Pregnancy safety amid summer heat
Staying out of the heat can be difficult in summer months, but it is crucial to stay safe and cool while spending time outdoors, especially for pregnant women. A Baylor College of Medicine expert outlines how to avoid heat exhaustion during warm months.
“The summer is tough on pregnant women because the body struggles to cool down when humidity and temperatures are high,” said Dr. Matthew Carroll, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor and Texas Children’s Hospital.
Avoiding sunburn and heat exhaustion requires forethought and planning in warm climates. Carroll suggests different methods to prevent discomfort and overheating for pregnant women:
- Stay hydrated: Pregnant women should drink more than the recommended eight to 12 cups of water per day to prevent dehydration.
- Don’t be afraid of the shade: If you spend time outside, try to find cooler areas in the shade.
- Cover up with clothing: Wear light clothing to protect yourself from the sun. While a lot of fitness clothes are moisture-wicking, they may be tight-fitting and uncomfortable. Wear clothing that is more comfortable for you.
- Wear sunscreen: Continue reapplying sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection of at least 30 SPF. Pregnant women with fair skin may benefit from using a higher SPF. If you sweat frequently, use sunscreen with water protection.
The first signs of heat exhaustion are dizziness, fatigue and nausea. When pregnant women feel these symptoms, they should move to a shaded or cool area to rest. Elevating the feet may also help. Hydrate with cool liquids, especially water with a sodium-containing solution, such as an electrolyte fluid.
When the body’s temperature rises, serious side effects can include vomiting and loss of consciousness. Symptoms should subside once you remove yourself from the heat and rest, so if nausea, vomiting, fatigue and dizziness persist for more than an hour, reach out to your doctor and consider going in for an evaluation.
If you normally exercise outdoors, Carroll suggests trying alternate exercises or changing your routine while pregnant. Exercise early in the morning or later in the evening when the heat is less oppressive, but be sure to do so in a safe, well-lit area. Swimming also is a safe, whole-body exercise option during pregnancy. Joint laxity increases in pregnancy and the water supports the joints. As long as you reapply sunscreen and avoid overdoing the exercise, swimming is a great option for staying cool outdoors.
“The sun is at its most powerful and the heat will be at its worst from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., so try to limit direct sun exposure during that period to 30 minutes to an hour. That will be the longest amount of time you will get good UV protection from your sunblock before you have to reapply,” Carroll said.
It’s also important to know that Braxton-Hicks contractions can be more common with exertion and dehydration. These are contractions that can be just as uncomfortable as the contractions of labor, but do not result in cervical dilation. If contractions continue to be painful and regular in occurrence, despite rest and hydration, a pregnant person should be evaluated by their provider.
Although there is limited data on how heat exhaustion can affect the fetus, stresses on the mother can directly impact the fetus. Pregnancy is already a stress on the body, especially the heart, because of increased blood volume and increased blood flow to support the placenta and pregnancy. If a mother overheats and loses consciousness, the changes in circulation may negatively impact placental perfusion and thereby the pregnancy.
Carroll stresses the importance of hydrating, staying cool and wearing sunscreen for all, but especially pregnant women in the summertime. Enjoy the outdoors in moderation while remembering key tips to prevent overheating.