Maintaining your cool during a summer pregnancy

August 11, 2015
When summer temperatures soar, pregnant women definitely feel the heat. If you consider that your fetus has a temperature up to 1C higher than your own, feeling uncomfortably warm is your body's way of reminding you to cool off and avoid pregnancy complications.
Registered Midwife Ruth Comfort explains that exposure to summer heat for short periods of time is not going to harm your fetus, but cooling off will make you feel much more comfortable and help you to avoid heat exhaustion.

Comfort, a practicing midwife at the South Community Birth Program and Assistant Head of the Department of Midwifery at BC Women's Hospital has some practical advice: "If you are out in the heat and you feel hot or uncomfortable, get inside, cool down, drink some water and put your feet up," she says.

Like athletes training on a hot day, pregnant women run a greater risk of becoming dehydrated and developing heat exhaustion. Warning signs can vary, but overall you may feel uncomfortable, unwell or excessively tired. More specific signs that you are becoming excessively dehydrated and susceptible to heat exhaustion may include: dizziness; headache; excessive sweating; increased swelling in your body (especially in your feet); shortness of breath; concentrated urine; or dry lips. In extreme cases, you may experience cramping in your uterus or labour contractions.

If you have to work outdoors during the summer or your indoor workplace is excessively hot, Comfort advises talking to your employer about the potential to modify your hours or job while you are pregnant. Ideally, your core body temperature should never be above 37.5° C. Your midwife or doctor can provide more advice.

However, for most pregnant women, taking some simple steps will go a long way to helping you and your baby stay cool:


Get enough fluids

Comfort advises women to drink 1.5 to 2 litres of fluid every day. When you are more active, you may need more. Water is a good choice, and adding lemon or cucumber slices to the jug or glass can make it more inviting to drink. If you choose an electrolyte replacement drink, balance your consumption with plain water and read the label - some electrolyte drinks also have added sugar. It's okay to have caffeinated beverages, like coffee or tea, in moderation, but be sure to drink the same amount of water to make up for the dehydrating effect of the caffeine.


Modify your exercise regimen

If you like to exercise outside, early morning or later in the evening is better. Or, opt for a temperature-controlled environment, such as a cool gym or yoga studio, when it's really hot outside. Aquacise or swimming are also good options.

"If your normal routine isn't feeling right, it's always good to talk to your health care provider about what you can do to modify it, what's safe and what's not safe," Comfort advises.


Dress comfortably

Wear loose clothing with good air circulation, wear a hat outside, and opt for cotton underwear to encourage air flow and help prevent yeast infections. Don't forget your feet! Although your flip-flops may feel good on your hot feet, it's better to choose safe, supportive footwear with good airflow. 


Take it easier

Having a siesta in the afternoon, or at least taking the time to literally put your feet up (above the level of your hips) during the hot part of the day will help you to feel better and minimize swelling. Swelling diverts fluid to your extremities and actually makes the body more dehydrated. 


Sleeping in the heat

When it's uncomfortably hot inside your home, take a cool shower before bed and try to find the coolest sleeping environment. If you have a basement , the temperature can be several degrees cooler down there. Keeping a mister bottle and fan beside your bed is helpful, and applying talcum powder can help with sweating. Some women find that putting their feet in ice water before settling down works well. However, when it's very hot in your bedroom, sleeping alone can help you stay cooler during the night! 


Staying cool at home

If you are our planning to deliver your baby at home during the summer, having a portable fan or air conditioner on hand can help you stay as cool as possible during labour. It's also a good idea to have these on hand to keep your apartment or house cooler for your newborn. 


Air quality

In BC, hot summer weather often brings wildfires and air quality warnings. Healthy pregnant women (with no underlying medical conditions) should heed the same warnings as anyone else, but it's advisable to be even more cautious about exercising outside when the air quality deteriorates. When the air is smoky, be sure to keep your newborn inside.


Sun protection

Use natural protection as much as possible to minimize sun exposure on your skin - loose clothing, hats and sunglasses are all helpful. Look at the labels when buying sunscreen - choose a paba-free option with as few additives as possible.

It's all a matter of common sense, Comfort concludes. Pregnant women need to recognize that they are more vulnerable to the effects of heat and take action to cool down before heat exhaustion sets in.


This article was written by Anne McLaughlin with information provided by Ruth Comfort Assistant Head of the Department of Midwifery at BC Women's Hospital.


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