself. Put both your and your baby’s feet in the cool foot bath. Eat easy-to-make, heatwave-friendly meals. Use linen sheets in summer. The more comfortable you are, the easier time you will have caring for your family.
For a few summers now we have gone to the beach in Bretagne and it is much more comfortable for our family (a plunge in the ocean helps even when it is hot there). I highly recommend it if you are looking for a French summer holiday that isn’t as hot as other parts of France.
What tips do you have for keeping a baby cool in the summer heat?