Pregnancy comes with its own set of physical trials and tribulations: The backaches and sore breasts, the urgent bladder, the restless sleep. Schlepping a swollen belly through the summer heat and humidity only magnifies the discomfort.
That’s because “pregnant women are more sensitive to the heat,” thanks to increased body temperature and weight, says Dana Gossett, MD, chief of general obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
To stay cool, take advantage of your more spacious maternity wardrobe. Wear loose, flowing summer dresses and lightweight, breathable clothes made from cotton and other natural fibers. Also give your feet some breathing room in comfortable sandals or canvas shoes. Shoes should offer good support and cushion.
Whenever you can, prop up your feet to relieve swelling in your feet and ankles, which is partly the result of your expanding uterus putting pressure on your leg veins and slowing blood circulation. Fluid retention also causes swelling. Gossett suggests that you drink more fluids, especially water. The extra liquid will flush salt (which can contribute to swelling) out of your system and keep you hydrated in hot weather. Extra fluids can also prevent urinary tract infections, which become more likely during pregnancy as your urinary tract widens, giving bacteria an easier way in.
Activity also combats foot and ankle swelling, Gossett says. “The reason is that when you walk or run or exercise, the squeezing of your leg muscles helps move that fluid up where it’s supposed to be.” Swimming is one of the best types of exercise to do during pregnancy. It cools you off, and, “When you’re in the water, it takes a lot of pressure off your hips, lower back, and joints.”Swim as much as you want, but avoid riskier water sports like scuba diving. The drop in pressure can put your baby at risk for decompression sickness, a life-threatening condition that causes gas bubbles to form in the bloodstream and tissues.
No matter which activity you do outdoors, remember to slather on a thick layer of SPF 30 or higher sunscreen beforehand. Your skin is just as prone to damaging burns now as it was before you conceived. Sun exposure can also worsen melasma -- dark patches on the face that are so common during these 9 months that they’re often called the “mask of pregnancy.” If you have melasma, throw on a broad-brimmed hat and a pair of UV-protective sunglasses for added protection.
Arm yourself against summer bugs, too. The biggest insect threat to pregnancy is the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been linked to increased rates of the birth defect microcephaly. Because of this very serious risk, “Pregnant women absolutely should not travel to any area where Zika virus has been reported,” Gossett says. If your partner visits the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, or any other regions where Zika is known to spread, use condoms for the rest of your pregnancy. Men can transmit the virus to their partners during sex.
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