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Water and Pregnancy: How Much to Drink (and Why!)

I knew I should have been drinking more water, but I didn’t want to slow down my family with frequent bathroom breaks. After all, I was finally over the nausea of my first trimester and enjoying the exuberance of the second trimester when I went to Disneyland for the first time. And in the second day of mouse ears, log rides, and amusement park fare, I began experiencing frequent contractions. I knew they must be Braxton-Hicks—and therefore normal—but the pains wouldn’t go away unless I lay down.

For the rest of my vacation I was flat on my back in a hotel room with the Greatest Place on Earth just next door. When I returned home, my OB-GYN explained that my contractions were likely due to dehydration. Taking better care of myself and drinking more could have saved my vacation.

Drinking an adequate amount of water is especially important when you’re pregnant. From your increased blood supply to the baby’s amniotic fluid, water is essential to you and your baby.

Bodies and Water

Water plays an important role in a variety of body functions. It helps nutrients reach your cells, aids in digestion, removes toxins from your body, even regulates your body temperature—water is not only necessary but vital. In fact, 55 to 65 percent of your body weight is from water, according to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, MD, a family physician specializing in nutritional medicine.

Doctors recommend that during pregnancy you drink eight eight- to 12-ounce glasses of water a day. Dr. Fuhrman points out that “80 ounces of water is an appropriate goal to strive for, but [if you eat a healthy diet] 40 ounces of water will be sufficient because you will be getting lots of water from high-water content produce such as fruits, vegetable soups, and stews.” Dr. Furhman points out that the American diet can be sodium-heavy and suggests focusing on water-rich foods to reach your recommended daily dose of H2O.

Water in Pregnancy

“Typically, your body is composed of about five liters of water,” says Dr. Mira Aubuchon, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. “During your pregnancy that typically goes up to at least six liters. Most of the increase is from blood volume—blood is composed mostly of water.”

Increased blood volume carries nutrients to your developing baby and then whisks waste out. Your body will naturally retain more fluid to adequately supply your blood—and as your baby grows, to replenish amniotic fluid, explains Dr. Aubuchon. And according to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide, by Penny Simkin, “Toward the end of the pregnancy, your baby is immersed in about one quart of amniotic fluid, which is replaced every three hours.”

Dehydration and Preterm Labor

While researchers are still not sure of the exact body mechanism that triggers contractions, there seems to be a link between dehydration and preterm labor. “But whether these contractions [from dehydration] translate to a full-term birth is not really known,” says Dr. Aubuchon.

One thought is that “dehydration can promote the release of antidiuretic hormone from the kidney to preserve water excretion, which in turn promotes oxytocin, leading to premature contractions,” says Dr. Fuhrman. These contractions can be an uncomfortable reminder that you need keep your body hydrated.

Dehydration and Preeclampsia

You may notice your healthcare provider checking your face and hands for swelling during routine office visits. Abnormal swelling (or edema) may be a sign that you are experiencing pregnancy-induced hypertension or preeclampsia. Although doctors are still unclear as to the precise reason why some pregnant women experience hypertension, Dr. Aubuchon says two symptoms to watch for are high blood pressure and dehydration.

Dr. Aubuchon also explains that there is no connection between preeclampsia and not drinking adequate amounts of water. Rather, retaining fluid and becoming easily dehydrated are symptoms of preeclampsia.

Questionable Water

You need water to stay healthy during your pregnancy, yet studies offer varying views on just where that water should come from.

“Yes, there are chlorinated by-products in tap water that in some small studies have had some negative effects [on the health of the baby], yet other studies indicate no effect,” says Dr. Aubuchon. These potentially harmful by-products are not absorbed simply from drinking water, but can be inhaled, such as when you’re in the shower, or through skin contact, like when you wash your hands. Dr. Aubuchon says any serious health risks are minimal, although the topic remains the basis for ongoing research.

Bottled water may seem like a solution to potential health risks associated with drinking chlorinated tap water, yet Dr. Aubuchon cautions that “there are fewer regulations on bottled water than there are on tap water. Several kinds of bottled waters may very well be contaminated with different [harmful substances].”

If you are concerned, Dr. Fuhrman recommends that you order distilled spring water from a water delivery service or invest in a good-quality water purification system.

Neither Dr. Aubuchon nor Dr. Fuhrman recommends drinking specialized waters, such as those enriched with vitamins. “You need to be very careful that you aren’t taking any vitamins in excess,” says Dr. Aubuchon. “In pregnancy, more is not necessarily better.”

With so many concerns during pregnancy, you shouldn’t have to worry about whether you’re drinking enough. Drinking a full glass of water at mealtimes and with snacks should provide the amount of water you and your growing baby need.

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