Can A Sunburn Hurt My Unborn Baby? An OB-GYN Explains Why Sun Safety Is So Important
I am the fairest of them all. Not because of Snow White, but I'm so fair and so pale that I'm nearly translucent. I was a gothic nightmare in high school, and I didn't even need to wear white makeup. Needless to say, I burn easily. When I was pregnant with my oldest, I actually burned pretty badly through my bathing suit, which is apparently a thing that can happen. I was really worried. But can a sunburn hurt an unborn baby? Obviously sun damage isn't great, but how much more harmful is it when you're pregnant?
The dangers of sunburns for pregnant women are not just because of the damage to the skin, according to Yale New Haven Health. Apparently the greatest risk to your unborn child from sunburn lies in the heat exposure that causes the sunburn and the retention of the heat in the burned skin, which is quite problematic and can lead to fetal injury or birth defects, especially if a woman is in the early stages of her pregnancy. This is when the developing fetus is most vulnerable to the risks inherent in the sun's rays. But the researchers wrote that this is in the most severe cases, and that other symptoms would likely be present other than just the burn itself.
"By impacting your body’s ability to regulate its temperature, a sunburn can leave you at a higher risk for heat-related health problems such as heatstroke. In certain instances, temperature increases can lead to birth defects, especially if they occur before the embryo implants," the website noted. This is normally only seen in instances of high fever, but that sunburn-related heat illness can have a similar effect on the developing baby.
Obviously, sunburns happen more often than anyone may think, so I contacted OB-GYN and RealSelf Contributor Carolyn DeLucia, MD to get more information. She tells Romper not to worry too much and, simply, "sunburn is no risk to the baby." But there's more to sunburn than just looking like a tomato. "Being in the heat during pregnancy can be a problem," DeLucia adds. "The heat may dehydrate a pregnant woman rather quickly so being conscious of this is key." I will tell you that it's amazing how fast it happens. What I wasn't taking notice of was how much I was sweating out. I still had to pee occasionally, so I thought I was in the clear. I was wrong. "If pregnant, simply drink lots of water to remain hydrated so no preterm labor or excessive contractions occur," she says.
As for the best sunblocks to use, you want an SPF of at least 30, you'll want to reapply regularly, and go with physical and not chemical sunblocks, according to Fit Pregnancy. Choose a broad spectrum sunscreen that offers UVA and UVB protection and is made of zinc or titanium dioxide, avoiding the chemical oxybenzone, which is linked to low birth weight.
My sunburn I experienced during pregnancy was severe. I had blistering skin that was bright red and hot to the touch, and I felt faint and lightheaded after returning home. And I honestly thought I did everything right. I drank tons of water, went in the shade frequently, and slathered myself in SPF. That is all for naught if you are unaware that the swimsuit you're wearing is offering absolutely no sun protection and you get burned through the light material. I bought the tankini at a very popular swim shop and thought I was safe. It's incredibly important that the swimsuit you're wearing is rated to block the sun, and that you wear sunscreen beneath the suit as well. I had no idea that getting burned under or through your suit was common. I ended up being treated at the hospital for dehydration and heat exhaustion. My son was fine, but it was a scary period of time.
If you're worried, not feeling well, or have a particularly bad sunburn, call your OB-GYN. They'll know if you need to be evaluated further. Until then, might I suggest an umbrella and a hat?