Pregnancy affects everyone, even if you’re very healthy. Pregnant people experience a wide variety of body changes to be able to accommodate growing a baby. You may have heard someone say they have an increased appetite, random pains or even feel hotter when they’re pregnant. An increase in body temperature is normal during pregnancy, but it can lead to potential risks, depending on the season. During the summer, pregnant people are at a higher risk for heat-related conditions and unfortunately, there is a risk to the baby as well. You might wonder how you can be more aware of these risks and avoid them when the heat is on.
With an increase in average temperatures all over the world, summers are bound to get worse in the future. Areas with high temperatures are associated with pregnancy complications such as low birth weight, preterm birth and increased risk of preeclampsia. Previous studies have shown that pregnant people living in hotter countries have a higher risk for these complications, especially if they live in a low-income community. Heat acclimation—when your body adapts to the heat—only offsets some of these dangers. Temperatures as low as 68 degrees F can cause heat stress in pregnant people and continue to increase further past 86 degrees. Other factors also play into the safety of the parent and child, such as a poor economy and limited access to healthcare and community resources.
The reality for most expecting parents does not involve staying inside a cool house until the baby is born. So, how can you cope with the harsh heat? The best way to combat blazing temperatures is to avoid going outside or exerting yourself during peak heat times—typically in the middle of the day—and stay hydrated. Hydration is the first step in treatment for heat-related illnesses and is the best defense to prevent a sneaky heat stroke.
Next, when you go outside, choose a loose shirt instead of a tighter one. The airflow that a loose top provides means your body works less to stay cool. “Take it easy” may not seem like helpful advice to give to any pregnant person, whether it’s their first baby or their seventh. But taking more breaks and paying attention to the stress your body is going through can make a big difference in the heat.
Whether you’re pregnant yourself or helping a friend or partner through it, remember to listen to your body this summer.
Elisabeth Mellott is a doctoral student in the laboratory of Jessica Faulkner, PhD, in the physiology department at Augusta University in Georgia. Her research focuses on preeclampsia and other cardiovascular pregnancy diseases and the use of current therapeutics to target maternal and fetal symptoms.