Students offer special blankets and sun protection tips to new parents

February 23, 2023
Medical student in scrubs leans forward to look at baby, who is wearing a blanket and newborn cap and lying on mother's arms. Mother also has on scrubs and a hair protector.
Medical student Laura Andrews explains how protect newborns from harmful ultraviolet light. Photo by Molly Leff

Whether it’s clothes, toys or even diapers, new mothers often find themselves surrounded by gifts from friends and family alike. This year, students at the MUSC College of Medicine are offering their own gifts to new parents at MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital, and they might be lifesaving.

Laura Andrews and Chelsea Shope are a part of the COM's Dermatology Interest Group that regularly visits the mother-baby unit at MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital. They come bearing gifts, including a drawstring bag that holds a special sun protection blanket and reminders about the dangers of sun exposure to newborns.

“It’s a UPF blanket, meaning there is a ‘UV protection factor’ in the blanket,” Andrews said, explaining ultraviolet rays. “We also provide a pamphlet with educational information and a QR code where families can go get more protective clothing, hats and blankets.”

This is important because the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping newborns and babies under 6 months out of direct sunlight, due to the high risk for sunburn. And while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of sunscreens in babies under 6 months old, the AAP supports limited use when adequate clothing and shade are not available, stating that parents can apply a minimal amount of sunscreen formulated especially for infants, with a sun protection factor of 30 to 50, to the face, back of the hands and tops of the feet – but, ultimately, urging sun avoidance. 

Lara Wine Lee MD PHD 
Dr. Lara Wine Lee

The COM group partners with IMPACT Melanoma, a national nonprofit organization that works to reduce the incidence of melanoma. The students are involved with the organization’s No Sun For Babies initiative, which states that a sunburn during childhood can nearly double a person’s chance of developing melanoma. 

The information provided gives parents three easy ways to protect their babies from the sun. First, babies need to stay in the shade, which they can do using the new blanket provided to them by the COM students. Secondly, hydration is important, and breast milk or formula has all the fluids necessary to accomplish that. Finally, it’s important that babies remain covered in protective clothing and wide-brimmed hats to avoid sunburn.

“We have been very excited to support this effort because the importance of sun protection and sun protective behaviors for infants and young children is not often discussed,” said Lara Wine Lee M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of dermatology in the College of Medicine. “Not only are sunburns in children a major risk factor for all types of skin cancer, including melanoma, but also contributes to other problems with long-term skin health. Sun protective behaviors should be taught early so our kids grow up with good preventative health practices, and this program is an excellent opportunity to educate families on the importance of sun protection.”

With a grant from the SJCH, the medical students were able to provide the bags and protective blankets for free to the new mothers. In the summer months, the students plan to continue the distribution but swap out the blankets for car window shades to keep babies cool and shaded on summer road trips.

“Parents are often surprised that you still get UV rays through glass,” Shope said. “If you’re rocking or feeding your baby feeding by a window with natural light, you are still getting some of that sun exposure. The blanket is a great option because you can cover up those sun exposed areas when you are sitting.”

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