Ordinary dehydration (i.e., “being thirsty”) is something we all experience, but severe, chronic dehydration can be a serious medical issue, and dehydration during pregnancy can have an adverse effect on both you and your baby.
A pregnant woman needs more water in her system than someone who is not pregnant because her body needs to manufacture extra quantities of blood, amniotic fluid, and other liquids. In addition, water is necessary for our bodies to regulate temperature. When this resource runs low, problems can result.
Symptoms of Dehydration During Pregnancy
The symptoms of dehydration during pregnancy are the same as for women who are not pregnant:
- Dry mouth and throat
- Infrequent urination
- Dark colored urine
Chronic dehydration can affect your kidneys—leading to kidney stones—and damage your liver.
You should seek medical attention immediately if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms of severe dehydration:
- Not urinating for eight hours or more
- Rapid heartbeat
- Blood in stool
- Weak pulse
Causes of Dehydration During Pregnancy
Dehydration occurs whenever we lose more water than we take in. Engaging in strenuous exercise, especially in hot weather, can cause us to lose a great deal of moisture by sweating. Episodes of vomiting—even routine morning sickness—cost us a lot of fluid, so it is advisable to replace this lost fluid by drinking a glass of water. Severe or recurrent diarrhea can also deplete your system of water.
Risk Factors for Dehydration During Pregnancy
One prominent risk factor for dehydration during pregnancy is a medical condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum, which strikes pregnant women and causes persistent, near constant vomiting. Some studies have found that this condition can be a risk factor for pre-term labor, among other complications.
Being over the age of 35 may be another risk factor—as we age, our bodies become less able to conserve water, and we feel thirst pangs less acutely.
Complications of Dehydration During Pregnancy
Dehydration during pregnancy can contribute to oligohydramnios, which is an insufficient quantity of amniotic fluid. This condition can in turn affect the baby’s growth and kidney development. Severe dehydration can sometimes contribute to premature labor or even miscarriage.
Pregnancy dehydration can also cause insufficient breast milk production, which may continue to be a problem even after the baby is born.
Treatment of Dehydration During Pregnancy
Mild, acute dehydration (i.e., “I’m very thirsty!”) can be treated simply by drinking enough water to replace the fluids you have lost. Herbal, non-caffeinated tea will also work. Fruit juices may help, but because of their sugar content they are less than ideal.
If you are experiencing more severe dehydration (as described in the symptoms section above), you should see a doctor, or possibly even go to the emergency room. Dehydration can only be treated by replacing the water and electrolytes that have been lost. If your condition is severe enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room, you can be hydrated intravenously, which replenishes your fluids and nutrients much more quickly than drinking.
Prevention of Dehydration During Pregnancy
While pregnant, you should take in three liters (just over three quarts, or 8–12 glasses) of water each day. Some of this water may come as part of your food intake, and it can be hard to determine how much water you have had during the course of the day, especially given the myriad other pressing matters on your mind. As a rule of thumb, however, you can assume that you are drinking enough water if your body weight does not drop suddenly, your skin maintains its elasticity (i.e., it snaps back quickly when pinched), and you are passing clear or bright yellow urine each morning.
Avoiding coffee, tea, or soda while pregnant will also help you to prevent dehydration, as caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that it makes you have to urinate more frequently. It is also wise to avoid strenuous exercise or spending too much time outdoors in hot weather.