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My three months old son really likes to sit or lie in the spots where the sun shines through our windows unto the floor. I guess he likes the additional warmth.

Currently it's winter in Germany (from a temperature perspective) so the sun isn't that strong, but I'm afraid in spring and summer eventually the sun will get very dangerous for the delicate baby skin.

I could not find any concise advice on this matter, some say "no sun at all", some say "sunlight is good", some say "sunlight only to a certain degree". Obviously this highly depends on the geographic region and the actual age of the child.

Are there any rules of thumb to decide how much sun is too much? Is there any typical behaviour or reactions to watch out for which indicate too much exposure? Or is it better to play it safe and avoid direct sunlight under all circumstances?

EDIT: I'm interested in both indoor and outdoor exposure, because all children will be exposed to sunlight both indoors and outdoors. (Except for some places in Africa perhaps)

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This is a very basic question. While it's valid and useful, I think it's not appropriate for the beta period because we are requested to attract "experts", and basic questions are detrimental to that goal. Outside of the beta period, I'd upvote this! But for now, we need more hard questions. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Mar 31 '11 at 9:43
    
I was reading the question title in the sense of outdoor sunlight where you can easily get a sunburn; that 's not a risk indoors. Can you please make your question explicit about this point? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Mar 31 '11 at 9:44
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Maybe it's basic to you, but after posting my question I did some additional research myself and found this matter to be very difficult and I did not find any real answer on the Internet, except for a general "be careful". Even the two existing responders struggle to find an answer. I'd love to hear an expert on this topic. But in case you mean "basic" in a sense that every parent should at least think about this important topic, I agree, this is a basic and elementary question. –  Daniel Rikowski Apr 1 '11 at 6:39
    
you are right, this sounded like a simple question but it turns out that it isn't! I meant "basic" in the sense that no expert is needed because you'll find the info in any parenting book or Google search, but I was obviously mistaken. Mea culpa! I could delete my first comment but then the following ones will hang in the air; I'd rather keep all these comments in place for the sake of clarity. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 1 '11 at 8:03
    
How about when he turns brown? –  Cryst May 11 '11 at 12:28
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5 Answers

Sun is a good source of vitamin D, so I would not avoid it completely.

Try to stay out of direct/strong sunshine between 10am and 4pm, and have your baby use sunscreen and a hat regularly.

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Window glass blocks most of the UV light, which lessens the risk of sunburn but also means no Vitamin D is produced, so in this case it's not that valid. –  Lennart Regebro Mar 31 '11 at 9:46
    
The recommendation to avoid sun 10am-4pm is strange since you get more UVB (and hence vitamin D) per unit visible light around noon than you do other times of day. In fact, the atmosphere blocks almost all UVB when the sun is relatively low in the sky. See, e.g. who.int/uv/uv_and_health/en Moderation is key. –  jrennie May 13 '12 at 19:46
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I am English, but have fairly dark skin due, in part, to my ancestry. I sit in the sun for 20 minutes and turn brown. That's me. My wife, a traditional English rose, as such, needs two weeks in the sun to turn white after each winter. Each person's skin is different, and that goes to their kids too. I have 3 kids. One of them has good olive skin, so we don't mind her being in the sun for any period of time; she doesn't burn. The next, like the wife, has quite sensitive skin, so we keep our eyes on her more. The other, like me, has fairly dark skin, for an English person, so, again, we don't tend to worry about her more.

However, The most important source of vitamin D is not food, it's sunlight. Vitamin D isn't actually a vitamin, it's a steroid hormone that the body produces using UVB rays from the sun. Vitamin D deficiences in babies can arise if babies receive inadequate exposure to sunlight.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend all breastfed babies be given vitamin D supplements. This is because, they say, breast milk does not contain enough vitamin D (or sunlight maybe?)

Read more: http://www.homemade-baby-food-recipes.com/baby-and-vitamin-D.html#ixzz1M1ksDh83

http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;111/4/908

Read more: http://www.homemade-baby-food-recipes.com/baby-and-vitamin-D.html#ixzz1M1kSx3Kt

Anecdotally, as a kid, I was blond, blue eyed and spent 12 hours a day semi naked (just in shorts) in the sun, fishing, playing sport, sitting about, swimming and I never burned. I do think we tend to worry about too many things nowadays. I think an element of common sense is needed here; if it is 32 degrees outside and bright sunlight, don't let the kids play outside for too long without some kind of lotion on. If it is 18 degrees and not so sunny, whilst you do have to keep an eye open, it's not so bad.

"To make enough vitamin D, a baby in a diaper [nappy] needs a total of only 30 minutes of sunlight a week-less than five minutes a day. Fully clothed and without a hat, a baby would need two hours of sunlight a week, or about 20 minutes a day. Medium to darker skin tones need a little more time in the sun."

http://mothering.com/breastfeeding/the-politics-of-vitamin-d

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If you're asking about the effects of sunlight on children indoors then my answer is that there are no ill effects and the child can stay in the sun for as long as it wants. There is no risk of sunburn or other sun-induced dangers. As Lennart points out in a comment, there are also no vitamin benefits as there would be outdoors.

Really the only consideration is that it can get quite warm near a sunny window. Make sure the room temperature and clothing is appropriate, and that objects in the sunlight don't become too heated (like seatbelts in a car).

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I don't know if I agree with your statement "here are no ill effects and the child can stay in the sun for as long as it wants". If they are sitting in direct sunlight (as the OP states they are), the exposure is the same. Even through tinted windows (such as in a car), you can still get sun burnt. Sunburn is skin cells in trauma, which is a leading cause of melanoma. Sure, this probably won't happen to a 3 year old, but over an extended period of time (say, 5-10 years), it's a massive killer. –  Mark Henderson Mar 31 '11 at 20:58
    
Really? As Lennart also points out in a comment, windows block most UV light so the risk of sunburn (and melanoma (which I agree should be taken seriously)) is practically removed. That's also my understanding. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Mar 31 '11 at 22:11
    
you can get sunburn through a tinted window. I drive long distances (Over 1000km/day) several times a year, and when I get to the other end, the arm that I rest on the door window sill is usally quite sunburnt, so prolonged exposure to UV rays still has risks behind UV tinting. –  Mark Henderson Mar 31 '11 at 22:18
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I did a little research on that and it seems that even simple glass with no additional filters blocks most of the UV-B rays (> 75%) but none of the UV-A rays. –  Daniel Rikowski Apr 1 '11 at 6:29
    
@DR01 that would be a good answer rather than a comment. I'd upvote it! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 1 '11 at 6:32
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There is no harm in letting the child sit in the sunshine. Even though glass does not block UV-A rays, I doubt he will be spending all day there. Direct sunlight exposure has health benefits including increased serum levels of Vitamin D which can prevent depression and rickets.

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The pragmatic answer is ... if the child gets a sunburn, there was too much sun. How much sun is highly variable between people; the only real way to know is to get out in the sun and watch the kid. Start slow, perhaps 15 minutes increments, and pay attention. You will know soon enough. Be prepared with long sleeve clothing, shade, sunscreen and water.

Note: the question does not address exposure to heat, which is a different but related question. When a child is outdoors or exposed to direct sunlight for non-trivial amounts of time, supervisors need to pay attention for symptoms of heat-related ailments. Sunscreen, hats and long sleeves can prevent sunburn, but the kid might get heat stroke or dehydration!

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