It is normal to experience hot flashes during pregnancy, as the fluctuating hormones increase the blood flow to your skin surface, making you feel warm and flushed. The surging blood raises the skin temperature, especially in your chest area, neck, and head, giving them a red and blotchy look.
These hot flashes usually occur at night, in the first and second trimesters, but in some they may be occasional, like once in a week (1). In some cases, they may continue after delivery, as your body produces milk for breastfeeding (2). But what are hot flashes anyway, and what causes them? Is there any way to prevent them? MomJunction helps you find answers to these questions and more here!
What Does A Hot Flash Feel Like?
Hot flashes refer to the heat originating from the neck and head, which spreads down to the chest, and lasts for about 30 seconds to five minutes. In some cases, heat generates from the lower body. You will perspire as your body tries to cool down after a sudden flash.
The flashes are unique as the frequency and intensity vary among women. Remember that hot flashes and fevers are different. Hot flashes do not elevate your body temperature, whereas fever does. Also, menopausal and pregnancy hot flashes are similar, but symptoms such as swollen breasts, nausea, vomiting, hyperactive senses, etc. are unique symptoms of pregnancy.
What Are The Symptoms Of Hot Flashes?
Hot flashes are associated with the following symptoms, which should be reported to the doctor immediately.
- Heat spreads through your body and the face
- Several short bouts of heat
- The feeling can be warm like sleeping on a sunbed, but sometimes intense like being near a furnace
- The flashes come suddenly, without a warning
- Rise in heartbeat
- A red face
- Sweating (3)
What Causes Hot Flashes During Pregnancy?
The precise reasons for hot flashes are not yet known, but studies have identified certain factors that could trigger hot flashes during pregnancy.
1. Hormonal action
Hormonal fluctuations (primarily estrogen) are common during pregnancy. They stimulate the brain to release more epinephrine and norepinephrine into the bloodstream, which results in increased blood flow to the skin, which in turn might increase the sensation of heat in the body (3).
Fluid levels regulate body temperature. Inadequate water in the body might increase the temperature and make you feel hot (4).
3. A rise in body temperature
The metabolic rate increases during pregnancy, and this results in body heat, which could result in hot flashes. Your body recognizes that it has to take care of two lives, and increases its regular activity, leading to increased body temperature (5).
The extra weight you gain during pregnancy dispels its heat, making the body warm, and could result in hot flashes (6).
Some other risk factors that increase the chances of getting hot flashes include:
- Unbalanced meals
- Irregular sleeping routine
- Anxiety, stress, and anger
- Higher BMI before pregnancy
- Low blood sugar levels
However, these episodes of hot flashes could be managed with a few tips we share next.
Ways To Deal With Pregnancy Hot Flashes
Unjali Malhotra, Women’s health specialist at Cross Roads Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vancouver, says that it is enough to exercise right, eat well, and keep ice water ready to deal with the flashes. Those who are overweight tend to experience more flashes as the fat tissues produce estrogen.
So, here are a few handy tips for managing the heat episodes:
- Sleep in a cool place: Make sure to keep your bedroom cool so that you are comfortable if you experience hot flashes at midnight. You could open the windows or run a fan or air-conditioner for a cooler environment.
- Keep away from the sun: Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, so that it covers both the face and shoulders. Do not sunbathe and stay away from beaches and sunny areas.
- Stay hydrated: Carry a bottle of water everywhere you go, to stay hydrated. Nutrient-rich herbal teas are also a good choice.
- Regulate your diet: Try to follow a balanced diet of healthy foods such as fresh vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, whole grains, and proteins, including eggs, lean meat, and cheese. Avoid long gaps between meals or snacks.
- Choose a healthy lifestyle: Avoid hot, spicy, and processed foods that are rich in sugars or fats. Also, avoid drinking anything that has alcohol or caffeine. Quit smoking as these are believed to be the worst triggers of hot flashes.
- Cooling kits: Keep wet wipes, a mini fan, or a spray bottle filled with water handy all the time so that you can deal with the flashes wherever you go. Wipe your face with wet wipes or cloth, which could help to bring down the temperature.
- Breathing exercises: When you experience a hot flash, do not panic. Instead, try to breathe normally and try meditation or yoga to control your breath. You could also go for short walks.
- Wear loose clothes: Wear loose and easy breathing clothes, such as tank tops and shorts that you can take off easily when you feel hot. Choose clothes made of natural fibers, such as cotton or linen, as they allow proper air circulation. Avoid using synthetic materials such as polyester.
- Healthy weight: The Journal of Nurse-Midwifery in a 2010 study concluded that women who indulged in regular exercise had fewer events of hot flashes (9). As being overweight might contribute to hot flashes, maintaining a healthy weight before and throughout the pregnancy might help in reducing them.
If you are overweight and pregnant, then do not try to lose weight during pregnancy, as it might lead to adverse effects on the baby. However, exercising and staying physically active during pregnancy helps in relieving stress and keeping the blood pressure and gestational diabetes in check.
So, try a few safe exercises while you are pregnant, but be cautious and work out in an air-conditioned gym and stay hydrated while working out.
- Avoid crowds: Crowded and congested areas could trigger hot flashes as the temperatures here are higher than normal. Crowds may also make you panicky, triggering hot flashes. Crowded areas are unsafe as it could lead to a stampede. Remember, anxiety levels must be low, and stressful situations must be avoided.
- Frequent showers and swimming: Have some extra showers in a day to keep your body fresh and cool. If you are comfortable, go for a swim as spending some time in the water will uplift your mood and help your body cool down. It is best to use only private pools that are clean and not chlorinated.
- Alternative treatments: If you are unable to control hot flashes through breathing or keeping the body hydrated, then consider alternative treatments after consulting your doctor. You could have soy (in moderation) and flax seeds, acupuncture treatment (7), or consult your doctor and take appropriate and safe medications.
Natasha Turner, the author of The Hormone Diet, recommends stable blood sugar levels and hormone stabilizing supplements such as fish oil and vitamin D to keep flashes under control.
When To See A Doctor?
Hot flashes do not last long but may leave you uncomfortable, dehydrated, or exhausted. They will completely subside with a good rest. But if the problem persists, it might be a sign of an underlying cause, and you must get it checked by a doctor.
Over-the-counter drugs may work but must be taken only after the medical practitioner recommends them. Do not follow the herbal remedies without first consulting your doctor.
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. Are hot flashes an early sign of pregnancy before a missed period?
Hot flashes are one of the first pregnancy symptoms that you will experience from the time you conceive. Some women might experience hot flashes and abdominal cramping during implantation, around eight to ten days after ovulation.
Hot flashes accompanied by severe fatigue, nausea and morning sickness, sore breasts, a heightened sense of smell, insomnia, dizziness, lower back pain, and aversion to smells, could be a clear sign of pregnancy.
But if you do not see other pregnancy symptoms, then hot flashes could indicate something else (8).
2. Do hot flashes specify the gender of the baby growing in your womb?
Hot flashes do not indicate the baby’s gender. It is just an old wives’ tale that says that if you feel hot and sweaty, you could have a baby girl.
3. Do hot flashes affect your baby?
The condition does not have any effect on your baby, as it is just another symptom of pregnancy. Like morning sickness, hot flashes could be troublesome for the mother, but there are no studies suggesting that they might harm the baby. If you have any further doubts, then do get them clarified with your doctor.
4. Do hot flashes cause headaches during pregnancy?
The hormonal surge and additional blood circulation during pregnancy are believed to cause headaches. Other symptoms such as hot flashes, pregnancy fatigue, nausea, emotional stress, and increased hunger also contribute to the headaches or aggravation of the existing one (9). However, there are no studies to prove if hot flashes alone can cause headaches during pregnancy.
5. How long do hot flashes last after pregnancy?
Hot flashes may not disappear immediately after delivery but could last for a few months postpartum until the hormones go back to their regular levels, and enough milk is produced to breastfeed the newborn (3).
[ Read: Fever During Pregnancy ]
Staying hydrated, eating and resting well, and maintaining your weight will help you stay away from hot flashes. Though hot flashes aren’t a dangerous condition, they do tell you to slow down and take care of yourself, and they will go away as soon they came.
Have an experience to share about hot flashes during early pregnancy? Let us know in the comments section below.
2. w. m Marshall, David Cumming, George W. Fitzsimmons; Hot flushes during breast feeding?; Research Gate
3. Rebecca C. Thurston, et al.; Prospective Evaluation of Hot Flashes during Pregnancy and Postpartum; NCBI(2014)
4. Reproductive Health And The Workplace; CDC
5. Naomi E. Rance, et al.; Modulation of body temperature and LH secretion by hypothalamic KNDy (kisspeptin, neurokinin B and dynorphin) neurons: A novel hypothesis on the mechanism of hot flushes; NCBI(2014)
6. Lisa Gallicchio, et al.; Change in Body Mass Index, Weight, and Hot Flashes: A Longitudinal Analysis from the Midlife Women’s Health Study; Journal of Women’s Health
7. Acupuncture for Hot Flashes Pregnancy in Frisco TX; Yin’s Clinic
8. Signs of Pregnancy; PregMed
9. Pregnancy and Headaches; American Pregnancy Association