The summer’s heatwave may have been welcomed by many who flocked to the seaside or local park to bask in the sunshine, but for some the warmer weather was something of a pain in the backside – namely for pregnant women, like myself.
Being heavily pregnant at the height of one of the hottest summers on record in the UK, gave me a new appreciation for the British weather.
By this I mean that those typical cool, grey, drizzly summers with the occasional warm day - which I once moaned about - are what I’m longing for now I’ve got the extra weight and heat of a baby tugging on my middle.
The staggering summer temperatures this year added a few extra considerations to the discomforts of pregnancy. I found myself hiding away from the heat rather than basking in it, struggling to sleep, uncomfortable and exhausted.
And I’m not just making a fuss: when it’s hot, pregnant people are at a physical disadvantage. Obviously, you’re carrying a load around, but your body temperature is actually higher due to hormonal changes and having more blood in your body, which makes blood vessels dilate, bringing your blood closer to the surface of your skin and making you feel warmer. You’re likely to sweat more and your metabolic rate can also increase in the third trimester – hello even more heat.
As a result, pregnant women need to be extra careful of dehydration, fatigue and even heat stroke, according to the NCT.
I asked some other pregnant women how they found the long, hot summer and for their tips on getting through a heatwave when you’re expecting.
Symptoms heating up
“It’s basically made everything harder,” says Eleanor Turney, a 31-year-old based in Lancaster. “I’m definitely more lightheaded, more breathless and moving much slower.”
She’s due on 30 September. “My hands, feet and ankles swell much more on hot days, and it’s making sleeping basically impossible. Being seven months’ pregnant feels like carrying around a hot water bottle at all times.”
She says her hometown has been “absurdly hot – my Greek friend told me it was hotter than Athens a couple of weeks ago – but there’s usually a bit of breeze at least.”
She works as a freelance writer, editor and arts consultant from home, and says it has been “like an oven - but my freezer is well-stocked with ice cubes”.
Anna Keel, a 32-year-old marketing consultant, had her baby daughter, Savannah, in late August. The final months of her pregnancy coincided with the longest heatwave we’ve seen for years. Keel, who, lives in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, says: “Our house is a ground floor conversion so has been cool and a real haven to come back to after a hot dog walk in the Chiltern Hills. Visiting my parents and mother-in-law, however, has been another matter. It’s been so hot at night when staying there I considered getting in the car at midnight to benefit from some air con!”
“It’s been over 30 degrees where I live, and it’s been tricky to have much energy at the best of times let alone in this heat!” says Eleanor Ryles, who is due with her second child on 4 October. “It’s definitely ‘added’ to the experience of trying to balance life while pregnant. It’s hard to know exactly as I’ve never been pregnant and had a child already before, but it’s probably made me more lethargic and have less energy.”
Ryles, who lives in Bedford and has a daughter already, is loving the air conditioning in her office. She thinks she probably hasn’t gone outside in the day as much as she would normally have done, thanks to the heat.
Ridout also says pregnancy can mean less likely to be out enjoying the sun: “I love the sunshine but I have spend a lot more time inside or in the shade than I normally would. At times you can feel a bit trapped if you are out in the heat.”
Pregnant women’s top tips
“Try to stay out of the heat, work from home if you need to, drink lots of water and get a mini paddling pool to sit in.” - Anna Keel
“We had fans on and also luckily got an air con unit last summer which is amazing. I’ve also been running a flannel under a cold tap and lying that on me in the evenings. I’ve been going to anti-natal aquarobics once a week which has been refreshing.” - Eleanor Ryles
“Take it as gently as you can – working from home, taking siestas, and moving slowly all helps.” - Eleanor Turney
All three women said sleeping could be much harder in the heat. It’s no wonder as disrupted sleep is a reliable symptom later in pregnancy, thanks to needing the toilet frequently, pain in your hips and back, anxious dreams, restless legs or cramp in your legs, and that belly making it hard to get comfortable.
Though her house is quite cool, Keel has still found sleeping difficult: “That could just due to being heavily pregnant. I often retreat to the sofa at 5am for a bit more back support which seems to help get a few more hours sleep.”
“Getting comfy and sleeping through the night has been a challenge but naps in the day seem to help a lot to stop me getting totally exhausted.
“I also love my JoJo Maman Bebe comfy long pregnancy pillow, that is filled with beads so you can mould it to fit you. It’s cotton so doesn’t make you hot.”
The NHS advice keeping your room cool, such as with an electric fan, and washing often to feel cool and fresh. To avoid waking up in the night, it also suggests cutting out drinks in the late evening - though make sure you still drink lots in the daytime.
Turney has found the evenings tricky too. “I’m tired all the time, and for the first few months I found I was falling asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Now – which is partly because I’m so much bigger! – I find it really hard to find a comfortable position, I wake up all the time and it’s way too hot for any covers.”
The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) recommends using minimal bedding when it’s hot - although it notes that just having a sheet over you can actually feel cooler than no bedding at all.
Travelling can get hot and exhausting when you’re not pregnant, so it can be doubly hard in the heat. The NCT suggests wearing a ‘baby on board’ badge on public transport and getting off at the next stop if you feel unwell, where staff are most able to help.
Turney has been travelling from Lancaster to London once a week for work and recommends a handheld paper fan for the tube. “It makes a big difference. You get a few funny looks, but it’s worth it.
“London is just awful in the heat – well into the thirties and humid with it. It makes the tube horribly unpleasant and the air feel like soup. The trains are mostly air-conditioned, which is OK, but the ones that aren’t are hellish. People have mostly been very helpful about wrangling my suitcase for me, though.”
Keel stopped commuting in August, as she prepared for her due date, but she was travelling into London before that. She’s grateful that she would drive rather than get the train “which really helped avoid a long and busy train or tube commute.” Ryles drives to work too, and is “loving” the air conditioning in her car.
The National Childbirth Trust’s top tips for being pregnant in the heat
Keep a bottle of water near you day and night
Stay out of the sun, especially between 11am and 3pm
Wear loose clothing and at night. Just having a sheet over you can actually feel cooler than no bedding at all
Wear a ‘baby on board’ badge on public transport and get off at the next stop if you feel unwell
Avoid too much activity if you can
Try to spend an hour a day with your feet higher than your heart
Some swelling in your hands, ankles and feet is common in pregnancy, as your body retains more water. Heat can make this already uncomfortable experience worse and more frequent. “I’ve had to stop wearing rings and closed shoes as my hands and feet are swollen,” says Turney.
The NHS advises avoiding standing for long periods, wearing shoes that won’t constrict your feet if they swell, exercising and - counterintuitively - drinking plenty which helps your body get rid of excess water.
Most importantly, try to rest with your feet up as much as you can, ideally with your feet above your heart.
There are also some foot exercises you can do to relieve swelling the swelling. Be aware that swelling is often worse towards the end of the day.
Tiredness, lightheadedness and shortage of breath
Tiredness is a very common symptom that can get more severe when it’s hot, and it can take you by surprise. The growing baby starts to put pressure on your lungs in the later stages, making you short of breath.
“Being fairly fit and healthy pre-pregnancy, it does shock that just doing the washing up, going for a dog walk or packing the car with a few light bags can make me so breathless,” says Keel.
Ryles has noticed she feels “more tired, and mainly in the evenings”.
Turney says: “When the baby is upright, I find I get very short of breath, and if I’m not careful this makes me light-headed, especially when out and about. I live at the top of a very big hill, and I’m really struggling to get to the top on hot days.”
The coping strategies here are pretty obvious: move around slowly, try not to do too much, rest often, and ask for help (or delegate) any tasks you can, especially later in your pregnancy.
The heat can cause additional challenges if you have other children already.
Ryles, who has a 19-month-old daughter, says the paddling pool has been invaluable for them both. “I enjoyed getting the paddling pool out but even that takes effort. I’ve been sitting with my feet in that too when my first been having a having a splash.”
She’d also recommend soft play locations with air conditioning, swimming, “and of course the odd Mini Milk” to keep other kids entertained.
Finding clothes to fit you when you’re pregnant is hard enough without the additional factor of searing heat. The NHS recommends wearing loose clothing made of natural fibres, as they are more absorbent and breathable than synthetic fibres.
Being practical and repeating outfits often is also key. “In general, finding pregnancy clothes is tricky as there is not a lot in stores and it’s a bit hit and miss online,” says Ryles. “I have a few from my first time round but I’m pregnant earlier in the year this time, so didn’t have a lot of summer stuff. Had to rotate similar clothes as don’t want to spend the Earth.”
“Maternity wear is so expensive for stuff you’re only going to wear for a few months, and I don’t want to spend loads on a whole new wardrobe,” says Turney.
“I’m currently sitting at my desk, massively overdressed in a maxi-dress I bought for a wedding, because it’s too hot in London to contemplate wearing anything less floaty. Until it’s acceptable to turn up to the office in a bikini, the heat is tricky.”
The women also said that the heat had made them think ahead to how to handle hot days when the baby is born. “We have made sure we have a good room thermometer that changes colour if it’s too hot or cold so we can easily check the temperature where the baby is sleeping,” says Keel.
Turney adds: “I am thinking a lot about next summer and making sure we’re prepared to keep a crawling baby safe and cool.”
Ultimately, a hot few weeks just add a challenge to the many that can occur in pregnancy. If you’re struggling, remember that autumn and winter are coming (though it may not feel like it) and that it’ll all be worth it in the end.
“People keep saying how great it will be to have a September baby because they’ll be the oldest in the school year,” Turney says. “But they are ignoring the fact that it means being heavily pregnant through the hottest months of the year!
“If there is a ‘next time’, I’m aiming for spring, so I’ll be at my most pregnant through the winter and all the extra heat from the baby can keep me warm!”