There is no doubt, heat waves are striking hard even as the last weeks of summer are in sight, and with these record high temperatures across the nation comes potential health risks. Pregnant women need to be especially careful when it comes to the intense hot weather, as there is an increased risk for heat exposure and heat-related illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnant women are more susceptible to high heat because their bodies cannot cool down as efficiently as pre-pregnancy. This can lead to dehydration and other problems, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
To continue to maintain a healthy pregnancy, here are some heat-related risks and conditions to be aware of and how to avoid them and stay safe in the hot temperatures.
1. Kidney Problems
When exposed to heat, pregnant women are more susceptible to kidney problems due to increased risk of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. This increased risk is a result of the kidneys’ need to work harder in hot weather to cool the body down. Additionally, dehydration can lead to decreased kidney function followed by the shutting down of other metabolic systems in response. Likewise, heart failure and shock due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures can lead to kidney failure during episodes of severe heat stroke. Early signs of potential kidney problems include; dark urine, decreased urination, fatigue, or excessive swelling in the hands and feet. If you begin to experience one or more of these conditions, seek medical attention and follow up with your OB-GYN.
Prevention Tip: Staying hydrated is key to preventing kidney problems, regardless of the weather, but when it comes to high heat, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, even if you don’t feel thirsty. In addition, avoid beverages with caffeine or alcohol, as they can contribute to dehydration. Additionally, avoid the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) such as Motrin, Ibuprofen, Advil, or Aleve during exposure to heated environments as this can lead to acute kidney failure.
2. Preterm Labor
Exposure to extreme heat can also lead to preterm labor. This is when labor begins before the 37th week of pregnancy. In fact, pooled study results show that preterm birth rates increase by 16 percent during heat waves. Preterm labor can be very dangerous for the mother and child, as the child may not be developed enough to survive outside the womb. Signs of preterm labor include contractions, vaginal bleeding, pelvic pressure, back pain, and abdominal cramps. Many of these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so it is essential to seek medical attention if you experience any of them.
Prevention Tip: Staying hydrated and avoiding prolonged heat exposure is key to avoid putting extra stress on the body. Additional prevention methods include healthy lifestyle choices such as diet, nutrition, maternal body weight, managing stress and obtaining frequent medical checkups.
For a complete look at How to Prevent Premature Birth, click here.
3. Low Birth Weight
As pregnancy progresses, the mother’s body temperature naturally rises. This is because the baby produces heat. In hot weather, this can lead to the mother’s body temperature becoming too high. This can cause problems for the baby, such as low birth weight. Low birth weight is when a baby weighs less than five and a half pounds. This can put the baby at risk for several health problems, including respiratory and digestive problems, developmental delays, and even death.
Prevention Tip: Maintaining proper nutrition and hydration, as well as staying as healthy as possible throughout pregnancy can help lower the risk of low birth weight upon delivery.
4. Heat Exhaustion
Probably one of the most common concerns when it comes to high temperatures, heat exhaustion is a condition that can occur when the body becomes too hot. Symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, headache, nausea, and fainting. If not appropriately treated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which is a potentially fatal condition for mother and/or baby. A recent study found that pregnant women are more likely to experience heat exhaustion than the general population, so it is essential to be aware of the signs. If you experience any symptoms of heat exhaustion, seek medical attention immediately and move to a cool, shady area.
Prevention Tip: The best way to prevent heat exhaustion is to avoid conditions that cause you to be exposed to high temperatures for too long. Staying indoors, in cool areas and avoiding direct sunlight in high temperatures are all safe measures.
5. Skin Problems
In addition to heat exhaustion and internal issues, pregnant women are also more susceptible to skin problems like rashes and sunburns. This is because the skin stretches and becomes thinner during pregnancy.
Prevention Tip: Be sure to protect your skin from the sun by wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, wearing protective clothing, and staying in the shade when possible. If you do get a severe sunburn, be sure to seek medical attention and follow up with your OB-GYN.
For a complete guide on How to Choose the Right Sunscreen During Pregnancy, click here.
6. Fetal Distress
Fetal distress is a condition that can occur when the baby is not getting enough oxygen. This can be caused by several factors, including exposure to extreme heat. When the mother’s body temperature becomes too high, it can cause the baby’s oxygen levels to drop. This can lead to several problems, including birth defects, developmental delays, and even stillbirth. Most cases of fetal distress can be treated if they are caught early.
Prevention Tip: Staying hydrated and avoiding prolonged heat exposure is key to avoid putting too much heat-related stress on your baby. Additionally, maintaining frequent medical checkups is key for early detection of any issues.
7. Gastrointestinal Problems
It is normal for pregnant women to become more susceptible to gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea and vomiting. This is because the digestive system slows down during pregnancy. In hot weather, these digestive issues, and even regular morning sickness or the severe morning sickness condition of hyperemesis gravidarum, can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, as the expulsion of fluids from the body can cause the body to lack the necessary hydration levels needed.
Prevention Tips: Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, especially water, and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Always see a doctor if you experience any gastrointestinal problems, as they can be a sign of a more severe condition.
As temperatures to continue to heat up, these are just a few risks associated with heat exposure during pregnancy. Staying cool and hydrated during hot weather, and seeking a doctor’s advice if any symptoms or problems are experienced is key, and taking these precautions can help keep yourself and your baby safe.
For a complete guide on Avoiding Pregnancy Complications with Proper Hydration, click here.