Even though summer is nearly over, for many parts of the United States, August is one of the hottest months of the year. These hot days can feel like torture for pregnant women, who already feel like a furnace due to their increased blood volume and weight. So, I’d thought I’d help those who are sweating for two and give some tips on how to survive pregnancy in the HEAT.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Everyone know they’re supposed to drink 5-8 glasses of water per day, but who really does? Even though it feels like a lot of water, pregnant women really should pay attention to this recommendation, not only to cool themselves down but to prevent dehydration. Being dehydrated in pregnancy can cause a mom to faint or have preterm contractions. Iced tea can feel amazing on those hot summer days, but iced tea can have as much caffeine as soda and make you more dehydrated. So, put some water bottles in the freezer and take a few cold ones with you before you head out for the day!
- Gym, TAN, laundry: Well, forget the gym/laundry part, but some sun in pregnancy is beneficial! Vitamin D deficiency is common in pregnant women, even when women live in sun-filled areas. Being deficient in Vitamin D can contribute to preeclampsia, low birth weight and having a baby with fragile bones. For a light-skinned person, getting full-body exposure in peak summer sun for only 10-15 minutes will release 20,000 IU of vitamin D into circulation. Vitamin D also increases your absorption of calcium, which your baby loves to steal from you. Catch some rays for a healthy pregnancy and get your glow on, but don’t forget the SPF!
- Cant.Move.Too.Hot: While it is nice to get some summer sun, it’s important to use your own common sense to know when it’s time to chill out, literally. Normally, your body can self-regulate its temperature by expelling heat when the core temperature rises higher than 98.6⁰F. However, when the temperature outside is warmer than your core temperature and the humidity is over 75%, it’s a lot harder for the body to release its own heat into the environment. This can result in your core temperature rising, just like it does when you have a fever. In the 1st trimester, having a core temperature of over 102⁰F can increase your baby’s risk of being born with a neural tube defect, like spina bifida. Rising internal temperatures can also cause heat exhaustion or even heat stroke when core temperature reaches 104⁰F. Symptoms to watch out for are rapid breathing, nausea/vomiting, headache, fatigue, dizziness and an abnormal mental status (i.e- confusion or hallucinations).
Ways to prevent heat-related illness are restricting exercise, staying in the shade or air-conditioned locales, hydrating, and wearing light loose-fitting clothing. If you find you cannot cool yourself down, and you start to experience symptoms, you should call your doctor or get medical assistance. Occasionally, it is too hot outside and not completely safe for anyone. Even though this may mean watching family BBQ’s from the inside this summer, your baby will thank you for chilling out!
- Listeria Hysteria: Personally, my favorite part of summer BBQ’s is all the MEAT – hot dogs, hamburgers etc. However, undercooked meat can contain a parasite called toxoplasma gondii. Additionally, hot dogs could be contaminated with bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes. L. monocytogenes causes Listeriosis , which is more likely to occur in pregnant women due to their decreased immune systems. Although the risk of actually having the listeriosis infection are very low, pregnant women can avoid exposure by eating food as soon as it is prepared (a great excuse to jump the line!), re-heating until food like hot dogs and cold cuts are steaming, and washing raw veggies. Food to totally avoid, unfortunately, are soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk (like feta and Brie- I know, so sad), raw/smoked seafood (i.e-sushi or smoked salmon), and pate. Listeriosis in pregnancy can increase one’s risk of having a preterm delivery, miscarriage or stillbirth. The newborn infant can also be born with the infection as well. Check out our Listeriosis fact sheet for more info: http://www.otispregnancy.org/files/listeriosis.pdf.
- One nice cold beer won’t hurt, right? Wrong.: With all these summer events outdoors, it seems like everyone has got a nice coldie in their hand. Thanks to some fancy cans, you can even see how cold the beer is by how blue the mountains are. Great. This can make drinking so much more tempting, but, remember, there is no safe threshold for drinking in pregnancy. You can hold the cold beer up to your forehead, but if you drink it at any time during pregnancy, you may be doing permanent damage to your baby. See our Alcohol fact sheet for more information: http://www.otispregnancy.org/files/alcohol.pdf. Even the non-alcoholic beers have some alcohol in them, so sit back with some cold sparkling juice and know that you are doing two great things at once: cooling down and contributing to a healthy life for your baby.
Now that you know the tips for having a healthy pregnancy this summer, enjoy the beautiful weather, time with family, friends, and good eats! Now that doesn’t sound so cruel after all!
**Nadia Mohamedi is a teratogen information specialist and also serves as a research assistant/interviewer for OTIS studies in San Diego, CA. She holds a BA in neurobiology and a minor in psychology from Harvard College. In addition to her work with OTIS, Nadia has worked for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Program at McLean Hospital as well as served as a teacher’s assistant at a school for children with disabilities in Lima, Peru.
OTIS is a North American non-profit dedicated to providing accurate evidence-based information about exposures during pregnancy and lactation. Questions or concerns about medications and other exposures during pregnancy or breastfeeding can be directed to OTIS counselors at (866) 626-OTIS (6847) or online at OTISPregnancy.org.**
Haddad, J. G., Matsuoka, L. Y., Hollis, B. W., Hu, Y. Z. & Wortsman, J. (1993) Human plasma transport of vitamin D after its endogenous synthesis. J. Clin. Invest. 91:2552-2555