Being pregnant in the heat of summer can be seriously uncomfortable. Here are some tips to help you keep your cool.
My daughter was born in February, and her summer due date was a fact that nobody could let pass without commenting, “You’ll be miserable, being pregnant in the heat of summer, you poor thing!”
Miserable? Well, yeah, a bit. I was working in the city at the time, and my hike from the bus stop to my office was 10 minutes uphill. By the time I got there, I was usually sweating, red-cheeked, gasping for breath, and generally attracting comments from passers-by like, “Hey, are you all right? You’re not in labour, are you?”
“No, I’m just pregnant, and it’s hot,” I’d wheeze, staggering into the building and the blessed, deliciously cool air conditioning. My desk was right under an aircon vent and for the first time in the two years I’d worked in that office, I stopped complaining about the perpetual breeze. I had a fan on my desk blowing right in my face and when I tried to talk on the phone, I sounded like Max Headroom because I was so close to the whirring blades.
Yes, being pregnant in summer can be miserable, because when you’re pregnant, your body is acting as an incubator for your growing baby, and in return, your baby serves as an extra heat source for your body. This is great in the middle of a frosty winter, but in summer, when it’s hot and humid, you’re more than likely going to find yourself feeling extremely uncomfortable. Here are some tried-and-true ways to help make a summer pregnancy easier to bear.
Water, water everywhere...
The most important thing to remember during pregnancy, especially when it’s the middle of summer and you’re ready to drop, is to stay hydrated. Now, I know that when you’re heavily pregnant, you have to go to the toilet what seems like every five minutes, so it probably sounds like I’m encouraging you to spend even more of your precious time lumbering back and forth to the bathroom. You’re right — I am. (Think of it as light exercise, okay?) When you’re pregnant, you need more fluids than usual in order to keep yourself and your baby healthy, and this is especially important when the weather is hot. Also, pregnant women have a higher incidence of insufficient amniotic fluid levels in the summer months due to dehydration, according to a study conducted by researchers at Ben-Gurion University.
The Ministry of Health advises that non-pregnant women need to drink around six to eight cups of water every day, and that pregnant women, in summer, need to drink around nine cups of water every day. It’s only one more cup than usual, but since most women don’t drink enough water normally, it’s important to pay attention to your water intake when you’re pregnant. Don’t overdo it, as over-hydrating can dilute your electrolytes and cause muscle fatigue, cramps, and a potentially dangerous condition called water intoxication, which can even lead to unconsciousness. Basically, if you’re thirsty, drink, but don’t force it.
You can get your water intake from other sources like juice and tea if you absolutely can’t stand the idea of drinking only water, but you should avoid caffeine, which can be dehydrating and defeat the purpose of trying to increase your fluid intake — so skip the cola and stick to iced water, and lots of it. Invest in a big BPA-free water bottle and keep refilling it.
Feelin’ hot, hot, hot
I’m not sure what heavily pregnant woman would want to sit in a spa pool when it’s 38 degrees outside, but if you are contemplating long, hot baths, hot spas, or even hot pools, please don’t go there. Even when it’s not hot outside, spa pools are not a good idea when you’re pregnant because they increase your risk of overheating.
The same goes for hot saunas and Bikram yoga (also known as “hot yoga”). Avoid stuffy rooms, overheated cars, and just stay in the shade as much as you can.
Also, don’t spend long periods of time in the sun, and always wear sunscreen. Don’t make the mistake I did when, two weeks before giving birth, I was hit with the nesting urge to tidy the garden (because clearly the garden needed to be tidy before the baby arrived), and spent three hours outside pulling weeds and laying tiles and mulching flowerbeds, only to come inside, sweaty and exhausted, to discover I’d copped the worst sunburn of my life. I was crying and shivering under a cold shower later that night, begging my husband to bring me paracetamol.
It’s not swell
It’s normal for your extremities (hands and feet) to swell a little when it’s hot — how many of us find we can’t wear our wedding rings in summer? And when you’re gaining weight during pregnancy, your hands and feet might swell a little bit because pregnant women are prone to fluid retention. The key words here are “a little bit” — not a lot.
If you do find yourself getting a wee bit swollen, try putting your feet up. Elevating your feet can help the fluid to flow back through your body rather than collecting in your extremities. Elevate your legs while you’re resting or sleeping, either by placing a rolled-up blanket under your mattress at the foot of the bed, or by sleeping with your lower legs and feet propped on a euro-sized pillow. Another thing that may help is soaking your hands and feet in cool water. Also, watch your salt intake, as this can contribute to water retention.
Do what I did and succumb to wearing flip-flops all the time, even though they’re not the most stylish apparel for the boardroom — if you need “work shoes”, make sure they’re not restrictive (a half-size larger than your normal size can help ensure your feet aren’t getting squished).
Excessive swelling (oedema) is one of the symptoms of pre-eclampsia, which is a potentially dangerous illness affecting some pregnant women. If you notice extreme swelling, or if you are the least bit concerned about swelling in your arms, hands, feet and legs, speak to your LMC immediately.
Do cool things
Dress yourself in natural fabrics rather than synthetic ones — cotton and linen are cooler and allow air to circulate much better than spandex or polyester! Wear light colours that will reflect the heat rather than drawing it in, and avoid anything skin-tight. Wear loose-fitting clothing when you can get away with it, and keep your hair off your neck and face.
If you feel overheated, apply a cool, damp face cloth to the back of your neck or forehead to help bring your temperature down. A small spray bottle of water or hydrating facial spray can also help bring you moments of coolness on a hot day. And take cool showers — they can be a godsend to hot, pregnant bodies. Swimming is another lovely way to get a bit of exercise while staying cool. If you don’t have access to a swimming pool, invest in an inexpensive kid-sized pool and indulge in a little soak — or just fill up the bath with lukewarm water. I’m a big fan of virgin daiquiris, too!
Do your household chores in the morning or evening when it’s cooler outside (and therefore cooler inside), not in the heat of the day. Most importantly, get plenty of rest. Pregnancy can be exhausting, and combined with the summer heat, you can feel just plain worn out. If you can, take a siesta during the hottest part of the day. If this coincides with your lunch break at work, find a cool corner or deserted meeting room and just chill out. Sit with your feet up where possible — keeping a stool under your desk at work can be helpful — and take frequent breaks. If you start to feel dizzy or lightheaded, grab some juice and sit quietly until you feel better. Go to bed early and pay attention to what your body — and your baby — is telling you.
* Lavin, Andrew. “In pregnancy, summer heat increases risk of amniotic fluid level deficiency, Ben-Gurion University study reveals.” Medical News Today, 1 August 2009. Online: www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/159504.php
* New Zealand Ministry of Health. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women: A Background Paper. April 2006 (rev November 2008). Online: www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/pagesmh/4676