Being pregnant in the summer can be challenging. Beyond merely feeling uncomfortable, summer can bring along with it certain health risks for pregnant women.
For one, pregnant women naturally experience higher core body temperatures. Increased body temperature, the searing heat, and humidity of summer can lead to heat intolerance for many expectant moms.
For example, if a pregnant women’s body temperature goes above 102°F for more than 10 minutes during the first trimester, it can lead to neural tube defects and miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, exposure to higher temperatures can lead to dehydration (loss of water). In this article, we share tips for staying healthy if you are pregnant in the summer.
Drink more water when pregnant in the summer.
All pregnant women, regardless of the season, should stay well-hydrated. Being hydrated is crucial during pregnancy because dehydration can lead to a variety of complications for mother and baby. Complications of maternal dehydration include neural tube defects, low amniotic fluid, inadequate breast milk production, and premature labor.
Dehydration happens when your body loses water faster than you take it in. Therefore, one of the easiest ways to prevent dehydration is to maintain high water intake during pregnancy. The Institute of Medicine recommends that pregnant women drink three liters of water each day. That equals roughly 12-13 eight-ounce glasses of water a day.
One strategy to make sure you are drinking enough water is to carry a one-liter refillable bottle with you and fill it three times throughout the day. If you would like a little variety, remember that other beverages contribute to your overall water intake as well. Good choices include milk, sparkling or flavored waters, fruit and vegetable juices, and decaffeinated teas.
Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
This health tip applies to all seasons, not just for pregnant women in the summer. However, the summer months bring a bounty of fresh, delicious fruits and vegetables that may not be as available throughout the rest of the year.
Eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (along with whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats) is a great way to ensure you are eating healthy while pregnant. Apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, and melons are nutrient-dense fruit choices (rich in vitamins and nutrients and low in calories). Leafy greens, bell peppers, eggplant, squash, and mushrooms are excellent pregnancy-healthy vegetables.
Moreover, eating fruits and vegetables is a great way to make sure you are maintaining a high water intake during pregnancy. Approximately 20% of our daily water intake comes from foods. Some of the fruits and vegetables with the highest water content include watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, cucumber, celery, and spinach. Each of these fruits and veggies contains at least 90% water!
Practice safe pregnancy exercise.
When you exercise, you sweat and lose fluid through your skin. If you are pregnant in the summer, you may be sweating more frequently and losing more body fluids throughout the day. Again, if you lose water faster than you can take it in, you run the risk of dehydration.
One way to reduce the risk of hyperthermia (or overheating) is to practice safe pregnancy exercise. For example, limit the time exercising outdoors when it is hot and humid. Instead, choose workouts in the gym or another climate-controlled area. Be sure there is proper air circulation, and if it helps, position a fan near you when you are exercising.
As always, drink plenty of fluids while you work out, even if you are not thirsty. Wear light-weight, breathable clothing to help keep cool. You can prevent overheating by participating in low-impact, safe pregnancy exercises. A few examples of these types of activities include walking, swimming, and yoga.
Walking can be one of the most beneficial and safe exercises you can do if you are pregnant in the summer. Not only is it easy on your joints, but you do not need any special equipment, and walking can fit easily into your schedule. Moreover, most women can continue to walk safely throughout all three trimesters of their pregnancy.
According to Baby Center, some important tips to remember for walking during pregnancy include:
- Wearing good, supportive shoes. Your feet may have increased in size throughout your pregnancy, so make sure your shoes fit well.
- Protecting your skin with sunscreen if you are walking outside.
- Eating a high-protein snack such as peanut butter, cheese, or yogurt roughly 30-minutes before your walk.
- Walking indoors on the treadmill if it is too hot or humid outside.
- And of course, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
Swimming is an excellent and safe pregnancy exercise. Because you are carrying around more weight, swimming can feel like a relief on your joints and other aches and pains of pregnancy. When you get in the water, you weigh one-tenth of what you weigh on land. During pregnancy, this can feel like a real treat!
This article from “What To Expect” outlines some benefits of swimming during pregnancy. Some of these benefits include:
- Relief of ankle and foot swelling that may occur during pregnancy – especially if you are pregnant in the summer. Submerging your limbs in water helps to push fluids from your tissues back into your veins. It also helps boost your circulation, which keeps blood from pooling in the lower limbs.
- Easing of sciatic pain. Your baby is floating along with you instead of pressing down on your sciatic nerve.
- Keeping you cool! If you are pregnant in the summer, it may be hard to maintain lower body temperature. A refreshing dip in the pool can help keep your core temperature down.
Yoga can be a great way to stay in shape if you are pregnant in the summer. You can pair yoga with a low-impact cardiovascular exercise like walking or swimming for a great full-body pregnancy workout.
Of course, certain precautions should be taken as you practice yoga during your pregnancy. Choose to attend a yoga class that is indoors in a climate-controlled area to prevent over-heating. Also, pregnant women should avoid lying on their backs, skip shoulder stands, headstands, or poses that over-stretch the abdominal muscles.
This article from Baby Center outlines the benefits of yoga which include:
- Keeping you limber, toning your muscles, improving your balance, and circulation with minimal impact on your joints.
- Learning to breathe deeply and consciously relax can help prepare you for labor and delivery.
- Meeting other moms-to-be in yoga class helps to foster a sense of community and support system.
Practice food safety.
The risk for foodborne illnesses is higher during pregnancy because your body is less able to fight off microbial attacks. A baby’s developing immune system is not yet strong enough to resist an attack.
Summer often brings many picnics, barbecues, and cookouts. These outdoor cooking events increase the risk of foodborne illness. At picnics, cold foods tend to sit out in the sun and the temperature enters the “danger zone” (between 40°F and 140°F) in which bacteria grow best. Also, undercooked meats (such as rare hamburger meat) may contain a dangerous parasite called Toxoplasma. The US Food and Drug Administration has outlined the following tips to practice food safety at picnics and barbecues:
Keep cold food cold and hot food hot. Pack and transport food safely. Place cold food in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Cold food should be stored at 40 °F or below to prevent bacterial growth. Meat, poultry, and seafood may be packed while still frozen so that they stay colder longer.
Hot food should be kept above 140°F and should be wrapped well and kept in an insulated container until serving
Follow safe grilling procedures. Safe grilling tips include marinating food in the refrigerator (never on the kitchen counter or outdoors), grilling immediately after “partial cooking,” and cooking food thoroughly per safe cooking temperatures.
Partial cooking means you partially cooked the food on the stove or in the oven before putting it on the grill. Only do this if the food can go on the hot grill immediately. Do not partially cook food if you take the food somewhere else (e.g. a park or a friend’s house) to be cooked further.
Prevent cross-contamination when serving. Do not reuse a plate or utensils that touched raw meat, poultry, or seafood with your cooked or ready-to-eat food. This is particularly important to remember when serving cooked foods from the grill.
This health tip is important for everyone, but especially if you are pregnant in the summer. When you are pregnant, your body contains more pigment-producing cells (called melanocytes). This hormonal increase makes your skin more at risk for UV-induced discoloration.
While a sunburn itself will not harm your baby, sunburns can further increase your core temperature, which can be problematic. Parents Magazine shares these important sun protection tips if you are pregnant in the summer:
- Reapply sunscreen every three hours (more often if you’re sweating) and after you swim.
- Pick a sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- You may want to avoid chemical sunscreens and choose those that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These mineral compounds block the sun’s rays by sitting on top of the skin instead of being absorbed by it.
- Wear a hat and sunglasses (with 100% UV protection) in addition to sunscreen to protect your eyes and face.
- Try UV protection clothing. This is clothing specifically designed for sun protection and is produced from a fabric rated for its ultraviolet (UV) protection level. Choose clothing that can offer the equivalent of SPF 30 or higher protection.
Being pregnant in the summer certainly has its challenges. From being hot and uncomfortable from carrying around additional weight to not being able to eat your favorite foods, changing your exercise routine, and managing to keep cool. But as we know, the baby is worth all the challenges!
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