Summer sun feels wonderful, but it is also powerful, so it's crucial for pregnant and postpartum women to understand the significance of UV protection. While sunshine plays a pivotal role in acquiring essential vitamin D, too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation can pose risks to both maternal and infant health. In this blog, we'll delve into the importance of UV protection for expectant and new mothers, while providing practical tips to minimize UV exposure without missing out on vitamin D.
The Importance of UV Protection
There are several reasons to seek protection from UV rays. Even though a few minutes of sun exposure will trigger the body to make vitamin D, too much sun causes harm.
Aside from the obvious danger of sunburn, overexposure to UV rays leads to prematurely aged skin, an older physical appearance, and most types of skin cancer. This is even more important to women who have recently given birth as well as for their babies.
During and right after pregnancy, women have hormonal changes that make them more prone to sun-induced skin damage. Taking extra precautions against UV rays will help keep that damage from happening.
Skin Cancer Prevention
UV rays are strongly believed to be a major risk factor for certain types of skin cancer, such as melanoma. Even if the skin doesn't appear damaged right away, the risk goes up with exposure. It makes sense to limit this risk by limiting direct exposure to sunlight.
Infants Are Vulnerable
Babies are highly vulnerable in general, and vulnerability to the sun is no exception. Even a few minutes of unprotected exposure on a bright, sunny day can lead to a painful sunburn, skin redness, and other harmful immediate effects. Even worse, sunburn during infancy or childhood is a known risk factor for skin cancer.
Tips for Minimizing UV Exposure
There are several ways to control how much UV exposure you and your infant have. Here are some of the most popular and effective methods:
Seek Shade during Peak Hours
Peak hours for sun exposure are 10am to 4pm, so it's especially important to avoid direct sun during mid-day. The UV level in the shade is much lower than that out in open sunlight. When you're outdoors during peak sun hours, seek a shady spot whenever possible. The shady side of houses and buildings is a good bet, as is under shade-casting trees.
Use Protective Clothing for You and Your Baby
Dress yourself and your baby in lightweight, long-sleeved garments, wide-brimmed hats, and UV-protective sunglasses. Opt for tightly woven fabrics that offer better sun protection, or look for clothing that has an Ultraviolet Protection Factor, or UPF, of at least 30.
First, it's important to note that sunscreen isn't recommended for babies under 6 months old, so for newborns the protective clothing mentioned above is a must!
Sunscreen is the most commonly mentioned UV protectant, and for good reason. It works even if you're wearing a bathing suit, weighs practically nothing, and most kinds are invisible. The downside is that many brands are made from chemicals that can cause allergic reactions or irritation, especially for babies' sensitive skin. Fortunately, there are mineral-based sunscreens that use natural ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide, which carry a low risk of skin irritation.
All sunscreens suggest applying the first coat several minutes before actual sun exposure, but the reasons for that vary. With chemical versions, the delay is needed to give them a chance to activate and start working. Mineral sunscreens, on the other hand, technically start working immediately. However, it takes time for them to blend in with the skin. Upon initial application, they usually look like a white paste. Waiting for about 20 minutes ensures that you'll look normal when you go out.
Wear Eye Protection
There are many styles of sunglasses that are available with UV-blocking lenses. Pick up some for yourself and every member of your family to protect all of your eyes. Your baby will look especially cute rocking some tiny shades!
Use Sunshades in Car Seats and Strollers
Anyone who has gotten a suntan while driving in a closed vehicle can tell you that windshields and door windows really do not block all UV rays. Pump up the protection level for your baby by putting a sunshade over his or her car seat. Do the same for the stroller, which would otherwise not offer any protection for the front.
Monitoring Your Vitamin D Intake
As with anything else, it is possible to go overboard with UV avoidance. The body's internal vitamin D production only happens when there has been UV exposure. Therefore, as you protect yourself and your baby from the sun, it's important to make sure you're both getting enough vitamin D, either from carefully-timed sun exposure or other sources.
If you have doubts about whether or not you need more vitamin D, just ask your doctor. A simple blood test can show your vitamin D level, and your doctor can then tell if you need a supplement. The same can be done for your infant. Vitamin D tablets and child-friendly liquids are readily available over the counter, and are very inexpensive.
With these tips, you can ensure that you and your newborn get just the right amount of UV exposure. This will help keep your skin looking good, prevent premature skin aging, prevent sunburns, and reduce the risk of cancer.
Soon, sun protection will become an effortless habit! Then, you can rest assured that you and your baby will remain sunburn-free for the duration.