Pregnant women naturally have a slightly decreased tolerance to heat and humidity. This is because their core body temperature is slightly elevated, compared to their non-pregnant state. This is fine in the winter, when they will find they tolerate the lower temperatures often better than their partners and has the added advantage of lower central heating bills.
In the summer heat, however, they may find their own central heating will make extended periods of heat and sunshine uncomfortable and occasionally distressing, but is only very rarely a serious problem.
Coping with pregnancy in a heatwave
If you’re struggling with coping with heat during pregnancy, the simple and obvious advice is to keep cool, stay out of the sun and keep well hydrated. As a guide, the daily fluid intake should be at least 2 litres, or at least 8-10 drinks a day. The Human Body has a very sophisticated mechanism for preventing dehydration. It’s called being thirsty! As a generalisation if you are thirsty, you need to drink! Water is best. You do not need expensive isotonic fluids, and fizzy drinks are generally not a good idea. Good old H2O is what you need. In most places, tap water is quite safe and may be the best and simplest option.
Signs of dehydration or concern would include:
1. Passing small amounts of concentrated urine. As a guide, you should be emptying your bladder at least 4 or 5 times a day.
2. Feeling faint or dizzy or lightheaded
3. Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhoea.
The best way to avoid heatstroke and to cope with heat, is to keep in the shade and wear loose-fitting clothes and think about a sun-hat.
Your skin during pregnancy
A special word about your skin. During pregnancy, the skin takes on extra pigment, which makes it particularly liable to sun damage and excess pigmentation. This is a particular problem in the face where it can cause deep pigment changes around the forehead and cheeks. This is called Chloasma, or the “mask of pregnancy”. This can occasionally be quite noticeable, and is best avoided by factor 50 or complete sunblock and a generous hat.
If you are unlucky enough to get a prickly heat rash, then you must stay out of the sun and find a cool spot. Generally it will go in a few days, and cooling moisturising creams may help.
The other common problem in the heat is swelling of the ankles and fingers and generally a worsening of oedema (swelling/fluid retention). This condition affects between a third and a half of pregnant women, and it does not mean that you have pre-eclampsia. Oedema tends to get worse in the hot weather, especially if you are on your feet a lot. By itself, it is not serious, just unsightly and uncomfortable. However if you develop a bad frontal headache, visual disturbances, or pain under the ribs, you had better check with your midwife.
So, in summary, my tips for coping with heat during pregnancy are to keep cool, stay out of the sun, drink lots of fluid, wear sunblock and a hat.
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