How to Avoid Heat Exhaustion When You’re Pregnant
Heat exhaustion has been known to result in organ development deficiencies and miscarriage if experienced in the first trimester, and pre-term labor for women in the second and third trimesters, according to Dr. Christy Capel, an obstetrician and gynecologist with St. David’s Women’s Center of Texas.
What is Heat Exhaustion?
Heat exhaustion occurs when your body cannot cool itself quickly enough. Any heat-related illness (heat stress, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke) is known as hyperthermia, where the body gets too hot. “Normally, the body cools itself by sweating. But if you are exposed to high temperatures for a long time…and don’t replace the fluids you lose, the body systems [hypothalamus] that regulate temperature become overwhelmed.” (University of Maryland Medical Center)
If heat exhaustion is not treated immediately, it can lead to heat stroke in which the body’s systems and organs start shutting down due to dehydration and can ultimately lead to death.
Heat Exhaustion Symptoms and Pregnancy
A pregnant woman’s body is carrying a lot of fluid, leading some to believe that there is very little risk for dehydration. Fluid retention may actually increase your risk for dehydration because the fluid is not actually held within cells themselves, where it needs to be. As your body sweats to cool itself, you begin to lose even more fluid. If your body is dehydrated, you won’t sweat as much and your body temperature will rise, putting extra strain on your body’s temperature-regulating systems.
Heat stress and heat exhaustion can also be caused by lack of airflow in poorly ventilated, enclosed, or confined spaces, over exposure to the sun, and hot and crowded places such as sporting events or concerts.
Heat exhaustion symptoms include:
- Increased thirst
- Dry or chapped lips
- Dry skin
- Increased fetal heart rate
- Decreased fetal movements
- Profuse sweating (and later no sweating)
- Muscle cramps
What To Do If You have Heat Exhaustion
If you believe you have heat exhaustion and you are pregnant:
1) Drink a glass of water or juice immediately.
2) Find a place that’s air conditioned – even a car with air conditioning will do.
3) Get in the shade if you can’t find an air conditioned spot. The shade is 10 to 15 degrees cooler than being out in the sun. (Capet)
4) Place a cool, damp cloth on your forehead or nape of your neck.
5) Have someone take you to the emergency room or call 9-1-1 if your symptoms do not improve after 30 minutes. (WebMD)
*Note: Do not try to cool down too quickly because that can cause problems as well.
To prevent heat exhaustion while pregnant:
1) Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. By then your body is already getting dehydrated.
2) Drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of fluid a day. Sports drinks are perfect for hot days because they replace needed electrolytes and nutrients such as sodium, potassium and magnesium, which are also lost through sweating.
3) Avoid caffeinated beverages, alcohol, and salt.
4) Wear loose-fitting, but tight-weave clothing. Loose-fitting clothes will keep you cool. Tight-weave clothing will protect you from sun exposure.
5) Limit physical activity to before 10 AM or after 3-4 PM.
6) Take frequent cool down and hydration breaks.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
Heat stress and heat-related illness. State Government of Victoria Department of Health.
“The Scoop on Summer Pregnancy Issues: Dehydration and Heat Exhaustion”. Jimenez, Sherry, RN. American Baby. Web. June 7, 2012.
Hot Summer Safety. PregnancyWeekly. Web. June 7, 2012.
Heat exhaustion. University of Maryland Medical Center. Web. June 7, 2012.
Heat Exhaustion. WebMD. Web. June 7, 2012.
“How extreme heat affects pregnant women” KVUE News (ABC) interview with Dr. Christy Capel, OB/GYN, St. David’s Women’s Center of Texas. Aug 2, 2011. Web. June 7, 2012.
“Dehydration: Sudden, silent, and very serious.” Cody, Susan.
“Swelling During Pregnancy.” Cipolletti, Claire.
“Symptoms of Dehydration.” Boyle, Aimee.