I love the beach. It's possibly my favorite place on earth after the library and my own bed. Every summer I spend an inordinate amount of time lounging on the shores of the Atlantic, book in hand, soaking up the salt, sand, and sun — and this does not change when I'm pregnant. If anything, I crave the ocean more when pregnant than any other time in my life. However, I know that sitting out in the sun while pregnant carries some risk, so it's important to take all necessary precautions to avoid injuring yourself or your unborn baby.
There's always risk involved with sun exposure — it's a tricky balance to achieve enough, without getting too much or too little. The sun is the primary and best source for vitamin D synthesis in our bodies, but it also shoots out the damaging UVA and UVB waves associated with skin cancer, age spots, and wrinkles, according to US News. When you're pregnant, you're adding another level of risk to the mix when you consider the possible implications of the sun and heat to the developing fetus. The specific risks are pretty terrifying according to Sue Jacobs of the Royal College of Midwives, who told The Guardian that "Increased temperature later in pregnancy has a risk of starting premature labour."
It should be noted that even Jacobs admits that's the extreme risk, and really only going to happen when you're basically baking yourself and your unborn child in the sun like the overly-tanned "Magda" from There's Something About Mary. If you're not doing that, the risks of bubbling your amniotic fluid so hot that your baby is trying to leap from your vagina to escape the heat is pretty minimal, according to the report. She also wrote that a bit of exposure to the sun is quite alright for a mom-to-be as it boosts you up with the necessary vitamin D for bone health and mood. Anyone who's ever dealt with the swinging pendulum of emotions that happen while you're pregnant knows that a boost in mood should not be taken for granted in the slightest.
I think this is largely what drew me to the beach and the sun so often when I was pregnant. I was just so miserable from hyperemesis gravidarum and the uncontrollable anxiety from my obsessive compulsive disorder, that even a small hit of vitamin D felt better than wallowing in my own emotional morass for one more minute. I swear that there is something healing in the scent of Banana Boat salty sea air that cannot be replaced.
I contacted pediatrician Lisa Lewis, MD, of Fort Worth, Texas to make sure there wasn't any other information I was missing about sitting in the sun while pregnant. She tells Romper that the risks of hanging out in the sun and potentially being burned can lead to effects on the body and negative outcomes for your pregnancy. One of the biggest risks of hanging out in the sun all day is from dehydration. Lewis says that in the process of sitting out in the sun and getting burned or dehydrated, that "dehydration will stress the unborn baby. In severe cases of dehydration, a mother may suffer from pre-term labor."
Scarily enough, what we often don't think about when we get a little bit burned when we're sitting out in the sun is that it can so quickly get worse from "lightly toasted" to "totally tomato." That second step can lead to second degree burns and secondary infections. Lewis notes, "If a mother acquires a second degree burn, which causes blistering, she is at risk of infection. The wounds must be observed carefully to ensure they are not infected." Treating infections in pregnant women isn't always easy. It's better to avoid them in the first place.
The trick is to stay in the shade as much as possible, use a pregnancy-safe sunscreen, and stay hydrated. Otherwise, have some fun. Rock your belly in your bikini if you so choose, and enjoy the summer as much as you can.