I went into labor with my firstborn smack in the middle of one of those sun-baked, sweltering New York City 4th of July weekends. I spent the last week of my pregnancy sitting in front of a blasting AC unit in granny underwear. The first weeks postpartum were equally glamorous.
There are perks to having a baby (and maternity leave) during the summer, but it just gets a little sticky sometimes. So on that note:
Here are 10 ways to beat the heat when you’re extremely pregnant/in labor/carrying a newborn during the dog days of summer:
1. DRINK UP: Dehydration is a leading cause of premature labor. It also causes problems with labor. Pregnant women have 40-50% increased blood volume to support and then, if you’re breastfeeding, you need to replenish fluids. So start now. Drink water, or something like coconut water, frequently throughout the day even though this does mean even more trips to the bathroom.
2. KEEP MOVING: Walking and staying somewhat active around the time of your due date and in early labor are so helpful for the birth– you get the pelvis open and moving and the baby descends with gravity. If it’s a scorcher, go to a museum or a mall or get out early in the day and then late in the day for good, long walks.
3. DON’T SWEAT THE SWEAT: Mom, you may sweat through your clothes and bedsheets on or around day 3 or 4 postpartum. Don’t be alarmed. This may be partly due to summer heat, but mostly it’s the retained fluid form the pregnancy (or the birth if you had pitocin and/or an epidural) that needs to get out of your system somehow. It happens for a couple nights and then goes away. If you have a fever with the sweats, call the doctor.
4. MAKE A T-SHIRT CARDIGAN: I love this one. A friend of mine took one of her husband’s large, old t-shirts and cut it down the front so she had a loose, short-sleeved cardigan that was perfect for nursing around the house days 2-10. She wandered around under her ceilings fans with her baby skin-to-skin and nursing and this little cardigan was lightweight and … very affordable. You obviously don’t have to do this but look for something cotton, loose and open in the front– you’ll still look 4-5 months pregnant the first week postpartum and you’ll likely still feel like a furnace since your body is still very much engaged in the process of having a baby and breastfeeding.
5. SWADDLE LIGHT: Many babies enjoy being swaddled during the newborn period but a tight blanket can be too hot on a hot day. Get a lightweight cotton swaddle blanket– the muslin ones are terrific for the summer. In general always use breathable, cotton fabrics for the baby’s clothes, bedding and blankets, not synthetics.
6. COVER THAT CAR SEAT: Cover the car seat with a light colored or reflective fabric when you park in the blazing sun and heat. Many car seats are black– why???— and absorb the heat making it impossible to put your newborn baby down in it. (Some people get lambskin covers, even though they are wool they do not make the baby as hot as the synthetic black material but you can also just keep a white towel in the backseat and toss it over the car seat when the car is parked.)
7. SEEK SHADE, NOT SUNSCREEN. It’s not recommended that babies have lots of sunscreen on their skin before 6 months– even the super eco, good ones can coat the skin in a way that is not ideal for newborns. Having said that, the AAP says use a non-toxic sunscreen sparingly on exposed parts. Mostly, it’s best to shade the baby during super sunny hours. A canopy on the stroller, a wide-brimmed hat, and lightweight cotton clothes.
8. BREASTMILK WILL HYDRATE: It may seem like you need to give your baby extra water on super hot days, but your milk is perfect for the baby, and, in fact, so is the pre-milk substance colostrum that comes out during the first 3-4 days. Moms will make a more watery milk in the strong heat. It’s more important that mom hydrates and you keep baby nice and cool than to feed bottles of water. If you see your baby looking very lethargic, unwell, losing weight and not filling diapers call your pediatrician.
9. MONITOR THE AC: Air conditioners are wonderful but if yours is on full blast and you’re under a comforter while sleeping think about what the baby would need to stay warm enough, too. Generally it’s pretty similar to what you need. Covers and comforters are not recommended for newborns; instead consider a cotton or wool sleep sack (not synthetic materials) or more clothes to sleep in (long sleeves).
10. RASHES HAPPEN: Prickly heat is a rash newborns can get– it’s a lot of red raised bumps that sometimes scab a little. The rash tends to hit hardest in the moist areas. You can check with your doctor if you’re concerned about what it is or if it’s severe. Often the best thing to do is give the baby’s skin lots of air and cool him or her down with a nice bath and cotton towels.
Ceridwen Morris (CCE) is a childbirth educator and co-author of the pregnancy and baby guide, From The Hips.