Feature Archive

Pregnant This Summer? Beat the Heat

Hot, humid -- and heavy with child. Pregnancy can make the summer seem hotter. But following a few simple guidelines can keep you cool.

By Carol Sorgen
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

It's hot, it's humid, and you're pregnant. True, that can be a recipe for misery, but there are ways to cope.

"I always have tremendous sympathy for women whose babies are due in the summer or early fall," says Debra Gilbert Rosenberg, LCSW, author of the recently released The New Mom's Companion: Care for Yourself While You Care for Your Newborn.

"Heat and humidity, while unpleasant for most people, take a greater toll on pregnant women."

'Heat Intolerance'

Adelaide Nardone, MD, an ob-gyn in Providence, Rhode Island, and medical advisor to the Vagisil Women's Health Center, explains that when you're pregnant your body temperature is already a bit higher than normal, so added heat from the outside temperature is bound to make you feel uncomfortable.

"Pregnant women already have some degree of heat intolerance," says Nardone, who advises moms-to-be to pay attention to the heat warnings. If the heat index (meaning how hot the temperature feels because of the combination of heat and humidity) is in the 90s, that's a good day to be indoors as much as possible with the air conditioning turned on. A cool, damp washcloth applied to the back of your neck, your forehead, or the top of your head is also a good way to keep your body temperature down.

If you perspire heavily because of the heat, make sure you drink plenty of fluids, Nardone adds. Water's good, but so are orange juice, milk, and sports drinks, which replace electrolytes that are being sweated away.

She cautions that too much water can be as much of a problem as too little, leading to a condition called water intoxication. "Over-hydration with water can dilute your electrolytes even more, and can cause fatigued muscles, cramps, and in severe cases, unconsciousness," Nardone tells WebMD.

If you're thirsty, adds Rosenberg, you're already dehydrated, so make sure you drink throughout the day.

Keep Cool

Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, has these tips:

  • Swim. Not only does swimming cool you off, it helps to take some of the weight off your sciatic nerve. (Even ocean swimming is fine; just make sure the waves don't knock you down.)
  • Wear breathable fabrics so you won't sweat; this will keep you cooler and help prevent heat rash that can develop under your breasts and abdomen, a common problem for pregnant women.
  • Carry a water-filled squirt bottle so that you can mist yourself when you start to feel warm.
  • Exercise at the cooler times of day and avoid exercising to the point overheating.

When it comes to exercising, says Nardone, always check with your health-care provider before starting, or continuing, an exercise regimen.

Breathing is also an important factor in keeping cool, Nardone adds. Breathing lets off heat, so make sure you have a good breathing pattern (some people breathe either too rapidly or too slowly), and if you're having a problem breathing because of allergies or asthma, for example, stay indoors.

Hyun-Joo Lee, MD, an ob-gyn at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, has her own suggestions for keeping your cool while pregnant:

  • Avoid direct mid-day sun, because pregnant women are more prone to sunburn than non-pregnant women.
  • Drink one eight-ounce glass of water or electrolyte replacement liquid for each hour you are outdoors in hot weather.
  • Avoid vigorous outdoor activities during the hot hours of the day.
  • Use a high SPF sunscreen. If you have fair skin, use SPF 30 or 45. (Increased melanin production can lead to the "mask of pregnancy," so make sure your time in the sun is limited and don't head out without sunscreen or, better yet, sunblock.)
  • Get indoors at the first sign of weakness, fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness, or excessive thirst. Lie down and drink some cool water or electrolyte replacement liquid. If you don't feel better soon, call your doctor.

Another common problem in summer pregnancies is leg swelling -- called physiologic edema, Lee tells WebMD. "If the second half of pregnancy occurs during the summer months, the degree of leg swelling can increase dramatically."

Lee offers a list of dos and don'ts for women who experience leg swelling while pregnant:

Do:

  1. Lie down for 30 to 60 minutes a day, either at the end of the workday or during lunch.
  2. Keep your legs elevated while sleeping by placing a rolled-up towel or blanket under your mattress at the foot of the bed.
  3. Wear comfortable shoes and, if possible, wear one pair of shoes that are a half size larger than your normal size.
  4. Walk two to three times a week during times other than mid-day heat.
  5. Remove your rings if they seem to be tight. Some pregnant women experience mild swelling of the hands and have to get their rings cut off.

Don't:

  1. Don't wear constrictive clothing, especially around the waist.
  2. Don't stand in one place for too long.
  3. Reduce, but don't eliminate, salt from your diet. Salt contains iodide, an essential element for the health of the fetus.
  4. Don't take any diuretic substances. Diuretics can cause the loss of electrolytes that could endanger the fetus.

If you follow all these tips, says Lee, you may very well be able to ignore the heat and get back to enjoying the excitement of awaiting the arrival of your baby.

Published July 7, 2003.


SOURCES: Debra Gilbert Rosenberg, LCSW, author, The New Mom's Companion: Care for Yourself While You Care for Your Newborn. Adelaide Nardone, MD, medical advisor, Vagisil Women's Health Center. Ann Douglas, author, The Mother of All Pregnancy Book. Hyun-Joo Lee, MD, Albert Einstein Medical Center.

©1996-2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.
Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 6:29:39 AM