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Should pregnant women stay out of the sun?

For most of us, summer to make the most of the sunshine and fresh air, spending time outdoors with our loved ones. It’s also a time when we need to take extra precaution to protect ourselves from the sun. We tend to be quite good at practising sun safety when it comes to our babies and children — but what about pregnant women? Do they need to take extra care when it comes to sun protection?

Let’s go over some of the ways that pregnant women can be affected by the sun.

Skin sensitivity

Many women experience changes to their skin when they fall pregnant: some may find that their skin gets oily or acne-prone, others may find that existing conditions like eczema can get worse. One common symptom is sensitive skin that feels dry as it loses elasticity, stretching and tightening to accommodate your growing baby. This is also due to the changing hormone levels in your body, specifically estrogen and progesterone.

In addition to being more sensitive to laundry products, fabrics and skincare, you may find that your skin is particularly sensitive to the sun during pregnancy. For this reason, it’s a good idea to avoid prolonged sun exposure and take care to use the right sunscreen, cover up your skin where practical and wear a hat to protect your face from harmful UV rays.

Pigmentation and melasma

Melasma is a condition where brown or grey patches appear on the skin after sun exposure. The skin changes colour when the UV rays stimulate pigment-producing cells called melanocytes to produce more melanin. Melasma affects both men and women but is more common in pregnant women, and especially pregnant women with darker skin. The prevalence of melasma during pregnancy tends to vary between countries — for example, studies have shown that melasma was identified in 10.7% of pregnant women in Southern Brazil, 37% of pregnant women in Morroco, and 46% in Pakistan.

While not all women will experience pigmentation or melasma, the best way to prevent it is to practice sun protection during pregnancy, when the likelihood of melasma is higher. If you do experience melasma, one of the best treatment options is to use sun protection to prevent the condition from worsening.

Some pregnant women also develop linea nigra (literally meaning ‘black line’) which is a visible lown down the centre of their belly. This line can become more visible with sun exposure, so if you’re not a fan of this change to your body, you may wish to protect your belly from the sun when you’re at the beach or pool.

Overheating and dehydration

Many women say that they feel hotter during pregnancy, and that swelling of the ankles tends to be worse during the warmer months. A summer pregnancy can be uncomfortable, and you may find relief by staying in the shade where possible and avoiding exercise during the sunniest hours of the day.

Staying hydrated can also be a problem for pregnant women, particularly those who experience morning sickness. Vomiting leads to hydration, although during extreme morning sickness it can be difficult to keep anything down. It’s best to ensure you’re staying hydrated during the times you feel less nauseous, and try an electrolyte drink or ice block to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes.

Pregnant women need to not only make sure that they’re drinking enough fluids to keep themselves hydrated but also their baby. Dehydration can decrease the amount of blood available to the foetus, so it’s a good idea to take extra care in staying hydrated, particularly during hot and sunny days.

What to do?

Pregnant women certainly don’t need to avoid the sun altogether, but there are a few things you can do to minimise the risk to your skin and overall health. These include:

● Wear loose, breathable clothing that covers the skin where possible

● Wear a hat with a broad brim

● Wear polarized sunglasses

● Drink plenty of water

● Seek the shade, particularly if you’re outdoors for a long period of time

● Avoid exercising during the hottest and sunniest part of the day

● Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF

What to look for in a sunscreen

Some women are particularly careful about the products that they use on their skin during pregnancy. However, sunscreen is an important tool for sun protection that should be used by all Australians, including pregnant women.

In the past, there has been concern over the use of nanoparticles such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreens, for fear that they are absorbed through the skin and into the bloodstream. The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) found that evidence shows that the particles stay on top of the dead skin cells, and therefore don’t pose a threat to human health.

The best sunscreen is one that is high protection (at least SPF 30) and broad-spectrum, meaning that it protects your skin from both UVA rays (the rays that cause sunburn) and UVB rays (which penetrate the skin and cause longer-term damage). If you’re swimming or sweating, it’s also a good idea to choose a sunscreen which is water-resistant, and remember to reapply regularly.

If you’re pregnant and concerned about protecting yourself from the sun, speak to your local Capital Chemist pharmacist to discover which products are right for you.

You may also be interested in the following:

Should pregnant women avoid too much sun
Baby and Mother

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Capital Chemist acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate, live and gather as employees, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. We pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.