It was our first trip away with our firstborn. We drove a few hours south to spend a few much-needed days out of our house and in the fresh ocean air. As a first-time mom, I was prepared, or at least I thought I was. I had multiple options for shade during our beach day, an umbrella and even a Shade Shack. I brought a protective sun hat and dressed my baby in a onesie to keep him cool but covered.
He was just 8 weeks old, so heeding the warnings on the bottle and the advice I'd read online to forgo sunscreen use on children under 6 months old, I didn't apply any, leaving his face, bald head, and limbs mostly uncovered. When he fell asleep after a nursing session in the Shade Shack, I placed him on a towel under the umbrella so he would have plenty of cool airflow while he snoozed. He was completely in the shade with even a few feet of sunless space to spare all around him.
After weeks in the newborn baby haze, those hours at the beach were just what my husband and I needed. We left feeling refreshed and accomplished that we'd tackled our first sandy trip as parents. But shortly after we headed inside, we noticed that our baby's face was flush and his bald head was running hot. We chalked it up to the heat and kept him in the air conditioning. A few hours later it was obvious that the redness wasn't subsiding but actually getting worse. We didn't even consider that he'd gotten sunburned because he was in the shade the entire time!
Once I finally realized that a sunburn is indeed what had happened, I was, as you can imagine, in a first-time-mom panic. Not only did I feel all the guilt, but after a middle-of-the-night call with an advice nurse, I felt totally helpless. There really was nothing we could do but apply aloe and let it fade out on its own. It was my first experience with the devastating feeling that I'd failed as a mom. Even though I had been so conscious of the sun that day, I had no idea that UV rays could get to him while he was in the shade.
According to a study in JAMA Dermatology, umbrellas can't shield beachgoers from rays that bounce off the sand under the umbrella. They concluded that the best approach to sun protection involves multiple layers, such as clothing and sunscreen, in addition to shade. If I'd known this, you bet my son would've had his hat on and limbs covered inside the Shade Shack all day. Lesson learned.