Feature Archive

Beat the Heat When You're Expecting

Sweating for Two

By Gina Shaw
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

Whoever first rhapsodized about that glow pregnant women get must have been a man. If he'd asked a woman about it, she'd have given it to him straight: that's sweat, buster, and lots of it. And with mid-April's sudden temperature surge from springlike to sizzling in many parts of the country, expectant mothers got an unwelcome preview of what high summer and the second trimester will feel like. How can you beat the heat when you're sweating for two?

"When you have a child generating heat inside of you and your body chemistry is all skewed from pregnancy, you feel hot all the time, anyway," says Rachel Silber, a certified doula and mother of two who practices in the Washington metropolitan area. Silber's son, Zachary, was born in late June of a particularly stifling Washington summer. "It was very miserable toward the end. I was so glad he wasn't an August baby because I think I would have died," she recalls. "The worst part was just feeling so sweaty. I'd come home from work and I'd be drenched in sweat."

And it's not just uncomfortable for you; getting overheated in the sweltering summer months can be bad for baby as well. It's easy to become dehydrated when you're pregnant. Overheating and dehydration can lead to several dangerous reactions, says Samantha Buery-Joyner, MD, an ob-gyn in private practice in northern Virginia:

  • heat syncope (fainting);
  • painful cramps, often in your legs;
  • heat exhaustion (including thirst, weakness, blurred vision, irritability, and confusion); and
  • heat stroke (a life-threatening emergency where the body cannot cool itself sufficiently)

"The baby is very sensitive to changes in maternal blood pressure," Buery-Joyner says. "When it drops, there's less blood supply to the uterus, the placenta, and of course to the baby." Studies have also shown the heat of Jacuzzis and saunas during pregnancy to be linked to neural tube defects (when the brain and spinal cord don't form properly), she notes, which may indicate that overheating in general could pose similar concerns.

Start your hot-weather pregnancy makeover by reevaluating your wardrobe. Yes, those black or navy stretchy spandex pants may be slimming and handily expand with your waistline, but they're also heat magnets. "One of the problems with maternity clothes is that a lot of them have spandex or other fabrics to make them stretchy so they expand with your body, but they're hot because they don't breathe," Silber says. "I advise women to choose maternity clothes that have as little spandex or nylon and as much natural fiber as possible. CoolMax and other fabrics that wick moisture away from your body are good, too, but they don't always come in maternity sizes." Instead of black and navy -- guaranteed to bake in the sun's rays -- choose lighter pastels and earth tones.

Oh -- and if you haven't already, lose the pantyhose! "When I was pregnant in the summer, I never wore them," Buery-Joyner says. "I kept up my pedicure and wore nice sandals."

Now that you're dressed for cooler comfort, don't leave the house without your water bottle. One trick Silber advises: put the full bottle in the freezer, taking it out just before you leave the house, and let it melt through the morning -- a constant source of icy water.

Limit your outdoor activities to the cooler parts of the day, says Buery-Joyner. Take the kids to the park or do your gardening in the early morning or early evening, and limit your exposure to the heat of the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. If you're exercising, try working out indoors where it's air-conditioned. Mall-walking is popular among Silber's clients, and swimming makes an excellent pregnancy exercise not just because it supports your body, but because it cools you off.

Fortunately, there are some handy keep-cool gadgets to tote with you to work or errands. Ice packs that slip into lunch bags are just a start. Silber swears by personal mini-fans (some can spray a fine water mist), and spray-can Evian water. Mavis Schorn, RN, CNM, a nurse-midwife with Women's Specialists in Houston, where they know a thing or two about heat, suggests one of the cooling bandannas sold by various athletic companies and outdoor suppliers. "A doctor I know always used that cooling bandanna on her neck in the operating room when she was pregnant. She tucked it in with her gown over it, and it kept her temperature down."

What about at night? Staying cool while you sleep may seem impossible. Air conditioning, an icy water bottle near the bed, and as few nightclothes as possible are all your friends during summer pregnancies." Some women even split up the rooms because they can't sleep next to their partner -- he's too hot," says Schorn. "Anything touching her, especially someone else's skin and body heat, is just too much and she can't sleep." Consider the bathtub your private pool, and take cool dips when you need to, even in the middle of the night.

Just because you've delivered the baby doesn't mean the sweat will magically go away. Like post-baby weight, post-baby heat takes some time to recede. "The sweating can continue up to six weeks after pregnancy, because you still have the hormones in your body, the higher blood volume, additional fluid, and additional fat storage," says Silber. "I was still sweating after Zachary was born and I didn't know it was normal, but it is."

Originally published June 17, 2002.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 4:32:44 AM