For many of us, extreme summer heat can be uncomfortable; for pregnant women, it can bring health issues that require attention. UR Medicine high-risk pregnancy expert Dr. Loralei Thornburg says some simple precautions can help keep you more comfortable while protecting your baby’s health during the hottest summer days.
Summer sun and heat can be a problem for pregnant women already dealing with these conditions:
Elevated body temperature—Pregnancy raises your body temperature and hot weather intensifies the effect.
Swelling—Fluid retention during pregnancy can cause swelling in your legs and feet. Warm weather can accentuate the problem.
Sun sensitivity—Higher estrogen levels during pregnancy stimulate excess melanin, which darkens existing freckles and moles and can cause new spots on your face and upper chest. Some 50 to 75 percent of pregnant women experience chloasma, often called “the mask of pregnancy,” and sun exposure makes the condition worse.
Tips to avoid overheating:
- Prevent dehydration, which can come on quickly and leave you feeling faint, dizzy or fatigued. Keep a water bottle with you and drink small sips of water throughout the day.
- Avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. A hat with a wide brim can help shield you from the sun’s rays and keep you cooler.
- Stay indoors or in a shady, well-ventilated outdoor space when it’s hot, particularly when the heat index (the combination of temperature and humidity) is over 90.
- For a quick cool-down, put a wet washcloth or cooling handkerchief on your neck. Run cool water from the tap over your wrists and arms.
- Take a lukewarm shower—not a cool one, because cold water can overchill your body and prompt it to generate more heat.
- If you have access to a swimming pool, take a dip—the water will cool you off and its buoyancy will also relieve pressure on your back and legs.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing in a fabric that breathes, such as cotton, linen or an athletic “dry-wick” material.
- Keep a spray bottle filled with water handy, for frequent mists on your face and neck.
- Carry a folding fan or a battery-operated personal fan and use it when you’re overheated.
- Check with your Ob/Gyn provider before beginning a new exercise routine. If you exercise outdoors, do it during cooler times of the day.
How to cope with swelling:
- Minimize your salt intake, as eating salt can worsen water retention.
- To alleviate leg swelling, lie down with your feet up for a half-hour or hour during the day if you can. Prop your feet up with a pillow or towel while you're sleeping.
- Wear comfortable shoes and, if your feet are swollen, consider wearing shoes that are a half or full size bigger than your normal shoe size.
- If your rings are too tight on your fingers, don’t wear them.
- Swelling that doesn’t resolve after rest, or is associated with pain in your right side or a bad headache can be a sign of a serious pregnancy complication and should be checked out by your doctor.
Skin care advice:
- Sun exposure can worsen pigmentation issues, so always use sunscreen when going outdoors, even for brief periods. Use a hypoallergenic concealer to cover the patches if you like, but avoid chemical peels, bleaches or lightening creams during pregnancy.
- Studies have shown a folic acid deficiency can be related to hyperpigmentation, so be sure you’re getting enough. Essential to your baby’s health, folic acid is in prenatal vitamin supplements. Foods rich in folic acid include green leafy vegetables, oranges, whole-wheat bread, and whole-grain cereal.
Loralei L. Thornburg, MD, is an assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at URMC. Board-certified in both Ob/Gyn and Maternal Fetal Medicine, she provides specialty care for high-risk pregnancy at UR Medicine’s Strong Perinatal Associates and the Women’s Health Center at Lattimore.