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Q&A: Can sun poisoning hurt my unborn baby? And what about plain old sunburn?

First off, let’s define sun poisoning. Most people use the term sun poisoning to mean severe extensive sunburn with generalized symptoms.

Our skin provides major protection to our bodies. When the skin is disrupted, as it is with severe sunburn, we can lose fluids and become dehydrated. We also can develop infection, just like with any other burn. Sun poisoning can cause pain, blisters, swelling, nausea, headache, fatigue, dehydration and dizziness, and even fever. The baby won’t feel the direct effects of the sun exposure, but can be affected by mother’s fever or dehydration.

In general, the biggest problems with severe sunburn are:

  • It causes permanent skin damage that can lead to skin cancer
  • It causes premature aging of the skin
  • It hurts
  • In pregnancy, sun exposure (even without sunburn) can lead to melasma, a grayish patchy discoloration of the face that can be long lasting

The first step in treatment is to get out of the sun. A cool (not icy) shower or bath or treatment with cool compresses will help stop the burning process on the skin and make it feel better. A moisturizer may help prevent blistering or peeling. Drinking extra fluids will help prevent dehydration. Tylenol® (acetaminophen) can be used for pain.

Overall when it comes to sunburn, prevention is the best approach. Sunscreen is considered safe in pregnancy. If you want to avoid chemicals, you can use a physical barrier sunscreen like Neutrogena Sensitive Skin. Experts advise seeking medical attention if sunburn covers a large area of the body, or if facial swelling, fever, lightheadedness, fainting, or confusion develop, or for anything else that seems out of the usual realm of sunburn.

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