Sun protection is another factor for mamas to consider when growing a healthy baby. Whereas it goes without saying that unprotected sun exposure is a big beauty no-no, sun protection is even more important when you’re an expectant mama. So if you’re heading off for a quick baby-moon or just a fan of the outdoors, make sure you’ve got yourself covered.
In this excerpt from Mama You’ve Got This, an honest guide to pregnancy, Melissa Schweiger Kleinmann, offers her advice on the best ways to stay safe and protected in the sun.
Why is sun protection important when pregnant?
The fact of the matter is that sun protection is extremely important all the time, not just during pregnancy. However, if you’re not using a broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30 every single day you step out of the house with exposed skin during pregnancy, well, you’re just being foolish! The pregnancy hormones coursing through your body can make your skin become supersensitive to UV light and cause hyperpigmentation. Along with the cosmetic benefits of wearing sunscreen, there are more serious health risks that you should be thinking about, such as protecting yourself from skin cancer.
Melanoma during pregnancy
While any skin cancer diagnosis is bad news, the finding of melanoma during pregnancy could potentially be more dangerous than any other time in your life. Women who were diagnosed with melanoma while they were pregnant or within a year after giving birth were at greater risk for the cancer to spread, reoccur, or for it to be fatal*. The reason for this finding isn’t clear, but could have something to do with hormones, a weakened immune system during pregnancy, or just the fact that pregnant women and new mums don’t have much time to stay on top of their health and let a suspicious looking mole slide.
Before you freak out, know that a case of pregnancy-related melanoma is very rare. But since there are so many changes going on with your skin during pregnancy, it’s easy to shrug off an odd looking mole as just another harmless occurrence. In the case of melanoma, catching a suspicious mole early can make all of the difference in your prognosis.
ABCDE of melanoma
Teach yourself the ABCDE signs of melanoma and keep a close eye on your moles. If you see any of these warning signs, call your dermatologist immediately:
• Asymmetry: Draw an imaginary line down the centre of your mole, do both halves match? If not, it’s asymmetrical and is a warning sign for melanoma.
• Border: While the borders of a benign mole are generally smooth and even, irregular borders might indicate melanoma.
• Colour: A mix of colours, even various shades of the same colour, on your mole is a warning sign. A mole that’s dark and black is also cause for concern.
• Diameter: Another possible red flag is if the suspected lesion is greater than 6mm in diameter.
• Elevation: Probably the most important warning signal is if a mole changes size or texture, or begins to bleed.
Is it safe to sunbathe when pregnant?
Now is the time to invest in clothing with UV Protection Factor (UPF) as well as wide-brimmed hats. Seek out shade whenever possible and try to avoid the sun during it’s peak hours of 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. When it comes to sunscreen formulation, try to stick to physical sunblock as opposed to chemical. Physical sunblock ingredients, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, sit on the surface of the skin, while chemical ingredients get absorbed into the skin. The rule of thumb is a shot glass amount for the whole body and reapplying every two hours while out in the sun. Stay away from spray sunscreens, as you can never really tell how much is actually ending up on the skin and not in the air. In the end, the best sunscreen is the one that you’ll use, so find a formula that you like.
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*Risk factors and outcomes of cutaneous melanoma in women less than 50 years of age. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Tellez et al. April 2016 http://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(15)02480-9/abstract