Watching out for Dehydration During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

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Dehydration, where your body loses fluids faster than you can take them in, is dangerous, especially during pregnancy and breastfeeding. In this blog post, we’ll discuss some potential causes of dehydration during pregnancy and breastfeeding and what to do to avoid dehydration or treat your symptoms if you are dehydrated.

Symptoms of and Treatment for Dehydration

 If you experience any of these symptoms during pregnancy or breastfeeding, you might be dehydrated (more severe symptoms are at the bottom):

  • Feeling thirsty
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased urge to empty your bladder
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Blurry vision
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fever
  • No urine or very dark urine (your urine should be light in color and translucent)
  • Sunken eyes

Mild dehydration is treatable at home, but it’s never a bad idea to call your care provider if you have questions or concerns. For mild dehydration, you can drink water or juice, eat watery foods, like fruits and veggies, and relax. For more severe dehydration, or if you try to manage dehydration yourself and you’re still experiencing symptoms, you might need the support of intravenous fluids administered by a medical professional.

Possible Causes of Dehydration During Pregnancy

Morning sickness is one of the main culprits behind pregnancy dehydration. Often beginning in the fifth or sixth week of pregnancy, nausea and sometimes vomiting may be caused by pregnancy hormones and can last all day—so much for “morning” sickness. While it can be hard to drink enough fluids when you feel like you might puke at any minute, dehydration might actually make your nausea worse. Try taking small sips of water or juice or Gatorade throughout the day. Sometimes it helps to have very cold drinks, or sometimes room temperature drinks will work better to help calm your tummy. Ginger tea is also an option that might relieve nausea for some people. Most typical morning sickness can be dealt with via lifestyle modifications and over-the-counter medication—talk to your care provider for their suggestions.

If you really can’t eat or drink anything, you might have hyperemesis gravidarum, a totally different and severe pregnancy complication that carries a high risk of dehydration. If you think you might have hyperemesis, please talk to your care provider. This condition can get so bad that you end up in the hospital needing intravenous fluids, but may be possible to avoid that if you seek professional help sooner than later.

Physical activity, especially in hot weather, can cause dehydration sooner in pregnancy than it might when you’re not pregnant. If you are used to being able to hike for hours or play tennis on a sunny morning, you probably still can, just make sure to pack plenty of water and both sweet and salty snacks to sustain you. You should drink to your thirst, but pay close attention, as it’s easy to go from enjoying yourself to feeling very thirsty, very quickly.

In general, your body needs more water during pregnancy. You’re making a baby and a placenta, both of which are made mostly of water. Your blood volume increases, and you might be sweatier. If you’re retaining water and notice you have swelling in your feet, it might be because you’ve eaten a lot of salt. Drinking more water will help your body compensate for the extra salt and may make your extremities less swollen. Being sick can also lead to dehydration, so if you catch a bug, pay careful attention that you don’t also get dehydrated to boot.

Possible Causes of Dehydration During Breastfeeding

If you’re breastfeeding, it’s possible your need for water and fluids is just as great as it was during pregnancy because your body must have water to make milk. And many breast- and chest-feeding parents make lots of milk: the average is about 25-35 ounces per 24-hour period. Anything that’s related to exertion could lead to dehydration if you’re breastfeeding. Plus, stomach bugs, especially ones that your baby is likely to bring home from daycare, can lead to quick dehydration in a breastfeeding mom.

To prevent dehydration while you’re breastfeeding, always have your full water bottle or cup handy when you settle in for a feed. As baby drinks, it’s likely you’ll get thirsty, too. And take good care of yourself. It’s easy to forget to drink and eat when you have a new baby, particularly if you are that baby’s main source of sustenance.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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