Does my baby or child need a face mask?
Should children wear face masks to school or nursery? What about babies? We look at the official UK government advice and ask our expert family GP. Plus, the best children's face masks to buy – and how to put them on safely
The government has said that face masks are compulsory in all shops in England1 (from July 24 2020), adding to its previous recommendation2 that people should wear face coverings if they're likely to come into contact with people outside their household in an indoor space where social distancing is difficult or not possible. This new rule brings England in line with Scotland3 (and other European nations) on mask-wearing. But do these rules and regulations apply to babies and children, too? And, if so, what sort of face masks does a child need – and where can you get them from?
Should all children be wearing face masks?
The advice varies depending on the age of your child and where you live:
- For children in England between the ages of 3 and 11: a face covering is recommended but not compulsory on public transport, in hospitals, in shops and in other areas where social distancing is tricky. However, as we discuss below, the current advice is that children do not need to wear a face mask in primary school.
- For children in England over the age of 11: a face covering is compulsory on public transport, in hospitals and in shops (from 24 July 2020), unless they have a medical condition that makes mask-wearing difficult or distressing.
- For children in Wales: face coverings are compulsory on public transport (from 27 July 2020) and recommended in "circumstances where it might be difficult to stay 2m away from others". But this does not apply to "young children".4
- For children in northern Ireland: face coverings are compulsory on public transport (from 10 July 2020) but this does not apply to children under 13.5
- For children in Scotland over the age of 5: a face covering is compulsory on public transport, in hospitals and in shops, unless they have a medical condition that makes mask-wearing difficult or distressing.3
- For children under 3 years old (under 5 years old in Scotland): the advice is NOT to wear a face mask or covering...
Face masks should NOT be won by children under 3. In this age group, face coverings are a suffocation and safety risk. They pose a risk to airways and breathing.
That's because babies and small children have much smaller airways, which would have to work very hard to take up oxygen through a face mask.
There's also the risk of your baby or toddler trying to remove the mask, and the mask and its ties then becoming entangled and potentially causing a choking injury.
And that's not all, explains Dr Philippa Kaye:
Bear in mind, too, that under-3s would touch their faces and the masks all the time, making wearing a face covering much less effective
Will my child need to wear a face mask in school or nursery?
No, not according to the latest government advice. The Covid-19 guidance for schools and childcare settings in England says, "Wearing a face covering or face mask in schools or other education settings is not recommended."6
You could be forgiven for thinking that this doesn't make sense, as a school classroom is a crowded indoor space. But the government says schools are being asked to set up and enforce appropriate social distancing measures to keep children as safe as possible.
There also seems to be a safety issue in play here. The government's guidance goes on to say,"Face coverings should not be used by children under the age of 3 or those who may find it difficult to manage them correctly. For example, primary-age children unassisted..."6
In other words, while it's one thing to help your child put a mask on (or put it on for them) and then walk nearby them, making sure it's being worn correctly. it's quite another asking a small child to wear a mask in school without individual, parental supervision. If the mask slips or the ties come undone, who's going to ensure it's repositioned correctly and that the ties don't get potentially dangerously tangled?
Do children need a special size of face mask?
There is no specific official guidance on this – other than the rather general advice that a "face covering should cover your mouth and nose while allowing you to breathe comfortably".7
But yes, we think adult face masks are, generally, a bit big for a child's head: a typical adult mask would be 20cm to 24cm x 13cm to 15cm, while, to fit well, a child's mask would be, roughly, 13cm x 19cm (for an older child) or 10cm x 15xm (for a younger child).
You could, of course, adapt an adult one but that might be fiddly and/or your child might find it uncomfortable to wear.
What kind of face mask is best?
We think it's better, cheaper – and more eco-friendly – to go for a reusable fabric mask.
You can buy (or make) simple cloth ones or fork out a bit more for ones with nose bridges (for a better fit) and filter pockets (for slightly better protection).
Do avoid surgical ones or ones with respirators, though – these are the masks worn by health and care workers as part of their PPE (personal protective equipment) and they need them more than we do.
Whichever sort you opt for, make sure that:
- It fits snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
- It's secured with ties or ear loops
- It has at least 2 layers of fabric
- It allows for breathing without restriction
- It can be washed and dried without damage or change to its shape
How to put your child's face mask on (and off) safelyHere is the goverment's official advice on wearing a face covering:7
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitiser before putting the mask on your child – and after taking it off.
- Encourage your child not to touch their eyes, nose, or mouth when wearing the mask.
- Do not touch the front of your child's face mask yourself, once it's on, or the part of their mask that has been in contact with their mouth and nose.
- Store used face masks in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them.
- Once your child's face mask is taken off, make sure you clean any surfaces the face mask has touched.
- Wash your child's face masks regularly. They can go in with other laundry, using your normal detergent.
Where can I get good, reusable children's face masks from?
There are lots of websites offering reusable face masks for sale but not masses offering children's ones. And, when you do find one that does, it can hard to know if what they're offering is good quality and value for money.
More like this
Here are some of the children's face masks we like best. Do bear in mind, though, that many of them are struggling to cope with demand for their face masks at the moment, so you may have to wait a little while for your delivery.
1. Best children's face masks with cute patterns
Thumbsie sells children's masks in multi-packs. Each pack contains 4 differently-pattered masks: you can't choose the exact patterns (they have ) but you can choose the colourway you prefer – Blues, Pinks or Neutrals – and you'll get a fun combo, featuring anything from pandas, penguins and pirates to stars, bunnies and superheroes.
Sizing? Small (3 to 6 years); Medium (5 to 10 years); Large (8 to 16 years).
What are the masks made of? A polycotton/cotton mix, with an inner pocket for you to fit your own disposable filter lining (tissue, non-woven fabric, filter)
How do they stay on? They have fixed elastic bands that can be altered to fit correctly, using a plastic toggle on each side.
Price? £35 for a pack of 4
2. Best children's face masks with a snug nose fit
Bold Beanies specialise in hats and scarves for chemo patients but, since the arrival of coronavirus, have been making masks, too. Their children's masks feature side pleats and an integrated nose bridge to allow for a snug, contoured fit. For every mask sold, a donation is made to Masks for NHS Heroes, which is raising funds for PPE for healthcare workers.
Sizing? Mini (17cm x 6cm, expanding to a height of 12cm) or, for teens, Midi (18cm x 9cm, expanding to a height of 14cm).
What are the masks made of? Double-layer anti-allergy printed cotton, in various designs including bugs, emojis, music notes, blossoms and boats.
How do they stay on? They have coloured elastic hoops on either side for fitting over each ear.
Price? From £12.99 each, with a 5% discount on purchases of 4 or more.
3. Best children's face mask with an in-built filter system
Vistaprint (yes, the online printing firm) are selling colourful, nicely engineered kids' masks in 8 different designs (including dinosaurs, planets, hearts and happy faces). The masks have a Replaceable Filter System, a nose bridge and chin 'bend', and 10% of sales are donated to local communities affected by the pandemic.
What's the sizing? One children's size (19cm x 12cm)
What are the masks made of? A polyester outer layer and a 100% cotton anti-allergenic inner layer, with an electrostatic absorption cloth and fibre filter sandwiched in between.
How do they stay on? Elasticated ear straps that can be adjusted to fit.
What's the price? £13 each, plus £6 for a spare pack of filters
4. Best children's face mask for putting on and staying put
Baby-clothing site Tickle Tots has a range of sweet handmade children's masks with lovely, clever wide straps. Ingeniously, the nose strap goes over the head (much less irritating for a child than behind the ears) and the neck strap can be adjusted with a toggle.
What's the sizing? One size.
What are the masks made of? High-quality cotton jersey, printed with bugs, hares, stags or unicorns, with a wired seam over the nose and an inner pocket for your own disposable filter lining.
How do they stay on? Two wide elasticated straps: 1 at the neck with a toggle, 1 over the head.
What's the price? £9.99 each
5. Best children's face mask with a wide choice of designs
Badge Design supply good-value children's face masks in 18 different designs, including a bunny nose, a dog mouth, kittens, unicorns, llama and dinosaurs. They come with filter inserts and can be washed at 60° (if needed), too.
What's the sizing? One size (2 to 7 years)
What are the masks made of? The outer layer is 100% breathable polyester, with an inner layer of 'breathable moisture management' poly/Lycra and a pocket for a filter (each mask comes with 2 filters).
How do they stay on? Elastic straps with a toggle for easy fitting.
What's the price? £6.90 each, with a discount for purchases of 5 or more.
And best disposable children's face masks (to stash in your bag)
Nuby Disposable Kids Face Masks, £7.99 for a pack of 10, come in 1 size (17.5cm x 8cm, to fit 4 to 12 years) and 2 different patterns. They are made from 3 layers of non-woven fabric and a nose wire and soft ear loops.
What if my child has hearing loss, autism or other special needs?
First of all, remember that children under 11 don’t have to wear face masks – even in situation where, for adults, it’s compulsory.
If your child has hearing loss, however, they may find it very hard to understand you and other adults who are wearing face coverings, either because the mask muffles the adult’s voice or because the mask is hiding the mouth patterns your child is used to lip-reading– or both.
There are a number of transparent face shields and face masks with transparent areas around the mouth that you could consider buying. The The Global Coalition of Parents of Children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (GPDHH) has done a useful comparison of different options for deaf children. And the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) has some useful resources for making and sourcing masks with transparent panels.
If your child has a hidden disability – anything from asthma to autism to a learning difficulty– you may want to make use of some of the accessories offered by Hidden Disabilities' sunflower scheme, set up to let others know you may need some extra help or understanding. You can buy a sunflower mask, face shield, snood or lanyard with sanitiiser gel – and you can also buy the 55p Sunflower Face Mask Exempt Card to show to anyone who asks why you’re not wearing a mask.
Can I make my own children's face masks?
Yes, if you're confident with measuring and pattern-cutting, you can adapt any of the many adult patterns available online.
If you're looking for a pattern that's specifically for a child-size face masks you can sew yourself, we like these 2 best:
- Stitching Scientist (a simple elastic-strap mask in a choice of 2 sizes: 2 to 4 years and 4 to 12 years)
- SewCanShe (a more structured curved mask, with a filter, using hair ties for straps in a choice of 2 sizes: 2 to 5 years and 6 to 10 years)
About our expert Dr Philippa Kaye
Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.
Pics: Getty/retail websites
1 . BBC News: July 14 2020
2. Staying safe outside your home. Cabinet Office/gov.uk website
3. Coronavirus: staying safe and protecting others: Scottish Government publications
4. Ministerial policy update on medical masks and face coverings: Welsh government, 14 June 2020
5. Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings: NI Direct
6. Coronavirus (COVID-19): implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings. Dept of Education/gov.uk website
7. How to wear and make a cloth face covering: gov.uk website
Helen is author of the classic advice book Parenting for Dummies. Before joining MadeForMums over 7 years ago, she was Head of Community at Mumsnet and also the Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby.
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