A Bun in the Oven
Ask any woman who has been pregnant during those hot summer months, and you’ll hear about how miserable it truly can be. However, it is very important that pregnant women stay cool in the summer months, as overheating – a medical condition called hyperthermia – is thought to lead to many other complications of pregnancy. But it is very easy for moms-to-be to overheat without realizing it. Whether they are working out, walking the dog or working in the garden, pregnant women need to take precautions to keep their cool.
The Risks of Overheating
According to Amber Ceccarelli, RN, BSN, CCM, a case management supervisor for CIGNA HealthCare in Arizona, expectant mothers should do all they can to stay cool, as heat can lead to various medical problems, both for her and her unborn baby.
This is especially true when taking part in outdoor activities or when exercising. “When a pregnant woman is exposed to summer weather conditions, her chances of becoming dehydrated are increased,” says Ceccarelli. “The body requires additional fluids during pregnancy, and when the body is deprived of the fluids it needs, medical issues surface. Dehydration can cause contractions, which in turn can cause the premature delivery of the baby. This occurs because when an expectant mom – or anyone for that matter – is dehydrated, she loses part of her blood volume, which increases the concentration of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for contractions.”
When a pregnant woman becomes overheated, she has increased risk of dehydration, heat exhaustion and increased swelling of the extremities. However, as the baby’s temperature is always 1 degree Celsius higher than Mom’s and Baby does not have the ability to sweat, the risk to the baby increases as Mom’s temperature goes up.
“Hyperthermia has been linked to certain birth defects including heart problems, abdominal wall defects and problems with the development of the nervous system,” Ceccarelli says. “Dehydration can cause contractions that lead to a premature delivery. And, as Baby’s temperature is higher than the Mom’s, there is always a concern that the baby can overheat. In addition, avoiding fetal heat stress is important during the first trimester, as it is considered the critical period in the development of major body systems, such as the spinal cord.”
Cause for Concern
Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of hyperthermia and dehydration to help you identify the condition before serious complications occur. “If a pregnant woman experiences dizziness or lightheadedness, nausea, headache, muscle cramps and/or an increase of body temp, while outdoors in the summer, she is exhibiting signs of dehydration and/or hyperthermia,” says Ceccarelli. “If any of these symptoms exist, get into a cool environment, sit down and drink cool fluids. If you feel lightheaded or dizzy, lie down on your left side with a cool cloth on your forehead and the back of your neck.”
Ceccarelli advises that women seek medical attention if any of the following occur:
- Any of the above mentioned symptoms continue after additional rest and fluids.
- Contractions or cramps are greater than five per hour.
- You have bright red vaginal bleeding.
- Swelling or puffiness of the face or hands, a sign of preeclampsia.
- Acute or continuous vomiting.
- Low, dull backache.
- Intense pelvic pressure.
Keeping Your Cool
Alexandra Powe Allred of Midlothian, Tex., author of Entering the Mother Zone and member of the United States Women’s Bobsled team, says that the No. 1 reason athletes shy away from training during pregnancy is because they are unsure of how to monitor how hard they work or how overheated they get. “Being hot is a big issue,” says Allred. “While training for the U.S. Bobsled team and pregnant, I worked with the United States Olympic Commission (the USOC) on my training regimen, in order to create a program safe for all female athletes to use during pregnancy. It is the one that is still used today by the USOC and International Olympic Committee as a safety guideline for pregnant athletes. There are ways to be careful, train hard and be your very best. I went on to win U.S. Nationals and was named Athlete of the Year by the United States Olympic Committee in 1994 when I was 4 1/2 months pregnant!”
Just as Allred found, there are many practical – and fun – ways to keep your cool when expecting during the summer months. Ann Douglas, author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, says that one of the best ways to keep cool also offers a wonderful side effect. “The best way to keep cool during the summer months is to hit the pool or the tub on a regular basis,” says Douglas. “Not only will a quick swim or soak help to bring down your body temperature, it also gives you a glorious, albeit temporary, sensation of weightlessness – something that can be tremendously refreshing at this stage of the game.”
“I’ll be 5 months pregnant in August,” says Susan Stern, a publicist from New York City. “I’m already planning ways to keep cool. I belong to a pool and love to swim. And while it’s one of the best exercises for pregnant women, it can also keep [you] cool while you work out.”
Another important way to keep cool is to consider what you will be wearing. Just as you take care in choosing something to keep you warm in winter, use the same care to keep you cool in summer. “Give some thought to the types of clothing you’re wearing,” says Douglas. “Look for loose-fitting garments made from natural fibers, and promise yourself you’ll banish all tight-fitting synthetics from your wardrobe until after delivery day.”
There are many companies who offer clothing options that are created just for summer pregnancies. For example, DuPont makes performance fibers that go into many active wear clothing items that would be comfortable and help pregnant mothers stay cool. They include:
- Coolmax – Helps wick sweat away from the body, so that it can absorb in the air, instead of sitting on the shirt.
- Lycra – Provides elasticity and shape for great look and feel.
- Supplex – Offers a cottony feel and is a quick-drying, easy-care fabric.
According to Ceccarelli, other easy, practical and helpful tips for keeping your cool are:
- Avoid midday sun.
- Use high factor sunscreen.
- Drink at least eight glasses of water per day.
- Avoid outdoor exercise during hot hours of the day.
- Carry a spray bottle to spritz with when feeling warm.
- Take frequent, quick showers.
- Wear light-colored cotton clothing that reflects sunlight.
- Wear nonrestrictive clothing to control swelling.
Pregnancy can be an exciting, busy and thrilling time. And with the right planning, guidance, support and knowledge, even a summer pregnancy will go as smoothly as the summer breeze.
“When we get stressed out and overwhelmed, full of anxiety and wound up, it does nothing to help us stay physically cool in the hot summer months,” says Christine D’Amico, author The Pregnant Woman’s Companion. “So the more you can manage your worries and anxieties, the more you can smoothly make your way through the common yet challenging bumps that often come with pregnancy, and the more you will be able to deal with these changes in a calm, thoughtful and relaxed way. This more relaxed state will in turn assist in keeping you physically cooler.”