Sunscreen is amazing for motherhood!
If you’re even thinking of getting pregnant, you’ve probably been told to make sure you’re getting enough folate, the water-soluble B vitamin known to reduce the risk of birth defects and other pregnancy complications. Yet there may be something completely unexpected hampering your ability to get this essential vitamin—something that we’re all embracing with open arms now that summer’s here.
Yep, it’s the sun. There seems to be a weird connection between the amount of UV light you soak up and the health and longevity of your future offspring, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology analyzed church records of more than 9,000 people from 1750-1900 that showed all the milestones of life, and compared that data with historical evidence of cycles of solar radiation. They found that on average, the lifespan of children born in years that had a great deal of solar activity (i.e., heavily concentrated UV rays) was 5.2 years shorter than other children. The Norwegian children who were born in the UV-soaked areas, and whose mothers spent a lot of time outside, were much less likely to make it to age two than those children in less UV-saturated parishes.
There are probably many factors at play here, say the study authors, but here’s the one they’re focusing on: While UV radiation can have positive effects on our vitamin D levels, it can also result in a degradation of vitamin B9—aka, folate, which is required for DNA synthesis, rapid cell division and cell growth during pregnancy. “Our results indicate that too much sunbathing while pregnant may have detrimental effects on the fetus’ survival and subsequent reproductive performance,” says study co-author Gine Roll Skjærvø, a biologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway. The scientists are particularly concerned about light-skinned people who moved to warmer climates with lots of sun, because they seem to be lacking some sort of protective skin adaptations (so beware, Yankee expats in Costa Rica).
The researchers didn’t mince words: “The conclusion of our study is that you should not sunbathe if you are pregnant and want to have a lot of grandchildren,” they write. And while this doesn’t necessarily apply to women who want to get pregnant in the next few years, it may be advice worth heeding for those currently trying to conceive. However, Skjærvø did agree that broad-spectrum UV protection may help negate these sinister effects. As if we needed yet another reason to wear sunscreen.