Is It Safe to Fake Tan While Breastfeeding?

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Author Name: Mia Barnes
Date: Tuesday April 2, 2019

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Breastfeeding passes on valuable immunities to babies and ensures the child gets the nutrition they need to thrive and grow. However, breast milk can also carry substances a woman eats or absorbs, which can lead to severe health issues. One such potential poisonous chemical residue in breast milk comes from self-tanners. Is it safe to fake tan while breastfeeding?

While everyone likes a healthy, outdoor glow, continuing to fake tan while breastfeeding can pose a risk to your little one. I should note that if you’re going to fake tan, sunless tanning lotions are absolutely always preferable to and safer than a tanning bed. However, there are risks to your baby ingesting chemicals in certain lotions as well. Here’s what all women should know about fake tanning while breastfeeding.

How Prevalent Is Tanning Among Breastfeeding Women?

While there are no precise recorded figures as to how many breastfeeding women turn to fake tanning, other statistics suggest the problem may be more widespread than first thought. Research by the Centers for Disease Control indicates over half of all white women report using fake tanning more than 10 times per year. And the majority of artificial tan enthusiasts are in their reproductive years.

A Google search for “fake tan while breastfeeding” reveals a host of infant pictures with brown rings around their lips. While these photos appear humorous, the ingredients in spray tans do not wash off with soap and water. It can cause significant stress and fear of the judgment of others while parents wait for their babies’ old skin cells to shed and get replaced by new ones.

Health Benefits of Breastfeeding

Numerous studies recommend new mothers breastfeed for the health benefits both they and their babies receive. Breast milk passes on immunity to certain diseases to the infant. Mothers who choose to breastfeed also decrease their risk of breast cancer later in life.

Breastfeeding babies fall sick with infections at a third of the rate of bottle-fed babies. Additionally, bottle-fed babies run a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome. That alone makes many moms opt for breastfeeding at least the majority of the time. Breastfed babies are less prone to gastrointestinal diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Fortunately, changing social mores have eliminated much of the stigma attached to breastfeeding in public. In previous years, nursing mothers had to stay home with their infant much of the time or use breast pumps regularly if they chose to breastfeed while at work, causing many moms to switch to the bottle for the sake of convenience. Nowadays, few people bat an eye at breastfeeding mothers at the park or on the bus, and laws exist to protect these women from discrimination.

The Problem With a Fake Tan While Breastfeeding

Those seeking a bronze glow have several options for getting the sun-kissed look. Some women opt for tanning beds, others for professional spray tans and still others use over-the-counter bronzing products. All three can prove problematic for breastfeeding mothers wanting to look like they’ve just returned from a visit to the French Riviera.

Science has definitively proven that those who choose to use tanning beds run a significantly higher risk of developing skin cancers. Nursing mothers face an additional risk when using a tanning bed to get a fake tan while breastfeeding — the UV rays can burn nipples painfully, making feedings difficult. No direct scientific link exists to prove using tanning beds causes a mother’s milk to dry up, but considering over half of new mothers struggle to produce enough milk, why take the risk?

The chemical used in commercial spray tans and many home tanning products, dihydroxyacetone (DHA), may cause harm to babies who feed soon after their mothers return from the salon. DHA has FDA approval for external use, but the health risks of ingesting the chemical while babies breastfeed remain unknown. Some evidence suggests DHA may cause damage to cellular DNA, leading to a host of health woes, and given the negligible body weight babies have, they can easily ingest enough to potentially do serious damage.

Parabens in such tanning products can cause hormonal changes in women who fake tan while breastfeeding, which increases the risk of certain cancers in both mother and child. Parabens can also impair neurological functioning, meaning they may affect the babies’ brain and nervous system development.

Fake tanning pills containing canthaxanthin can prove toxic to infants. These pills may cause diarrhea, nausea and intestinal discomfort. Research also suggests this common food additive may cause liver damage.

Women who work in fields such as entertainment may find it detrimental to their careers if they refuse to fake tan while breastfeeding. Women wanting to tan regardless of the risks can protect their infant by covering their breasts with pads and barrier creams such as petroleum jelly during tanning procedures. Washing the breasts with a gentle body wash before feeding time rolls around can further protect the infant. If possible, women should feed before hitting the salon, so their baby isn’t famished upon their return.

Putting Baby Before Beauty

The bottom line? Choosing to fake tan while breastfeeding means risking the drying up of a mother’s milk at best or passing on harmful toxins to the baby at worst. While most science to date indicates fake tanning is most likely safe for breastfeeding moms, why take unnecessary risks to infant health out of vanity?

Yes, fake tans can improve your appearance and give you more confidence. Nevertheless, breastfeeding moms do well to wait to go back to the salon after their little one finishes weaning. When it comes to the health of a child, making responsible decisions while nursing may prevent future heartbreak.

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