Wintertime can be tough when you’re expecting. You may be tempted to just huddle under the comforter and hibernate. Between the lack of daylight, the busy holidays and the fatigue and aches of pregnancy, you probably avoid getting outdoors as much as possible. But being cooped up could lead to a bad case of the blues. Besides, once you’re dressed right, you’ll enjoy the crisp air. And the transformed winter scenery – whether it’s sparkling snow or lush greenery – will make getting outdoors worthwhile.
There are a few things to keep in mind when you head out into the cold or the Weather Outside Is Frightful. Most importantly, you are more susceptible to cold exposure during pregnancy, so prevention is key. Secondly, you should know that your body does an excellent job of keeping your fetus warm, so even if you are shivering, your fetus is doing OK. Lastly, make sure to check with your personal health care provider before participating in any strenuous physical activity.
Cold Exposure and Pregnancy
During pregnancy, you may feel colder than usual and need a few extra layers to bundle up. There are several reasons why. For one, you sweat more during pregnancy, even when it is cool outside, so your skin can get quite cold. Also, your belly is big and you simply have a greater surface area (or more skin) through which to lose heat. Plus, your elevated hormone levels may contribute to your feeling chilled.
Stress and dehydration are also known to make cold illness worse. This means that simply skipping snacks and hydration breaks can be dangerous, especially when you are exposed to the elements. You need extra calories and fluids during pregnancy. Keeping your blood sugar up by stopping regularly for healthy snacks, such as crackers, nuts and fruit, and drinking at least a liter of water for every hour of activity, will keep you safer outdoors. Breaks, especially if you can warm up in the cabin or with a hot drink, also will keep your spirits and energy up so that you can enjoy your time outdoors.
Exercise also is important. When you get cold, activating your muscles by moving around and getting your heart pumping will help your body generate heat. If you feel your fingers and toes getting too cold or if you start to feel them become numb, wiggle, squeeze and massage them to get the blood flowing again. Frostbite and frostnip are consequences of cold exposure. Most commonly, cold injury affects susceptible areas, like the ears, nose, fingers or toes. As these parts get cold, they get less blood flow. With frostnip, the outermost layer of the skin is affected, causing redness and temporary numbness. With frostbite, the deeper layers of the skin are damaged, so injury may be permanent. The key is prevention with special attention to these vulnerable areas.
Dressing for the Weather
Wearing layers and fabrics appropriate for the temperature are important. It doesn’t have to be below freezing to be too cold. Remember that you can get cold if you’re wearing a tank top and are hit with a freak spring hailstorm on the trail. Any experienced outdoorsperson will tell you that layers do the trick.
Moisture-wicking underwear, including long pants and a full-sleeve shirt in very cold weather, or at least a tank top to insulate your chest and belly, will keep the sweat off your skin. Nothing’s more uncomfortable than being heavily layered and soggy.
Next, a fleece or wool layer will trap warmth, even when damp. On top of it all, a waterproof and windproof shell works wonders. A jacket doesn’t have to be bulky and constricting to do a good job of insulating, especially if you’ve got the right layers on underneath.
Accessories are necessary. A good hat that covers your ears, winter-grade socks, a waterproof pair of gloves and a scarf are almost as important as the jacket or the boots. Pull socks up and eliminate wrinkles to maximize blood flow to your feet. You’re not going to need to invest in any new maternity winter wear either. The advantage of most cold-weather gear is that it stretches, and there is usually some extra room built in. An avid winter sports fan in Denver told me that she wore her one-piece snowsuit snowshoeing well into her third trimester. It became more form-fitting than originally intended, but it was just as comfortable as ever.
Winter Fun During Pregnancy
Once you’re dressed right, you’ve got a lot of attractive options in the winter. Have you tried snowshoeing? It is easy to learn, even during pregnancy, and is great exercise. Cross-country skiing? For the serenity of a wilderness trail, nothing beats it. And have you really given up on hitting the slopes this season? If you’re an experienced and confident skier or boarder, you can head uphill during your first trimester, since your fetus is still well protected under the pubic bone.
Walking is another great option, as long as the sidewalks and trails aren’t icy, because you’ll get a great aerobic and weight-bearing workout. This means you’ll be building stamina by conditioning your heart and lungs while also building bone and muscle strength. Like snowshoeing, it’s great preparation for labor, and you can keep it up until delivery. Studies show that women who regularly enjoy activities like these (that give them a good aerobic and weight-bearing workout) during pregnancy have fewer complications during labor, experience less pain during pregnancy and delivery and recover more quickly after giving birth.
You don’t have to head outdoors to reap these benefits, however. Strolling through the mall (without too many distracted stops) is also good exercise, especially since you’re carrying the extra weight of pregnancy, and your heart is essentially pumping for two. Indoor pools are a terrific option for regular swimming in winter. For many women, just being in the water is a welcome break since it takes the strain off your back, legs and hips. Biking on flat, designated paths is good exercise, even late in pregnancy. If you’re at home, stretching – especially targeting your sore back and gently improving your flexibility – is good preparation for labor.
Staying active in the wintertime will help eliminate pregnancy aches, increase your confidence in your body and prepare you well for the marathon of labor and motherhood. But don’t forget to enjoy the lazier joys of wintertime too, like late-night family Scrabble, scrumptious holiday meals and cozy fireside lounging. After all, you may need to tap into that store of sleep, calories and romance when you’re too busy being a mommy come springtime.
Preventing Cold Exposure
Here are some tips for winter safety during pregnancy:
- Check weather reports. You should be well prepared for deteriorating weather, even if you’re only an hour from home.
- Dress in layers. Moisture-wicking underwear, such as polypropylene fabrics, are especially effective. The outermost layer should be a wind- and waterproof shell.
- Hydrate regularly. Dehydration makes cold illness worse. You should be drinking at least a liter of water per hour of exercise.
- Snack often. Healthy snacks will keep your energy level up and help prevent cold illness.
- Move around. Using your muscles will help you stay warm. Walk. Jump around. Wiggle your fingers and toes.