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Pregnancy and the Heat – A Prescription for Trouble

July 22, 2011
 

SPRINGFIELD– While many look forward to and enjoy the few short months of summer, it’s often a different story for those moms-to-be suffering through the sweltering high temperatures of the summer.

“Carrying around extra weight, swelling, and all the other challenges that pregnancy offers are only exacerbated by the hot and humid weather,” said Dr. Ronald Burkman of the Division of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baystate Medical Center.

Dr. Burkman, a longtime obstetrician and gynecologist, said he gives pregnant women the same advice, and more, that most doctors offer their patients on how to stay healthy in the high heat.

“Drink plenty of water, reduce your activity, stay indoors, and if you don’t have air conditioning, then get yourself somewhere that does, such as your local library where you can sit and read, or visit the mall or movie theater,” said Dr. Burkman.

“And, if you do go to the mall, try not to walk around and around without resting in between,” he added.

The greatest challenge facing pregnant women in the summer is the risk of dehydration and heat exhaustion. Moms-to-be experience an increased blood flow – which is why they feel hotter than usual – and, as a result, need to stay well hydrated.

“Eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, which contain water and electrolytes, will help guard against dehydration. And, you’ll feel better, too, because you won’t feel as stuffed as you would eating a high-protein meal,” said Dr. Burkman.

Nausea, dizziness, and fatigue are all signs of dehydration. Heat stroke/heat exhaustion, which can occur when the body overheats and reaches a temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, is accompanied by confusion, fainting, and a rapid pulse.

            “The high heat may also trigger contractions, however, most of the time these contractions are resolved by simply increasing your fluid intake and resting. If they persist, just as you would for severe dehydration or heat exhaustion, call your doctor immediately,” said Dr. Burkman.

            Andrea Salvas of Enfield, Conn., who delivered her first child, Guilianna, at Baystate Medical Center’s Wesson Women and infants’ Unit during this year’s July heat wave, considered herself lucky and never experienced any problems from the heat.

“I was fortunate to work in an air-conditioned school, then would return to my air-conditioned house. But I did get more tired than usual. My advice to other pregnant women – drink a lot of fluids,” said Salvas.

According to Dr. Burkman, a woman’s body during pregnancy often retains about 15 additional pounds of fluid. On top of that, the heat and humidity can cause an expectant mom’s body to retain too much fluid, resulting in swelling, particularly in the legs and feet and sometimes in the hands, making it difficult for some to remove a tight ring from their finger.

When swelling occurs, Dr. Burkman advises his patients to:

         Reduce, but not totally eliminate, salt intake

         Elevate legs while resting for 20 to 60 minutes; keep legs elevated at night when sleeping by placing a pillow or two under them

         Wear comfortable shoes, consider buying a pair larger than your others, and try supportive stockings or tights

         Eat foods high in potassium such as bananas, while avoiding caffeine

         Avoid standing for long periods of time.

“It is especially important for pregnant women who have additional health concerns such as high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease, and who are overweight, to stay as cool as possible and listen to their doctor’s advice so as not to put themselves and their babies at risk,” said Dr. Burkman.

For more information on birthing at Baystate Medical Center, visit baystatehealth.org and click on Women’s Health Services.

 
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