Pregnancy: Summer Expectations: Enjoy the Outdoors with a Few Precautions

It’s summer. The birds are singing. The flowers are in bloom. Beach blankets, gardens, restaurants with outdoor seating and hiking trails beckon, calling to North Carolinians to enjoy themselves. And some of those summer-revelers may be pregnant.

Unlike in the past, when pregnant women were expected to stay out of sight (especially in the summer), the great outdoors is a fine place for a pregnant woman to spend her time. But she needs to exercise some precautions. Local health-care providers weigh in on summer pregnancy considerations.

Sun Exposure

For two of my three pregnancies, I had patches of brown on the tops of my cheekbones that looked suspiciously like dirt. A good scrub wouldn’t take these away, though. Like many pregnant women, I had pregnancy hyper-pigmentation. The sun only exacerbates this condition and can, in some cases, make it permanent. My care provider’s advice? Lots of sunscreen and a hat.

“This is true for some women,” says Amy Groff, M.D., an obstetrician with Mid-Carolina Obstetrics and Gynecology of Raleigh. “It can also be referred to as ‘mask of pregnancy’ when people get hyper-pigmentation on their face. [This is] from the increased estrogen levels.”

The solution to this is limiting sun exposure, but it’s still okay to be outside. “Use a high-number sunscreen no less than 45 [SPF]. The hormones of pregnancy [also] increase your risk of sunburn, so you are more likely to burn,” says Amy Gregory, obstetrics coordinator/medical assistant at Blue Ridge Obstetrics and Gynecology of Raleigh. “And stay in shady areas.”

Heatstroke, Heat Exhaustion and Dehydration

Among the bigger concerns of care providers is how easy it is for pregnant women to succumb to the heat and humidity of summer, especially when exerting themselves outside.

“You are more likely to be at risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke because your body temperature is slightly increased,” Gregory says. “[During pregnancy] your blood circulation increases, so being hot you are much more likely become overheated.” And the effect of a pregnant woman’s passenger – her baby – can add to the risk and the need to drink plenty of water.

“It is very important to stay hydrated,” says Tammi Stephens, M.D., another obstetrician with Mid-Carolina Obstetrics and Gynecology of Raleigh. Pregnant women who don’t drink enough fluids are at a very great risk. “The baby will get the nutrients he or she needs, so if the mom is not giving herself as much as the baby takes, this can certainly be a problem: the risk of dehydration,” says Dr. Stephens.

Bug Bites and Outdoor Pests

During my second pregnancy, my husband discovered a well-fed deer tick on my lower back during an outbreak of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. My care providers began regular testing to evaluate if I had been exposed.

“The high fevers from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be potentially harmful during pregnancy,” says Dr. Groff. “The first choice of medication used for treatment is not safe during pregnancy.” However, other medications can be used to treat this illness and may be initiated as soon as the pregnant woman shows signs of the illness.

Gregory cautions, “With anything, pregnancy changes your body, your immune system. With ticks you are liable for Lyme disease, also. Keep an eye out for the red bull’s eye around the bite.”

Don’t avoid the outdoors, but do wear long sleeves when pests are out at dusk and dawn and wear bug spray. “As far as mosquitoes, bug bites, etc., [a pregnant woman] can spray repellant on her shoes or socks. Although the chemicals in bug spray won’t be absorbed into the skin completely, it’s still not a good idea to spray directly onto the skin due to skin sensitivity issues,” says Dr. Stephens.

“Consider bug spray without DEET because DEET is not safe for pregnant women,” Gregory adds.

Lawn Chemicals and Gardening Sprays

For the most part, lawn chemicals and sprays should not pose much risk, according to the experts contacted for this article. However, Gregory advises playing it safe.

“When gardening, ask your partner to help with the chemicals,” she suggests. For avid gardeners eager to get their hands into their tasks, she recommends taking a list of products and their ingredients to the clinician for approval. Says Gregory, “If your care provider approves it, wear gloves and perhaps a mask as you are applying the chemical.”

Also, Dr. Groff advises that pregnant women pay attention to all the creatures that might be roaming in the gardens. “If you have outdoor cats, be aware there can be cat feces in the garden and a chance for contracting toxoplasmosis,” she cautions. Just as you would ask your partner to clean out the litter box, you will need to recruit some help with outdoor cat feces, as well.
When it’s gorgeous outdoors, no one wants to hide inside. And with some precautions, there is no reason why everyone, even a mom-to-be, can’t enjoy this wonderful time of year.

Robin Whitsell is a freelance writer who lives in Chapel Hill with her husband and two daughters. She is expecting her third child this summer.