HCN News & Notes

Pregnancy Can Be a Challenge During This Year’s Heat Waves

SPRINGFIELD — Not everyone welcomes the summer heat and the health risks that have accompanied the region’s several official heat waves this summer — especially if they are pregnant.

“Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable in hot and humid weather because they are already prone to swelling and dehydration, which are both aggravated in the heat,” said Dr. Heather Sankey of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baystate Medical Center.

Sankey, a longtime obstetrician and gynecologist, said she gives pregnant women the same advice, and more, that most doctors offer their patients on how to stay healthy in the high heat.

“Drink plenty of water, reduce your activity, stay indoors, and if you don’t have air conditioning, then spend at least a few hours each day somewhere that does, such as your local library, a bookstore, the mall, or a movie theater,” she said. “And if you do go to the mall, rest frequently so you’re not on your feet for a long time.”

Another option is to go swimming as long as you stay out of the hot sun when not in the water, or take a cool bath or shower.

The greatest challenge facing pregnant women in the summer is the risk of dehydration and heat exhaustion. Moms-to-be experience an increased blood flow, which is why they feel hotter than usual. As a result, they need to stay well-hydrated.

“Eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, which contain water and electrolytes, will help guard against dehydration. And, you’ll feel better, too, because you won’t feel as stuffed as you would eating a high-fat or high-protein meal,” Sankey said.

Nausea, dizziness, and fatigue are all signs of dehydration. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion, which can occur when the body overheats and reaches a temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, is accompanied by confusion, fainting, and a rapid pulse.

“In addition, the high heat may also trigger contractions, which can be uncomfortable,” Sankey said. “Most of the time, these contractions are not a sign of labor, and can often be resolved by simply increasing your fluid intake and resting. If they persist with rest and hydration, or if you feel dizzy and lightheaded, then call your healthcare provider immediately.”

According to Sankey, a woman’s body during pregnancy often retains about 15 additional pounds of fluid. On top of that, the heat and humidity can cause an expectant mom’s body to retain too much fluid, resulting in swelling, particularly in the legs and feet and sometimes in the hands, making it difficult for some to remove a tight ring from their finger.

When swelling occurs, Sankey advises her patients to reduce, but not totally eliminate, salt intake; elevate the legs while resting for 20 to 60 minutes, and keep the legs elevated at night when sleeping by placing a pillow or two under them; wear comfortable shoes, consider buying a pair larger than your others, and try supportive stockings or tights; eat foods high in potassium, such as bananas, while avoiding caffeine; and avoid standing for long periods of time.

“It is especially important for pregnant women who have additional health concerns such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease, and who are overweight, to stay as cool as possible and listen to their provider’s advice so as not to put themselves and their babies at risk,” Sankey said.