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How Heat Waves Can Affect Pregnant Women?

May 5, 2023

Being pregnant involves a lot of challenges, even under normal weather conditions. It can be mood swings, physical changes in the body, extra weight, increased body temperature, looser joints or those crazy cravings that take a toll on the physical and emotional health of pregnant women. Added to this, if there is a heatwave, it can become all the more challenging to beat the heat. Read below to learn about the effects of heat waves on pregnant women.

Hot Weather and Pregnancy

Can hot weather affect pregnancy? Yes. Pregnant women are at a higher risk of extreme heat than non-pregnant women. They are more likely to have illnesses related to heat, like heat stroke, heat exhaustion, etc., than other women. That is because during hot weather, a person's body temperature rises, and the body has to cool down. During pregnancy, when there is a heat wave, the body has to work much harder than usual to cool the bodies of the developing baby as well as the mother.

How Does Heat Wave Affect Pregnant Women?

There are risks involved for pregnant women when there is a heat wave. Knowing these helps you prepare better and stay comfortable and cool.

Heat Exhaustion

Sweating is the body’s way of cooling the system. It sends sweat out through the skin, and as the air absorbs it, the heat is drawn away from the body and cools. When you are pregnant, the body does not work as quickly because it has to work twice as hard (for you and the baby). Due to the heat wave, the body can’t get cool enough and loses too much salt and water. You feel tired, lightheaded, weak and nauseated.

Heat Stroke

If you ignore the signs of exhaustion, it can lead to an emergency condition called heat stroke, which affects the baby and the mother. It is dangerous as it can lead to severe headaches, a fast pulse, seizures or even coma if left untreated. Heat stroke has a negative impact on developing babies and leads to muscle damage as well as damage to the kidneys and heart.

Dehydration

When the temperature soars, your body loses too much fluid, along with some essential minerals like potassium and sodium, in the form of sweat. You urinate fewer times than usual and feel thirsty with a dry tongue and mouth. Due to dehydration, you may feel confused, dizzy and lightheaded.

Heat Rash and Sunburn

Heat rash and pregnancy are synonymous in hot weather. These can appear on your elbows, armpits, under the breasts, groin or neck in hot, humid weather conditions. This is because, the pores get blocked by excessive sweat, and when they are unable to get rid of it, it breaks out into rashes. This is not life-threatening but it is extremely itchy and uncomfortable.

If you are exposed to the sun for a long time, it gets warm, itchy, reddish, and painful. If there is extreme exposure, you can have blisters, nausea, headaches, and even a fever. In the long run, it can lead to skin cancer.

Heat Oedema and Cramps

Of all the heat-related conditions, cramps and oedema are the least dangerous. The cramps are involuntary and come up at night during hot weather. It can affect the stomach, calves, and arms. Heat oedema can lead to swelling of the toes, fingers, and ankles and is extremely uncomfortable.

Higher Pulse Heart

During pregnancy, under normal conditions, the body pumps more blood every minute, thereby increasing your blood volume. As a result of this, the heart rate increases. When there is a heat wave, you get hotter, and that means your heart beats faster to supply more blood to the skin to release extra heat. That means there is less supply to other parts of the body, which makes you sluggish and tired with a higher pulse rate.

Lowers Blood Pressure

When you sweat because of the heat, you lose electrolytes and fluids. Also, the heat dilates the blood vessels, increasing sweating. This results in a lowering of blood pressure, which can lead to pregnant women passing out.

Preterm Birth and Low Birth Weight

As per some studies, extreme heat and pregnancy third trimester were associated with preterm birth. The fetal growth was too small for the gestational age in countries with extreme heat. But there is more research needed for it to be conclusive. There were also new results that suggest that there is a risk of low birth weight in places where there is an increase in heat and humidity.

Symptoms of Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion during Pregnancy

If you spend a lot of time outdoors in hot weather, it is essential to be aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion and stroke during pregnancy. That helps in seeking attention at the right time. The signs are as below:
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Too fast or weak pulse
  • Clammy skin
  • Vomiting
  • High body temperature of more than 104 degrees
  • Confusion or slurred speech
  • Fast breathing
  • Feeling sick
  • Loss of appetite
  • Cramps in the legs, stomach and arms

Preventing Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion during Pregnancy

When there is a heat wave, here are ways to prevent illnesses related to it during pregnancy:
  • Drink lots of water so that there is the least possibility of dehydration. Apart from water, drink fluids like coconut water, which contains electrolytes, to prevent the loss of salt and minerals due to excessive sweating.
  • Wear loose clothing that can help you stay cool. Cotton, linen, or any other fabric that is breathable and keeps you cool is the best choice.
  • Take breaks if you have to step outside, and try to find a cool place when it is too hot. Try to limit your stay outdoors when it is hot, and do not step out when there is a heat wave. Be alert and collect weather data before heading out if you live in a hot climate.
  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen that is pregnancy-safe and water-resistant 15 minutes before going out of the house. Wear sunglasses and a hat to protect your eyes and head.
  • If you are feeling too hot and sweaty, put a damp, cold cloth on your head, armpits, neck or wrists to cool down.
  • Check if your urine is dark in colour, as it is a sign of dehydration.
  • Avoid exercise, even walking, when it is humid, instead, move your routine to a temperature-controlled room. Skip saunas and hot tubs during high temperatures.

Heat waves affect human health, and one has to take extra care when the temperatures rise. Pregnancy and hot weather are not safe for a pregnant woman and the baby, so take precautions to avoid heat-related illness.

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