Most of us love a bit of sun, but whether you're jetting off on a last baby-free holiday or simply getting out and making the most of the occasional sun rays reaching the British Isles, you'll want to take especial care to protect your skin and keep yourself cool when pregnant.
Protecting your skin
During pregnancy it's usual for your skin to become more sensitive to the sun (as well as generally more sensitive), and you'll probably burn more quickly than usual. Burning by the sun damages skin long-term, and it can also be very uncomfortable in the short term, so you'll want to take extra care to avoid sunburn during pregnancy. Being pregnant you're more likely to suffer from uncomfortable heat rash and sun exposure will exacerbate any skin patching (chloasma) you have developed during pregnancy, such as blotches of colour on your face.
Of course, a bit of sunshine does wonders for your state of mind and the vitamin D it provides is important for developing and keeping healthy bones and skeletal structure (and keeping osteoporosis at bay) by maintaining the level of calcium in your blood at the right level. And the link between your mood and the sun is also connected to vitamin D, in fact a lack of vitamin D has been linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), depression and fatigue.
Experts recommend that 10-15 minutes of sun exposure per day, without sun cream, two to three times a week, will give you plenty of vitamin D. For the rest of the time you should make sure that you either cover up or wear a high-factor sunscreen to protect your skin. But remember that you can still burn in ten minutes in strong sunshine and some people are more sensitive than others, again, particularly during pregnancy, so you'll have to select your time of day and the length of sun exposure according to your skin and the strength of the sun, and err on the side of caution.
See below for our top tips on protecting your pregnancy skin from sun damage.
Your hard-working pregnant body is more prone to overheating, and you may have noticed that you feel the heat more than usual. A rise in core body temperature, particularly in the developmentally critical first three months, has been linked in some studies to neural tube defects in babies such as Spin-Bifida.
More generally, a rise in body temperature prompts the body to cool itself down with increasing sweating and dilation of the veins, lowering your blood pressure and making it that much harder going for your heart: As it is your pregnant body has to make enough effort to pump all that extra blood around to your vital organs and your baby. If your blood pressure falls you're more likely to feel dizzy and faint and may fall over and injure yourself, and what's more the blood supply to the placenta may suffer. Overheating also raises the risk of you suffering from dehydration, bad news for both you and your baby.
Tips for staying cool and protected
- Avoid the sun
Avoid going outside during the hottest part of the day, usually just before noon and a couple of hours after, and resist the temptation to spend hours sunbathing.
- Cover up
To best protect your skin don't rely on sunscreen, cover up as much as possible when you're in the sunshine, and even when you're sitting in the shade (yes, you can still burn in the shade). Light coloured clothing reflects the sun's rays rather than absorbing them as dark colours do, and loose, natural fabrics will be most comfortable in hot weather, as they allow sweat to evaporate. Man-made fibres may be more likely to cause heat rash.
- The right swim wear
Bikinis can be very flattering to a baby bump, but the stretched skin of your bump will be one of the most sun-sensitive areas of skin you have, so it's a good idea to keep it out of the direct sun as much as possible. If you're not keen on full bathing costumes why not consider a maternity tankini, which are also very flattering to bumps. Check out our favourite maternity swimwear!
- Wear a hat
Keeping the sun off your face will help prevent wrinkles as well as burning, and keeping the direct sun off your head will also help prevent overheating and sunstroke, which can be rather nasty. Reach for something light and broad-rimmed for the best protection, light canvas works well, but avoid anything made of hard straw (uncomfortable) or loose-woven straw (not enough protection.
- Stick to the shade
The shade is a cooler and safer place to be on hot, sunny days (though don't forget you can still burn when in the shade). After you've taken a small, healthy dose of sunshine enjoy the effects of the sunny weather from the shady side of the street.
If you are exposing your bare skin to the sun then opt for a higher sunscreen factor than usual during your pregnancy. Apply the cream liberally and reapply frequently. You may find that your skin is sensitive to your usual sunscreen, and becomes irritated, so you might need to change brands. There are plenty of chemical-free sunscreens out there, which should be less likely to cause a skin reaction. If you're heading off on holiday then do a patch test before automatically packing your usual brand. Neutrogena make a chemical-free sunscreen, as do the bigger organic/'natural' toiletry companies such as Dr. Hauschka and Burt's Bees. There's no medical evidence that using chemical sunscreens will affect the health of your developing baby, but if this is something that worries you then you can opt for a chemical-free formula or even better, cover up.
- Drink plenty
Keep the risk of dehydration at bay by making sure you drink plenty of water and steering clear of dehyrating drinks, like those containing caffeine and/or a lot of sugar. If water gets boring try iced herbal teas - ginger, lemon and lemongrass are particularly refreshing - or simply add a splash of lemon or lime juice to your water.
- Don't overdo it
Whether you're at home or abroad, when the temperatures soar it's time to take it more easy, particularly during the hottest part of the day. We may mock the Spanish siesta, but it's actually a very sensible way of coping with the heat and getting the most out of the cooler hours of the day and it's a great idea for pregnant women to copy. You don't need to sleep, just make sure you're out of the sun and in as cool a place as possible and put your feet up if you can. You'll get tired far more quickly in hot weather, so listen to your body and rest whenever you feel the need.
The last thing you need in hot weather is to be in busy crowds or cramped conditions, so try and avoid those as much as possible.
- Cool off
Water is great for helping you stay cool when it's hot. If you're on holiday then make the most of the pool - your body will thank you for the gentle exercise too, and if you're feeling hot and sticky at home then try a tepid shower to freshen up.
Faking it: can you use fake tan?
Many women like to look like they've had a bit of sun, particularly if their natural shade is on the pasty side, rather than pale and interesting. And fake tan is now hugely popular as a means of gaining a healthy glow while avoiding sun damage. The NHS advises that fake tanning lotions are a safer way of getting a tan than using sunbeds or sunbathing, but still doesn't recommend that you use them during pregnancy. While there's no evidence to suggest that your baby would be affected by the active chemical in a fake tan lotion - dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a sugar which interacts with dead cells in the top layer of your skin to produce a colour change - long-term studies haven't yet been done. The British Medical Association advises against the use of fake tanning lotions during pregnancy to avoid the possibility of an allergic reaction.
If you do use a fake-tan then make sure you do a patch test first, even if it's a brand that you used without problem before pregnancy. A no-problem way of faking it is to use a more temporary body stain or bronzer, which washes off and doesn't penetrate the skin. Tanning pills are an absolute no-no during pregnancy.