BY LAUREN BRENTON | Clinical Midwifery Specialist | Childbirth Educator | MAMA of 4 

November 2022

There’s nothing better than lying by the beach and going for a swim during summer… unless you’re pregnant!!

Being pregnant over summer is not only more physically tiring, but it also leaves you at greater risk of pregnancy complications such as

  • Swelling
  • Dehydration
  • Overheating
  • Sunburn and skin pigmentation. 

So, what you do you need to know to minimise the risk of pregnancy complications, and improve your comfort this summer?

SWELLING

Swollen feet during pregnancy

Swelling is a common complaint during pregnancy, affecting over 60% of pregnant women [1]
During pregnancy, the mother’s blood volume increases to support the growing baby, but this can result in more fluid being retained, rather than excreted.  The pregnancy hormones also cause the veins to become more relaxed, making it harder to transport the fluid. Due to gravity, this extra fluid travels down to the legs, causing swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet.

In summer, swelling can further increase. You may notice puffiness in your ankles and feet during warmer weather even when you are not pregnant. The heat causes your veins to dilate (become more open) and allowing increased fluid to pool down in the lower legs and feet. This then puts more pressure on the veins in the legs, which during pregnancy are already relaxed. This reduces the body’s ability to transport this extra fluid up and out of the body. 

Swollen feet can be uncomfortable and even unsightly. With summer and party season, what can you do if your feet and ankles are so swollen, that your favourite summer shoe to wear with that dress, is feeling a little too tight for your feet?

To reduce swelling, it is important to:

  • Drink lots of water. This sounds counterproductive, but it helps your body to remove excess fluid.
  • Do gentle exercise everyday to help encourage the fluid to move through the body.
  • Wear TheRY graduated compression socks or compression leggings. This will encourage the fluid to move through the body and support the veins in your legs.
Pregnancy Compression Socks
  • While you may not be wearing compression socks or tights to that special event, you can wear them before and after to help reduce swelling. 
  • Try not to wear shoes that are too tight or that are going to pinch your feet and increase any swelling.
  • On very hot days, try not to be outside standing in the heat for too long, a cool pool or beach is a great option for staying cool while still being active.
  • Try to rest often with your feet up higher than your heart. You can also ice your legs if you notice they are already swollen.

When to seek medical attention

While in most cases swelling is a normal part of summer and pregnancy, there can be signs of more serious issues.

Swelling accompanied by the following, needs checking with a doctor immediately:

  • chest pain or shortness of breath
  • fever
  • joint pains
  • headache or blurred vision
  • rash, hotness in the leg
  • discolouration of the leg
  • swelling in one leg only

DEHYDRATION

Dehydration during pregnancy

Water requirements are increased during pregnancy to support the body’s metabolism, hydration, health, mood, energy levels and the maintenance of the fluid-electrolyte balance. Pregnant women intake around 80% of water from drinking, and 20% of water from foods.

Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluid than fluid coming in. This can occur from sweating, vomiting or diarrhoea. Dehydration can negatively impact women during their pregnancy, resulting in, dizziness, headaches, and fatigue.


Some studies have shown that dehydration during pregnancy can impact a baby’s birth weight, length, and chest circumference [2][3].  Therefore, it is essential that you stay hydrated to reduce the risk of pregnancy complications, and to ensure optimal health and well-being of both yourself, and the baby.


During summer, the need for increased fluid intake combined with increased sweating caused by heat, leads to an increase in fluid loss that may not be replaced. Many pregnant women find they have an insatiable thirst during summer.  This is your body’s way of telling you that you need to increase your hydration, so make sure you listen to it.

Reducing your risk of dehydration this summer:

  • Avoid being out in the sun or heat for long periods of time
  • Avoid exercising in the heat
  • Carry a large water bottle with you when you are out to make sure that you are constantly sipping water
  • Avoid foods high in salt
  • Avoid caffeine and soda drinks
  • Try to drink electrolyte-based rehydration drinks

    OVERHEATING

    Overheating may occur more frequently during pregnancy due to the increased fluid requirements along with changes to the circulatory system. Overheating increases the risk of heat stroke, dehydration, fainting and extreme fatigue. 

    Furthermore, an increase in core body temperature during pregnancy from extreme heat, fevers, saunas, and extreme exercise have been linked to adverse birth outcomes such as preterm labour and birth, small for gestational age babies, intrauterine growth restriction and if overheating occurs in the first trimester it increases the risk of birth defects[4][5] .  

    It is therefore essential, that pregnant women try to:

    • limit the amount of time spent outside in the hottest part of the day
    • increase fluid intake
    • wear loose fitting and comfortable clothing with cooling fabrics such bamboo. The TheRY ‘The Me Slouch Tee’ keeps you cool. 
    Overheating during pregnancy
    • sit in a cool bath or pool
    • move to the shade or indoors with an aircon/fan

    Contact your healthcare provider if you are concerned. 

     

    SUNBURN & SKIN PIGMENTATION

    The increase in pregnancy hormones circulating in your body can make you more susceptible to sunburn. This in conjunction with, the increased melatonin production can lead to skin pigmentation and discolouration when exposure to the sus UV rays. Not ideal, right?!

    To avoid sunburn, it is essential that you:

    • avoid prolonged sun exposure
    • wear a hat
    Sunburn and Skin Pigmentation During Pregnancy
    • apply SPF50+ sunscreen regularly
    • try to stay covere up to prevent sunburn and skin discolouration.

     

    REST

    The summer heat can make us more tired at the best of times. Add in trying to grow a human, and the heat can be exhausting.

    In addition to reducing your exposure and increasing your fluid intake, it is essential that you listen to your body and rest when you need to.
    Rest is important during pregnancy

    If sleeping, sleeping on your left side is optimal [6] , to help allow greater blood flow from the large veins on the right side of your spine (IVC, inferior vena cava) that carries blood to your heart and, in turn, to the placenta and your growing baby.

    Follow these tips to safely (and comfortably) enjoy your time with family and friends this summer and holiday period!!

     

    One Mama Midwife - Lauren Brenton

    Clinical Midwifery Specialist | Childbirth Educator | Mama of 4 

    Helping to educate, inspire & empower.

    [1] Davison JM. Edema in pregnancy. Kidney Int Suppl. 1997 Jun;59:S90-6. PMID: 9185112.

    [3] N Zhang, F Zhang, S Chen, F Han, G Lin, Y Zhai, H He, J Zhang, G Ma. Associations between hydration state and pregnancy complications, maternal-infant outcomes: protocol of a prospective observational cohort study 2020; 20: 82.

    [4] Chersich M F, Pham M D, Areal A, Haghighi M M, Manyuchi A, Swift C P et al. Associations between high temperatures in pregnancy and risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, and stillbirths: systematic review and meta-analysis doi:10.1136/bmj.m3811

    [5] Strand LB, Barnett AG, Tong S. Maternal exposure to ambient temperature and the risks of preterm birth and stillbirth in Brisbane, Australia. Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Jan 15;175(2):99-107. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwr404. Epub 2011 Dec 13. PMID: 22167749.

    [6] Stacey T, Thompson J M D, Mitchell E A, Ekeroma A J, Zuccollo J M, McCowan L M E et al. Association between maternal sleep practices and risk of late stillbirth: a case-control study doi:10.1136/bmj.d3403

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