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Sunbathing during pregnancy

Advice on sunbathing during pregnancy with information on possible risks and safety precautions you should take when sunbathing pregnant.
Spending time outdoors in the sunshine can do wonders for improving your mood and helping you to relax, not to mention boosting your much needed vitamin D levels to help your body absorb calcium for healthy bone development. However, the health risks associated with sunbathing still apply and are slightly exacerbated during pregnancy.

Whether you are 'with child' or not, spending a lot of time in the sun without protection puts you in danger of skin damage, premature ageing and enhances your risk of developing skin cancer. During pregnancy your skin becomes more sensitive to sunlight increasing your risk of burning and subsequent damage so you should always take care to use a high SPF suncream if you are planning to spend a lot of time in the sun.

Many women suffer from chloasma during pregnancy - this is the development of darkened patches of skin around the lips, cheeks, nose and eyes. Although these patches are harmless and likely to fade after you give birth, their appearance is a result of excess melanin (this is the pigment that gives our skin its colour) production as a result of increased oestrogen in the body. For this reason, spending a lot of time in direct sunlight may make patches of chloasma more pronounced. Therefore, if you are planning to sunbathe, wear a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses to shade your face.

You should avoid spending time in the sun without shade between the hours of 11am and 3pm as this is when the sun is at it's strongest and is most likely to burn and cause you to overheat. Even if you are in the shade during this time you should still make an effort to stay cool and hydrated. Remember to drink lots of water, take a dip in the sea or pool if circumstances allow, or take regular cool showers or put your feet in a bowl of cold water to lower your body temperature.

Serious and prolonged overheating is dangerous for you and your baby as your resting body temperature is already elevated during pregnancy and if raised significantly further it may pose a risk to development.

If you are in the early stages of pregnancy you should take special care to remain adequately protected from the sun as research has suggested that exposure to UV rays lowers the level of folate in blood. Folate is especially important in preventing abnormal development of the spinal cord and brain during early pregnancy. This is why it is recommended that you take folic acid supplements throughout the first trimester.

Whether UV exposure lowers folate levels to such an extent that it poses a risk to infant development is not clear and further research is being conducted to discover this. However, it is usually best to err on the side of caution and take special care to protect yourself from extreme sun exposure in the first trimester.

Lying flat on your back is not recommended in the latter stages of pregnancy as the weight of your baby can press on your internal organs and on the inferior vena cava (the blood vessel that transports blood from your lower body to your heart). Extended pressure on this vein can cause dizziness, palpitations and shortness of breath; so for this reason you should adopt a seated position when sunbathing in the thrid trimester.

Sunbathing during pregnancy is not generally recommended because of the risk of skin damage, overheating and dehydration. However as long as you take special precautions to protect yourself from the sun's heat you should be able to spend time outdoors and enjoy the warm weather without harming yourself or your baby (although your tan might have to suffer a little!).

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