By Marc Sorenson, EdD
The Times of India often publishes articles that are pro-sunlight, and their most recent article begins in great fashion. However, it unfortunately deteriorates near the conclusion. The piece is entitled Babies need exposure to sunlight, and states that pediatricians in the city of Chennai are advising mothers to let their babies soak up some sun in order to combat an alarming rise in vitamin D deficiency. Great idea, no?
A salient point is made that breast-fed babies are no exception to the need for sunlight, since mother’s milk doesn’t contain sufficient vitamin D. About 67% of exclusively breast-fed babies are vitamin-D deficient. This, of course, makes perfect sense, as a mother who is herself D deficient, cannot furnish that critically important hormone to her nursing child. So far, the writer, Janani Sampath, is putting forth critically important information.
The piece also mentions that hospital ICUs are seeing babies with convulsions, triggered by low vitamin D levels, and that doctors are recommending at least a 30 minute walk weekly for both mom and baby. That advice is better than nothing, but wholly inadequate, particularly among women and children who have dark skin and therefore require more time in the sun to make vitamin D. The doctors should be recommending at least 30 minutes daily, or even more. Nevertheless, the advice given to at least get out in the sunlight is a positive step.
Regrettably, the article ends with this statement by Dr. Deepa Agarwal: “During summer, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM, mothers should ensure their children are safely exposed to sunlight with sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.”
That statement negates much of the positive information in the article, because those are the hours in which the sunlight produces the greatest quantity of vitamin D. The problem is compounded by the use of sunscreens, which can inhibit the production of vitamin D by as much as 99.5%. Further, blocking of the sun’s rays by sunglasses may halt the production of serotonin in the brain, thereby denying mom and baby the mood-enhancing effects of that critical substance. Nevertheless, the article is a good read if you ignore the misinformation in the conclusion. You can read the entire article here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/Babies-need-exposure-to-sunlight-Docs/articleshow/49306736.cms
 Matsuoka LY, Ide L, Wortsman J, MacLaughlin JA, Holick MF. Sunscreens suppress cutaneous vitamin D3 synthesis. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 1987; 64:1165-68.