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The summer has well and truly arrived! What can you do to keep your children safe in the summer, whether they are still in the womb or already running around and begging for an ice cream to cool them off?

Sun safety during pregnancy

Many pregnant women notice that their skin is more sensitive to sunlight than before they conceived. This may be due to pregnancy hormones, but not every expectant mother has the same experience. The summer is in full swing now, and some sun exposure is inevitable if you live in a hot, sunny climate! So, is it safe to sunbathe or visit a tanning salon?

Most OBGYNs would answer in the same way to this question, which is frequently asked. Tanning is always dangerous, and excessive UV exposure increases your risk of skin cancer, and also makes you age more quickly. There isn't an overwhelming body of evidence that suggests that sun exposure endangers unborn babies, though there is some.

When you spend time in the sun, your vitamin D levels go up, which is great for you and your baby. But sun rays can also break down folic acid, which plays in important role in ensuring healthy development in a fetus in the first trimester. Women who are trying to conceive or are in their first trimester of pregnancy should always take a folic acid supplement (400mg daily for most women), and they may benefit if they steer clear of the sunlight.

The folic acid worry dies down after the first trimester, when all organs have been formed. There is a second concern, though overheating and pregnancy can be a risky combination. Hyperthermia can cause preterm labor and possibly miscarriage. Some also say that there is the potential of birth defects, though I have yet to see any convincing evidence. In a nutshell it's not quite clear how risky excessive sun exposure is for a fetus, or even how much sun exposure is excessive. Pregnant women should make an effort (like anyone else, really) to stay out of the blazing sun, especially in tropical climate. Generally, it's best to be out and about before 11 o'clock in the morning, or after 5 in the evening. A sunscreen is recommended, and sunglasses are important, especially if you have blue eyes.

Babies and the sun

Tiny babies under six months are especially vulnerable to the sun. The sun is at its strongest in the middle of the day between 10 am and 4 pm, or 11 am and 5 pm depending on your location and medical associations in most western countries officially advise parents to keep babies under six months out of the sun completely during these hours, even in the shade. While that may not be practically feasible, it is good to keep this advice in mind. Applying a really high sun protection factor (we use 50) is always a must. Reapply it frequently and everywhere, because its protection runs out or the cream gets washed off. A sun hat is generally recommended for young babies, and light cotton clothes that fit loosely, but cover the arms and legs, will help to. It is even possible to buy clothes made out of a special fabric that has UV protection.

Toddlers in the sun

Who doesn't have great memories of playing in the sun during the summer, whether on vacation or at home? Spending time in the sun may seem essential to an enjoyable childhood, but too much of it is most definitely dangerous. Having a sunburn during childhood even once increases a person's risk of developing skin cancer later in life. A child can get a sunburn much more quickly than you may realize (ask me how I know!). How can you keep your toddlers safe in the sun? Well, here go the obvious and perhaps less obvious tips:

  • Stay indoors during those infamous hottest hours, even during a beach vacation!
  • Use a sunscreen that has UVA and UVB protection and a high factor royally, and reapply often.
  • Make sure your kids stay in the shade if you do go out during those hottest hours, and use a sun hat.
  • If your child is really fair skinned (like mine), pay even more attention to these things, and dress them in very thin, but long-legged and sleeved clothes.
  • Polarized sunglasses protect kids from the sun. Stay away from cheap fashion sunglasses, and get the ones that actually keep your kids' eyes safe.
  • Don't stay in the sun for hours at a time, even outside the "hottest window".

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