Pregnancy can be challenging at the best of times, but during summer when temperatures often soar into the 30s, the heat can pose another problem. Overheating during pregnancy can be dangerous to the health of both the expecting mom and her baby. Here’s what you need to know about keeping yourself – and your bump – cool.
Why am I so hot?
During pregnancy the vascular system (the vessels which transport fluids throughout the body) expands and the amount of blood circulating in your body increases by 40 percent, which causes your body’s core temperature to rise by between 0.5 –1°C. “Specific hormones are released which cause your blood vessels to dilate, and this will make you feel warmer than usual,” says Pretoria gynaecologist and obstetrician, Dr Zeelha Abdool, head of the urogynaecology unit at Steve Biko Academic Hospital. “Since there is an increase in blood supply to the skin, and the skin is in direct contact with the environment, pregnant women are more predisposed to both overheating and dehydration,” she explains.
The dangers of dehydration
Overheating and dehydration often go hand in hand. “Water plays a role in heat regulation and elimination of waste products, so overheating can often cause you to dehydrate,” explains Dr Abdool. Conversely, if you are dehydrated due to morning sickness, it will be far more difficult for your body to cool down and you will overheat very easily.
It’s important to recognise the signs of overheating and dehydration and react to them immediately. “If you are overheating or dehydrated you will feel faint, hot and thirsty. You will also begin to sweat more than usual,” says Dr Abdool. If you notice any of these signs, make sure you move to a cool environment as soon as possible and drink a cold glass of water (avoid fizzy drinks as they contain caffeine, which may dehydrate you further). Place a cool, damp facecloth on your forehead or the back of your neck. Extreme dehydration can have consequences for both mom and baby. “If you are severely dehydrated, this can affect your health, as well as the amount of amniotic fluid in the uterus. The kidneys may also be affected and this can cause the accumulation of toxins, which may predispose you to premature labour,” adds Dr Abdool.
Avoid the hot tub for now
The baby’s temperature is closely regulated during pregnancy, and is typically between 0.5 –1 °C higher than the mother’s temperature. “It’s important not to disrupt this balance by spending time in overheated environments, such as Jacuzzis, saunas, steam rooms and heated pools. If you attend an antenatal class that takes place in water, make sure that the water is not warmer than 32°C,” advises Dr Abdool.
How to keep your cool
Here are a few ideas to help ward off overheating and dehydration:
- Drink six to eight glasses of cold water every day. Try filling a few bottles with water halfway and placing them in the freezer. When you’re ready to drink them, simply fill them up with tap water and you have instant iced water. Adequate water intake will also make you less prone to another unpleasant pregnancy side effect – swollen hands and feet.
- Wear loose, cool clothing whenever you can. Maternity clothing often features stretchy fabrics and elasticated waist bands to accommodate your expanding bump, but this doesn’t allow for your body heat to escape. Likewise, wear open sandals so that your feet stay cool.
- “Avoid drinks that are high in sugar and caffeine (coffee, colas, most teas) as these are diuretics and can predispose you to dehydration,” says Dr Abdool.
- Take a dip. A swim in an unheated pool will allow you to take the weight off your feet and will cool your body’s surface temperature.
- Make sure you exercise during the coolest parts of the day, or opt for a pregnancy class in an air-conditioned environment. Always drink plenty of water during and after exercise to replace the fluids that you have lost.