A hot flash is a condition that most people associate with menopause. However, they can also occur during both pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is estimated that hot flashes during pregnancy affect around one out of every three women. In pregnancy, they generally occur during the second and third trimesters and are mainly caused by an elevated level of estrogen. This can result in increased blood flow to the skin, making you feel warm and flushed. Hot flashes can also be caused by the increase in core body temperature that often occurs during pregnancy.1 During breastfeeding, estrogen levels are low and this can result in similar symptoms to those associated with menopause, including hot flashes.2
Hot flashes usually affect the head, neck, and chest, lasting from a few seconds to up to several minutes. You may also break out in a sweat as your body tries to cool down to counteract the hot flash.1
Unfortunately, hormonal medication isn’t an option for hot flashes during pregnancy or breastfeeding, as it is for menopause. However, there are some other ways you can keep cool and keep the hot flashes at bay. These include:
- Taking an additional shower during the day to help you feel fresh
- Keeping wipes in your bag to refresh your face during work
- Wearing loose clothing which you can remove if you feel too hot
- Wearing clothes made from natural fibers such as linen and cotton, which allow more air to circulate next to your skin
- Keeping your bedroom cool (e.g. closing curtains during a hot day) in order to sleep better during night-time hot flashes
- Using a spray bottle filled with water to spritz your face regularly to cool down
- Keeping a hand-held mini fan in your bag1
What should I do when a hot flash comes on?
It is normal to feel uncomfortable during a hot flash as it can be embarrassing and alarming. This may make you go into a “flight or fight” response, which in turn can make the symptoms worse. When you feel a hot flash coming on, don’t panic! Try to focus on taking deep breaths and relaxing.3
Should I be concerned about hot flashes?
Hot flashes that only last a short while should not be of concern. However, it is important to distinguish between a hot flash and a potentially dangerous fever. In contrast with a hot flash, fever actually elevates your body temperature and is often a sign of an infection. In addition, high fever can be dangerous for your unborn child, leading to miscarriage or birth defects.4 In case of doubt, talk to your health care provider.