The Institute for Women's Health

San Antonio in July, August, September… Beating the heat for mommies-to-be

It’s summertime in South Texas again! Average temperatures in the 90s, highs in the low 100s, average humidity over 60%. Ugh! What’s a mother-to-be to do to beat the oppressive South Texas heat?

Unless you have a summer home in Portland or Connecticut to escape to for the summertime, you’re going to have to figure out ways to beat the heat with the rest of us here in good ol’ San Antonio. There are a number of things pregnant women can do to stay cool in the hot summer months. Most native Texans are already well aware of these tips, but we’re going to review them for our pregnant patients.

Pregnant women need to take extra care not to overheat, since they are at some increased risks for complications due to the pregnancy. These include birth defects, feeling lightheaded or fainting (“pre-syncope” or “syncope”), headaches, and even pre-term contractions.

In the earliest weeks of pregnancy, overheating can be especially dangerous. During the first 6 weeks of pregnancy when the spinal cord is forming, elevation of a woman’s core body temperature above 101°F can increase the baby’s chance of having certain birth defects including spina bifida. Some studies showed a slight increase in the risk of cleft lip and palate and heart defects for women whose core body temperature was elevated above 102°F. This is why it is recommended that pregnant women NOT soak in hot tubs and avoid hot baths. The safe upper limit of temperature recommended for pregnant women for baths and showers is 100°F. This is just over one degree hotter than your normal core body temperature, so it won’t feel very hot. Overheating later in pregnancy can predispose patients to becoming dehydrated and feeling dizzy, developing headaches and sometimes having pre-term contractions.

So what can our pregnant patients do to try to keep cool in the blisteringly hot summer months? Here’s my list of suggestions:
This is a top priority for pregnant patients! Hydration is critical for pregnant women, during all types of weather but even more so during the hot months. The best fluids for hydration are: water, sports drinks (NOT “energy” drinks), juices (but take care to avoid too much sugar from fruit juices), and milk. A lot of experts recommend diluting fruit juices with water to avoid getting excess sugar calories in your fluids. Commercially available vegetable juices are a good fluid for hydrating. For patients who are “juicing” their own organic fruits and vegetables at home, this is an excellent way to get hydrating, nutritive liquids. Sodas are not good sources for hydration especially ones with caffeine, which can have a mild diuretic effect. But moderate caffeine consumption is okay in pregnancy, and most literature suggests that 300mg caffeine per day is the upper safe limit for pregnancy. Iced tea (unsweetened) and herbal teas are okay as well, (again, as long as you watch the caffeine content in iced tea, and avoid herbal teas that contain cohosh or dong quai, and laxative or detoxification teas). Recommendations vary slightly depending on one’s size and activity level, but 3-4 liters per day is a good estimate for the water needs of a pregnant woman per day. One more word of caution: try to avoid use of plastic drink bottles that can leach chemicals like PCBs and possibly harmful chemicals into the liquids they contain.

2. Snack wisely.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are terrific options for hot summer snacking. Many fruits and veggies contain more than 50% water, so they are naturally hydrating AND nutrient rich choices. And of course, they are refreshing and delicious and don’t leave you feeling like you want to go lay down and take a nap after enjoying them, the way fried foods and heavy simple carbohydrate-containing foods do.

3. Wear cool clothing.

Light colors to reflect the sunlight and “breathable” fabrics like cotton or linen allow air to pass through them and skin to get more air to it. Synthetic blends can trap in heat and moisture. Some new materials are designed to help “wick” sweat away from the body and keep you cool; these are a good option, as well.

4. Play in the water.

This is one of my favorites! Swimming pools, water parks (BUT remember the hydration, too), and tubin’ on the river can all help mommies-to-be keep cool during the hot summer months. Swimming is great exercise for pregnancy because the escape from gravity feels so nice on sore muscles and strained joints that have been suffering under the excess weight of the baby and hormonal effects on joints.

5. Exercise indoors or during cooler times of the day.
Exercise is great for pregnancy; low impact cardio, yoga, and lighter weight training all help maintain muscle tone, decrease unnecessary weight gain in pregnancy, give more energy and help prepare for a healthy delivery. Indoor facilities offer air conditioning, and exercising early or late in the day, before it gets too hot, can help lessen the effects of the sun and heat on your exercise regimen.

6. Stay indoors.
Entertain yourself indoors: movies, indoor malls, bookstores, libraries, museums, at home or with friends! Find air-conditioned places to spend the hottest times of the day.

7. Make your own shade.
Carry an umbrella or parasol when you are enjoying outdoor activities like the zoo or sporting events to help keep you shaded from the hot sun.

8. Escape!
This one is my true favorite! If you can afford it and have the time: plan a vacation to a more temperate climate. Portland, Oregon; Denver, Colorado; San Francisco, Calif.; Boston, Mass., and many other places all enjoy mean temperatures in the 70°F range during the months of June, July and August. It’s nice to dream about anyway! And remember, this, too, shall pass. In another few months, we should be cooling off again, and enjoying cooler temperatures. Until then, stay hydrated and cool.

Dr. Wendy Askew
The Institute of Women’s Health

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