Dehydration during Pregnancy

Dehydration during pregnancy, while easily prevented, can sneak up on even the most cautious pregnant mom. Since dehydration can be a serious concern in itself, and lead to serious complications, it’s important to know the causes, preventions, warning signs and remedies.

What is Dehydration?

Simply put, dehydration happens when your body eliminates more water than you replace – you simply don’t drink enough water to keep up, and your body literally dries out. Dehydration acts as a ‘doorway illness’ and is usually a leading contributor to more serious heat illnesses like heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Risks of Dehydration during Pregnancy:

During the first months of pregnancy, there are two major concerns with dehydration:

  1. Mom’s health. Being dehydrated (usually caused from morning sickness) can cause nausea (and thus creating a vicious cycle, where you can’t drink anything, and therefore get more nauseous, which means you get more dehydrated and can’t drink anything, causing more severe nausea – etc.). If mom doesn’t drink enough to avoid dehydration she may need to be hospitalized for IV fluids. The good news is that once mom is rehydrated (which may be over night or a couple of days), things tend to work out okay. A healthy mom is important to a healthy pregnancy (and baby).
  2. The biggest fear with dehydration in the first trimester, and part of the second, is that there’s not enough amniotic fluid for baby – a significant lack of amniotic fluid can cause baby to lay against the uterus (instead of floating in the amniotic fluid) which could lead to deformities of the arms, legs, and feet.

During the second and third trimester dehydration can lead to premature labor. Actually, dehydration is one of the three most common reasons for labor contractions (the other two are bladder infections and the impending birth of the baby hopefully at full term and without complications.)

Back to dehydration and premature labor: Dehydration causes blood volume to decrease, which increases the level of oxytocin (the hormone responsible for contractions), and preterm labor results. Often preterm labor can be halted by rehydration – but you want to avoid that scenario if you can.

In addition, dehydration can raise your body temperature which might lead to further complications, such as muscle cramping, heat exhaustion, or other heat-related illnesses.

Dehydration is the number one cause of fatigue for pregnant women, and everyone else. Pregnant moms are more susceptible to fatigue since their energy levels tend to be low in the first place. Keeping hydrated is necessary for a healthy, energy filled, and lower stress pregnancy.

Dehydration Symptoms:

Signs and symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Thirst. This is the first sign, and probably the most ignored. Listen to your body – if you’re thirsty, your body is trying to tell you something. You should try to maintain a schedule of drinking at least one glass of water an hour (more if needed).
  • Dizziness. Dehydration may lead to feelings of dizziness, lightheadedness or vertigo, especially when standing up, bending over, or kneeling. This dizziness symptom is due to low blood pressure caused by dehydration.
  • Headaches. Dehydration is a major cause of headaches, particularly migraines, in pregnant moms and non-pregnant folks alike. Don’t dismiss your headaches as hormonal (although, those can be a contributor). Make sure you’re drinking at least 10 pints of water a day – more, if you can handle it.
  • Dark yellow urine (prenatal vitamins can also cause urine to be darker – make sure you’re getting enough water so that the vitamins are being used by your body as they’re meant to be).
  • Urine with a strong odor (again, your prenatal vitamins may cause this as well – if they are, drink more water!)
  • Inability to urinate (or, since you’re pregnant, a less frequent need to urinate).
  • Dry mouth and nose, and chapped lips
  • Weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Skin has lost its elasticity or is very dry

If you have any of these symptoms you are already dehydrated - don’t try and ‘tough it out’. Dehydration can become a serious problem very quickly, and can lead to more serious illnesses, as well as cause preterm labor and other pregnancy complications. The best prevention – and remedy – for dehydration is drinking water. Our bodies are made up of approximately 50 – 60% water (some useless trivia: blood is made up of 83% water, muscle is 75% water, the brain is 70% water, and the lungs are nearly 90% water). If the body doesn’t have enough water, it can’t do its job properly.

Factors that can Increase your Risk of Dehydration

  • Lack of Fluids: Make sure you drink your water! Especially when pregnant. Your goal is one cup of water for you, one for the baby, every hour. Of a 24-hour day, not just the hours you are awake. Drink responsibly. If you spread your water drinking through the hours you are awake (instead of trying to drink all 48 cups in an hour), there won’t be any complications from drinking too much water. There are cases of water poisoning where people drank water faster than their bodies were able to process and eliminate water. This involved huge amounts of water during a short period of time. I couldn’t find any cases of a pregnant woman suffering from complications of too much water.
    Dehydration during pregnancy is a big concern any time of the year, but you’ll probably be more susceptible to dehydration during the warmer months, mainly because of the heat, humidity, increased activity, and a tendency to be on-the-go more and drink less water.
  • Vomiting: While most vomiting in a pregnancy happens during the first trimester (during the height of morning sickness), many moms suffer from nausea throughout their pregnancy. You might also fall prey to a nasty stomach virus or food poisoning.
  • Airplane travel: Cabin air has very little moisture in it and can dehydrate you fairly quickly. Current airline security restrictions won’t allow you to bring your own water bottle on board, but most flight attendants are very accommodating and will be more than happy to help you stay hydrated during the flight.
  • Humidity: Hot and humid weather can make you sweat excessively and contribute to dehydration as well.

Pregnancy Dehydration Prevention:

As you might guess, the single best dehydration prevention is: Drink your water! Try to meet a minimum goal of 8 cups of water for you, and 24 cups of water a day for baby (amniotic fluid is replaced at the rate of approximately 1 cup per hour). Remember to increase your water intake if you're out in the sun, traveling, the humidity is high, or you're exercising.If you have a hard time stomaching ‘plain water’, try adding a splash of lemon, lime, cranberry, or other flavoring.

Stay away from caffeine, sodas, and processed fruit juices as these don’t rehydrate you, but actually act as diuretics making, you urinate more

Pregnancy Dehydration Remedies:

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Dehydration is simply a lack of fluids that your body needs – don’t forget to drink your water.

Not surprisingly, the best way to treat dehydration is drink water. If your dehydration is caused by nausea, talk to your ob/gyn or midwife about possible medications to combat your nausea symptoms.

If your dizziness, headaches, weakness or fatigue are severe, call your ob/gyn or midwife immediately. Dehydration may have progressed to the point where IV fluids are needed to rehydrate you as quickly and safely as possible.

Check with your ob/gyn or midwife before drinking any electrolyte solutions (such as Infalyte or Pedialite) or sports drinks. While there have been no birth defects associated with these drinks, there may be some concerns your doctor or midwife would like to discuss with you.

This article is common sense guide to dehydration and pregnancy and is not meant to replace your doctor’s advice.The information on this website is designed for educational purposes only. The information is NOT intended to be a substitute for medical care. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have.