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Babies and light: everything you need to know

Published on May 27, 2019

When a baby arrives, life changes. So does our relationship to light. Can babies be in the sun? Does their room need to have a light at night? What is jaundice? We’ll answer your questions.

Newborns have an important relationship with sunlight that decisively influences their development. Too much or too little sun is harmful, and because they are babies, their parameters are different to ours.

Jaundice in babies

It is not uncommon for some newborns to have yellowish skin. It's called neonatal jaundice, a phenomenon related to the accumulation of bilirubin in the blood due to their liver being too immature to remove it.

This pathology does not tend to be serious, but the paediatrician must examine and evaluate it on a case-by-case basis. In general, neonatal jaundice tends to disappear on its own, but parents are often recommended to carefully expose children to sunlight, given that it is very beneficial for quickly overcoming these problems.

A good method is to place the baby’s crib or cradle next to the window during the day. It doesn't need to be a clear day, because they will also receive enough exposure on a cloudy or grey day. It is recommended to dress them with clothes that leave their arms or legs uncovered, always monitoring the room temperature so they don’t get dehydrated.

The exposure time must be limited and controlled. Between 7 and 10 minutes per day is ideal, though it depends on the amount of sun that penetrates through the window. Changing the baby’s position during the exposure is recommended, so that it is uniform. However, consult your paediatrician to find out if this method is suitable for your child in particular.

Jaundice in babies is usually remedied if they are in the sun 7 to 10 minutes per day.

Can babies be in the sun?

In general, pediatricians do not recommend directly exposing babies to the sun during their first months of life. Depending on the baby (mainly on their skin tone), it may be recommended to take them to the beach before 11 in the morning or in the late afternoon, when the sun is less intense.

The skin of children, especially those who are breastfeeding, is very sensitive to the sun. Children with particularly fair skin burn easier and can even get dehydrated. Being under the umbrella does not relieve them of receiving solar radiation, as it is reflected and filtered through the umbrella.

As for sun creams, they should never be applied to children under the age of 6 months. The way to protect them is with clothes, baseball hats, sun hats and umbrellas (we insist: these measures are not entirely effective on their own, because part of the radiation filters through).

Between the age of 6 months and 3 years, mineral-based sun creams are recommended. Your pharmacist will be able to inform you about the type of sun cream that meets these requirements.

Babies’ eyes and sunlight

Solar radiation not only harms babies’ skin, their eyes are also very sensitive. According to experts, their lenses allow 90% of UVA radiation and 50% of UVB radiation to pass.

To protect them on sunny days on the beach, in the mountains, country or snow, they need to use baseball hats, sun hats, visors and umbrellas. Another option is special sunglasses for children. When choosing sunglasses, make sure they have been certified. Check your local optical shop, where the professionals will recommend the appropriate model for your child, always with the EC stamp.

You never need to put sun cream on children under the age of 6 months.

A light for sleeping: is it necessary?

Pediatricians recommend that children sleep with the light turned off in their room. That does not mean that they cannot have a small light in their room or that a neighbour’s porch light cannot be left on.

The idea is to mimic daily routines: maintain a soft light during the day hours and turn off the light at night. In this way, children gradually get used to the natural cycles. With darkness, the human body secretes melatonin, the hormone that helps to regulate sleep. If you keep the light on, your body will not get used to releasing this hormone and it could cause sleep problems, as well as vision problems.

Lighting in the baby’s room

It is recommended for the baby’s room to have natural light and good ventilation. Curtains and shutters help to regulate the amount of light so that it is not bothersome or harmful to children.

Regarding artificial light, it is recommended to be modifiable, in order to create tenuous lighting environments that convey tranquillity. Moreover, warm light is most recommended for these spaces.

For safety purposes only, LED lights are recommended for babies. This is because when they start to take their first steps, it becomes essential for them not trip on cables or floor lamps.

It never hurts to remember that there are devices to cover plugs and prevent electrical shocks.

Early stimulation with light

Light is very important for children, who perceive the changes in light with great sensitivity.  As they grow, they come to understand and get used to those changes and include them as part of their routine.

For that reason, stimulating them with light helps to wake up their senses and connect them to the world that surrounds them. Between 3 and 6 months of age, it is recommended to start with something simple, like turning off and on the light, as if it were a game.

After the age of 6 months is children’s time to discover the world, and their curiosity explodes and so they can be given toys with lights. You can also play with them with shadow puppets or with a lamp in a dark room.

Starting at 10 months, they are able to use simple devices like buttons, and so they can be given slightly more complex toys.

Playing with the lights awakens children’s senses and helps them to connect to the world.