While pregnancy can be a wonderful time it can also, at times, be quite confusing. There is an ever changing list of recommendations about what pregnant women should avoid. This can leave mothers-to-be wondering exactly which activities they have previously enjoyed are now ‘banned’. For women who like an all year round ‘glow’ through the use of tanning beds, there is often deep concern as to whether this could cause harm to their unborn child.
There is contradictory advice when it comes to the safety of using tanning beds while pregnant. It is important to point out that, at present, there are no statistics or anecdotal evidence to suggest that indoor tanning can directly cause birth defects in the foetus, or otherwise cause harm to them. Although UVA and UVB rays damage the skin – and the risks of over use of tanning beds are well documented, such as increased risk of malignant melanoma – there is no evidence that the rays penetrate deep enough to affect the unborn child. Many salons, however, require a doctor’s not before allowing an obviously pregnant woman to use a tanning bed, as there have been very few studies into pregnancy and tanning beds.
Many doctors and midwives do advise that if you do not wish to avoid tanning beds altogether while pregnant, that you at least exercise caution and limit your use, as there are some theoretical reasons why indoor tanning may be detrimental to the health of the mother-to-be and her unborn child.
The primary concern regarding pregnant women and the use of tanning beds is that over exposure to UV (ultraviolet) rays can lead to folic acid deficiency. A lack of folic acid has been proven to increase the likelihood of the foetus developing neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Nevertheless, the risk from tanning beds still seems relatively low, especially as most mothers in Western society are encouraged to take folic acid supplements prior to conception and continuing up to until the end of the first trimester. You can also increase your folic acid intake through natural methods such as eating more leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach. If you are concerned about the possible link between indoor tanning and neural tube defects, consult your doctor for more information. He may advise you avoid indoor tanning at least until the second trimester starts.
Another reason your midwife may give you to avoid indoor tanning is that mothers-to-be should avoid activities which can cause overheating. As well as tanning beds, this includes leisure activities such as relaxing in the hot tub or a sauna. The reason for this is that overheating (hyperthermia) has been associated with some spinal defects of the unborn foetus. However, hyperthermia typically only occurs if someone has been exposed to temperatures in excess of 102 Fahrenheit for a period of several hours. The maximum temperature of a commercial tanning bed is normally set at a default of 100 Fahrenheit, and tanning sessions are limited to between 5 and 30 minutes. Needless to say, the midwives’ advice is given as a precaution only and there has never been a documented incident of a pregnant woman developing hyperthermia as a result of using tanning beds.
A third reason why the use of a tanning bed may be inadvisable is that the hormonal changes of pregnancy can lead to an increase in skin complaints. Pregnant women are more likely to burn due to an increase in skin sensitivity, particularly if they are fair skinned.
In conclusion, it could be said that tanning beds pose a risk to the health of all users, regardless of whether pregnant, if used excessively or without taking the proper precautions. However, there is no evidence, to date, that they pose a significant risk to an unborn child.
It is recommended you always discuss your concerns with your midwife or family doctor.