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Pregnant Women Need to Take Care in Sweltering Summer Heat

SATURDAY, July 24, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- This summer has brought dangerous, record-breaking heat to parts of the United States and Canada. The hot weather poses an extra challenge for pregnant women.

Mothers-to-be need to stay cool to avoid heat exhaustion and its complications, according to an expert at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston.

"The summer is tough on pregnant women because the body struggles to cool down when humidity and temperatures are high," said Dr. Matthew Carroll, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor and Texas Children's Hospital.

Carroll offers the following suggestions to prevent overheating:

  • Start by staying hydrated. Pregnant women should drink more than the recommended eight to 12 cups of water a day to prevent dehydration.

  • Seek out shade, and wear comfortable, light clothing.

  • Apply sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection of at least 30 SPF, more if you have fair skin and waterproof if you sweat frequently. Reapply throughout the day.

"The sun is at its most powerful and the heat will be at its worst from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., so try to limit direct sun exposure during that period to 30 minutes to an hour. That will be the longest amount of time you will get good UV protection from your sunblock before you have to reapply," Carroll said in a college news release.

If you typically exercise outdoors, change your routine, Carroll suggested. Exercise either early in the morning or late in the evening in a safe, well-lit area, or choose swimming for a whole-body exercise option. Joint laxity increases in pregnancy, and water supports the joints, he noted.

Data on the impact of heat exhaustion on a fetus are limited. However, stresses on the mother can directly affect the fetus, too, and pregnancy itself is a stress on the body. It especially stresses the heart.

If an expectant mother overheats and loses consciousness, that can change circulation, which can affect the placenta and the pregnancy, Carroll added.

Be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion: dizziness, fatigue and nausea. If you feel these symptoms, move into a shaded or cool area to rest. Elevate your feet. Drink cool liquids, especially water with a sodium-containing solution, such as an electrolyte fluid.

Symptoms should subside once you remove yourself from the heat and rest. If your nausea, vomiting, fatigue and dizziness persist for more than an hour, call your doctor. Serious side effects of a rising body temperature can include vomiting and loss of consciousness.

Braxton Hicks contractions — sometimes called false labor pains — can also be more common with exertion and dehydration. If your contractions remain painful and regular in occurrence despite rest and hydration, you should be evaluated by your provider, Carroll said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on pregnancy safety.

SOURCE: Baylor College of Medicine, news release, July 15, 2021

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