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Surviving "Pregnancy Heat" in the Summer Months

October 9, 2023
Jeanne Chang MS, RN, CNOR
Image Credit: Clark Cruz
Disclaimer: the suggestions included following article are from experience, and not to be considered to be medical advice. Please consult your care provider if you feel that you've overheated during pregnancy or are experiencing symptoms of overheating.

When I was pregnant with my daughter a few years ago, I learned that people love giving unsolicited advice, like: “Buy ginger candy to help with the nausea,” and “You sure you want to eat that? It’ll give you bad pregnancy heartburn.” My personal favorite (because it’s partly true): ‘‘You think you’re tired now?! Get all the sleep now because you’ll never sleep after the baby comes.” 

Strangely enough, there was one pregnancy symptom that no one had the answer to: how to handle (what I affectionately call) “pregnancy heat.” I call this symptom pregnancy heat because I never before experienced feeling so overwhelmed with heat while sitting under the AC of a restaurant, with sweat dripping down my face. When I told others about my October due date, I received plenty of warnings for pregnancy heat, like: “Oh, my wife hated being pregnant in the summer!” or “How are you going to make it through the summer?”, but no real advice. Similarly, I had one pregnancy book that dedicated half a page to the risks of pregnancy heat and three bullet points on ways to combat it. I had trouble believing that no one had any tips to help alleviate this stereotypical pregnancy symptom, shown in countless movies and TV shows.

I was actually really fortunate, escaping pregnancy heat until I was about 30 weeks pregnant and hit with an East Coast heat wave during our baby moon in Newport, Rhode Island. My partner and I weren’t too concerned at first as we figured we would be in air conditioned restaurants and stores – and very quickly learned from store owners that the town wasn’t equipped for it, as it doesn’t typically see such high temperatures. My partner and I immediately started thinking about the major risks of being in a heatwave while pregnant including overheating and dehydration. Overheating during pregnancy can cause birth defects, which is also why I hadn’t been able to enjoy the much-desired hot tub to treat my pregnancy aches. Symptoms of overheating include headache, dizziness, muscle cramps and nausea. High body temperatures above 102.2F can lead to dehydration which can cause Braxton Hicks, your “practice contractions,”  and fainting spells. Both are unfavorable as they can cause early labor or complications such as placental abruption

As my partner and I nervously joked about our bed-and-breakfast being down the block from the local hospital, we looked up tips to stay cool and hydrated. The following are some that truly worked wonders for me and might be worth a try, if you’re also suffering from pregnancy heat.

1. Stay Hydrated. All my life, my parents have told me to drink water – and I finally decided to take their advice when I was pregnant, as ACOG recommends 8 to 12 cups of water a day during pregnancy. Early on in my pregnancy, I started carrying an insulated water bottle as I only like to drink ice-cold water. I noticed that I consumed more water simply by keeping it cool. The key to staying hydrated is by making it more palatable to you. You can experiment by adjusting the temperature or adding fruits like lemons, peaches, pineapples, and berries. On extra-hot days, I added ice-cold coconut water to the mix which especially had to be ice-cold, because who likes room-temperature coconut water? I would also have sports drinks, but only sparingly as they do tend to have a lot of sugar.

2. Wear Loose Clothing. I once received some unsolicited pregnancy advice during what was supposed to be a relaxing mani-pedi day. My manicurist insisted I shouldn’t wear my maternity shorts because the elastic band suffocates the baby. Although the logic wasn’t sound, she was right to recommend wearing loose clothing during pregnancy…but only to combat pregnancy heat. Once I returned from our baby moon, I immediately bought several affordable maternity dresses (breathable loose pants would work too - Old Navy and H&M were my go to shops). I spent the later half of my pregnancy wearing loose flowy dresses and loved feeling several degrees cooler.

3. Invest in Moisture-Wicking Technology. I generally tolerate heat pretty well but instantly start sweating when there’s even a slight increase of humidity in the air. The summer before my pregnancy, I’d purchased several Uniqlo Airism tanks to combat NYC humidity and debated returning them as I wasn’t sure if they were worth it. A year later, I spent every day in the last trimester wearing these tanks and had to restrain myself from buying more. The tanks truly helped to keep me cool and the stretch material always provided enough room for my growing belly. Bonus: the built-in bra was extremely supportive for my super heavy, postpartum milk-filled breasts.

4. Carry Ice Packs. Motherhood requires a lot of baggage, like diapers, butt cream, toys, etc., so it only makes sense to start accumulating the necessary baggage during pregnancy. I started carrying around ice packs as I heard from a lot of postmenopausal women that they instantly felt cooler when they applied ice packs to their wrists. The Mayo Clinic also recommends applying ice packs to the groin, neck, back and armpits to combat heat stroke. I never felt comfortable with applying an ice pack to my groin and then to my neck in public, so I stuck to the wrists and neck – but it still felt like my personal air conditioner. Quick pregnancy hack: ask for ice cubes for your wrists when you’re out, and a napkin if you don’t like them directly touching your skin.

5. Take a Cold Shower….or Several. Sometime during my teen years, I read in a magazine that turning on very cold water at the end of the shower helps to retain moisture in your hair. Well, my cold showers not only kept my pregnancy locks healthy, but it also kept me cool. If I started my day with a cold shower, I felt cooler throughout the day. Of course, I also ended my days with an extra-cold shower so I could fall asleep comfortably.

6. Plan More Indoor Date Nights. During our hot baby moon, we looked up the local museum as we assumed it would be well air conditioned. It was not. We spent the rest of the afternoon binge-watching TV shows and movies we’d never watched together. It was the perfect date night with take out. We also spent the rest of our pregnancy date nights in well air conditioned museums and movie theaters – but given the context of COVID, I would just recommend Netflix and Chill at home if you’re concerned about being indoors in a public space. 

I lived through pregnancy heat and am now providing unsolicited pregnancy advice, because ways to survive pregnancy heat should not be covered in just three bullets. It also shouldn’t be shown on TV that the only solution is to stand in front of a fan. As done in the highly-realistic Frida Mom commercial that was rejected by The Oscars for being “too graphic,” we should see a more realistic portrayal of pregnant women on TV, in Airism tanks and flowy skirts, always carrying insulated water bottles and sticking ice packs under their armpits – then, hopefully more people will talk about ways to beat pregnancy heat.

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