Despite many modern interpretations, the meaning of the phrase “dog days of summer” actually is rooted in the stars. When Sirius, the Dog Star, rises at the same time as the sun, it marks the hottest, muggiest days of the summer season. As a result, the period from July 3 to August 11 is one of inactivity and lethargy for humans and animals alike.1
If you’re pregnant, that brilliant flickering star in the sky on a hot summer day is a good reminder to keep your cool. Here are some reasons why – along with a few easy tips to help you manage the summer heat:
Saying that pregnant women should avoid the sun altogether may seem a bit extreme, but there are health impacts associated with your exposure to high temperatures during pregnancy that warrant extra precaution during the summer months.
Consider these facts:
One study suggests that exposure to excessive heat and humidity during the first three months of pregnancy could lead to lower birth weights.3 Late in pregnancy, high temperatures have been shown to lead to premature labor and an increased rate of miscarriage.3 Heat and humidity contribute to dehydration, which can cause your baby’s heart rate to beat faster. Dehydration also raises the risk for preterm labor by decreasing your blood volume and increasing the concentration of oxytocin – the hormone responsible for uterine contractions.2
A high environmental temperature can contribute to dehydration and overheating – creating cause enough for concern for an expectant mother. These conditions, if left uncorrected, quickly can lead to even bigger problems.
Hyperthermia refers to an abnormally elevated body temperature. It can be the result of extended exposure to extreme environmental conditions such as humidity and heat, overexertion in hot weather, and not drinking enough fluids which leads to dehydration.
Three heat-related illnesses fall within the general definition of hyperthermia. The least serious and earliest symptoms are heat cramps, followed by heat exhaustion that often includes nausea and vomiting and weakness or fatigue.4 Heat stroke is the most serious of the three and a medical emergency, often with the body temperature reaching 104° degrees Fahrenheit or higher.4
Aside from the incremental dangers of heat-related illness, getting hot causes your blood vessels to contract as you try to cool down, which reduces the amount of nutrients that pass through to your baby.3 The key is to avoid overheating in the first place. Luckily, prevention is easy.
These tips for summer living can help you turn down the heat on the risks of overheating – even on the hottest days2:
Throughout your pregnancy, pay attention if your body signals that you are experiencing heat stress. Dehydration and overheating can quickly lead to more serious hyperthermia. If you experience any heat-related symptoms, be sure to contact your doctor or get help immediately.
The information included in this article and on this site is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation.