Being pregnant means having to be more cautious about a lot of things that you normally wouldn't think twice about, including going out and about in the sun.
For the safety of your developing baby (and yours too), here’s what you need to know about sun safety during pregnancy.
Vitamin D During Pregnancy
The short answer to this is yes. As with times when you’re not pregnant, it isn’t particularly healthy for you to hole up indoors 24/7. This is because our body produces Vitamin D from direct sunlight that hits our skin. Vitamin D is very important for the progression of a healthy pregnancy as it is directly involved in bone creation/formation and immune function of you and your baby. As at 2013, in the U.S, about 7% of pregnant or lactating women were at risk for vitamin D deficiency. A Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a number of pregnancy issues like congenital rickets, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, low birth weight and newborn fractures.
Because there are a number of factors involved in the process through which vitamin D is needed, there’s no way to know just how much time one needs to spend in the sun to make enough Vitamin D for your body’s needs. For example, persons with darker skin will have to spend more time in the sun to make the same amount of Vitamin D a lighter person would.
A Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a number of pregnancy issues like congenital rickets, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, low birth weight and newborn fractures.
The Risks Of Sun Exposure During Pregnancy
We’ve seen the positives of getting some quality sunshine during pregnancy, but what about the downsides? There are numerous hazards associated with prolonged sun exposure during pregnancy, especially when the right precautions aren't taken. Some of them are:
- Whether or not you’re pregnant, prolonged exposure to direct UVB rays from the sun without adequate sunscreen and clothing protection increases your risk of developing skin cancer/melanoma. While it makes sense to be extra careful about the sun when you’re pregnant, there’s no evidence that shows that you’re at a higher risk of having skin cancer than non-pregnant women. Skin cancer is just generally more common in women of childbearing age, pregnant or not.
- You are at an increased risk for melasma, a type of skin discoloration. Pregnant women are more likely to develop melasma because of hormonal changes. Add on extreme sun exposure, which is a known trigger for melasma, and this is a condition a sun-loving momma-to-be should take precautions for.
- Spending your days lounging in the sun can be relaxing, it is easy to forget to hydrate. Pregnancy makes you more susceptible to dehydration. Dehydration, during pregnancy, is serious as it may lead to increased heart rate for you and in severe cases, it may also deprive your fetus of getting the oxygen it needs to develop properly.
- While not conclusive as of yet, some research does show that high sun exposure depletes the folate levels in your system. This can be harmful to pregnant women because folic acid is necessary to reduce the risk of miscarriages and the development of neural tube defects in your baby. Vitamin B9, the vitamin found in folic acid and folate helps develop a healthy placenta. If the placenta does not develop fully, baby is then at risk for a miscarriage.
Pregnancy makes you more susceptible to dehydration.
Is Sunscreen Safe To Use During Pregnancy?
Yes, physical blocker sunscreens are safe to use during pregnancy. Sunscreens can be categorised into two- physical blockers and chemical blockers. Physical sunscreens use titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to reflect the UV rays. Chemical sunscreens use ingredients that absorb the rays in place of our skin. Generally, sunscreens don’t really get absorbed into the system and have been found to cause minimal toxicity in animals. However, a particular ingredient, oxybenzone, which is found in many chemical sunscreens has been linked to a number of negative outcomes. It is suggested that this ingredient penetrates the bloodstream and can cause hormonal disruption, allergic reactions and low birth weight in baby girls born to exposed mothers. Even discounting these risks, chemical sunscreens are more likely to irritate your skin which is extra sensitive during pregnancy.
To be on the safe side, it is recommended that you use regular physical blocks during pregnancy. They block harmful UV rays without penetrating your blood stream.
How To Protect You And Your Baby
What precautions can you take to enjoy the sunshine and, protect baby and you:
- Always use sunscreen during pregnancy! This can’t be overemphasized. Yes, sunscreen works by blocking UVB rays from reaching your skin and you may be worried that as a result your skin won’t be able to make the Vitamin D it needs. You shouldn’t be concerned. According to a Harvard Health Publication, you’re unlikely to ever put enough sunscreen to block all UVB rays, so sunscreen's effect on vitamin D production is likely to be negligent.
- Get sunscreen with at least SPF 30. Also, use broad-spectrum sunscreens that protect against not just UVB rays but UVA ones too.
- Wear protective clothing. Wide-brimmed hats, sunshades should become staples in your wardrobe. Consider carrying a chic umbrella around too!
- Avoid sunlight when it’s intense, which is usually in the late mornings and early afternoons.
- Drink water and other liquids regularly to prevent dehydration. This is especially imperative when you’re outdoors. Don’t rely on feeling thirsty as a measure of your hydration levels. Just keep chugging down those liquids.
- Always avoid tanning beds and sunless tanning lotions when you’re pregnant.
There’s no reason why you should be cooped up indoors 24/7 merely because you’re pregnant. Moderate your sun exposure, make sure to drink lots of water, wear sunscreen and take all other the necessary precautions and you can enjoy that sunshine while still maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
“Vitamin D: Screening and Supplementation During Pregnancy.” The American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists. Accessed 19 May 2017.
“6 things you should know about vitamin D.” Harvard Health Publications. . Accessed 19 May 2017.