Water, Water and More Water

Stop any pregnant woman on the street and you are almost certain to find she’s carrying one important item: Water. Whether it’s a bottle, mini jug or even a coffee container, the fact that pregnant women need to stay well-hydrated has become almost automatic within today’s culture. While the importance of water cannot be ignored or downplayed, what we often fail to teach women is how much water daily is enough water and how to accurately, and conveniently, consume all the water she needs during a 24-hour period. Indeed, health care providers often repeat the same mantra to pregnant women at every prenatal visit: “Keep drinking”. What’s surprising, despite being constantly armed with a supply of water or having a source of nature’s miracle liquid close by, pregnant women openly admit to not drinking the daily amount they should. When asked why, the same excuse comes up each time: “I can’t drink another drop of water or I’ll float, and I can’t stand spending my life in the bathroom.”  

The reason health care providers continuously push pregnant women to drink water and stay hydrated is because water serves so many beneficial purposes.  Water keeps women adequately hydrated to avoid the potentially dangerous condition of dehydration. When pregnant women become dehydrated, uterine irritability, contractions, or preterm labor can follow, all of which have potential impact on the fetus or growing baby. Regarding the growing baby, adequate water intake allows key nutrients, vitamins, and hormones to have a medium for transport into the blood cells that eventually circulate to the placenta which, in turn, get to the baby. A pregnant woman’s body is like a factory that is going 24/7- while her body needs fuel to keep the factory going, it also needs time to cool down and remove any excess waste or debris from production. Water helps to keep a pregnant woman’s body cool by providing a mechanism to produce sweat that, in turn, keeps a woman’s internal thermostat at the right temperature. Water, further, dilutes waste products from the body in the kidneys and transports them as urine to be excreted. This diluted urine, and the frequent passing of urine, insures none of the byproducts linger in the bladder long enough to lead to a bladder infection. Additionally, excess sodium is one of the key products diluted in the urine and the excretion of that excess sodium helps decrease swelling in the fingers, hands, or feet. Since a pregnant woman’s body is in a constant state of production to grow a baby, adequate water intake helps to decrease the symptoms of fatigue or headaches that often accompany pregnancy. Having adequate water intake also helps to keep stool soft and moving through the colon smoothly, and frequently, to avoid constipation.  Avoiding constipation also helps to avoid painful hemorrhoids.

What exactly is the right amount of water? The answer depends on several factors. The World Health Organization and the Institute of Medicine both concur that the basic minimum amount of water intake for any human being is 1.5 to 2 liters of water per day. Essentially, enough water to fill a large standard soda bottle or pitcher, or eight cups of water per day. A cup, then, is defined as 250 milliliters, or the size of a standard 1 cup measuring cup used for baking or cooking. For pregnant women, the recommended amount of water increases, then, to 3 liters, or 10 to 12 glasses of water each day. Pregnant women often groan and think, “How can I get all that liquid in during the day?”  Thankfully, there are tips and reminders I give pregnant women to help make getting adequate water intake easier.

First, plain water is not the only source of liquid. Fruit is also an excellent source of hydration and also provides additional nutrients and fiber. Fruits high in water like watermelon, cantaloupe, oranges, strawberries, or pears are tastier ways to increase water intake. I recommend freezing grapes, melon balls, or berries and throwing them into a glass of sparkling water as an alternative to plain water or for use as drink to accompany a meal. In fact, fruits, herbs, or spices can be used to add unique flavors to water that make drinking plain water less boring. I added some of my favorite combinations at the end. Similarly, decaffeinated herbal hot or iced teas can be an excellent source of flavored water. However, caffeinated coffees, teas and carbonated sodas should be avoided because  they tend to have a diuretic effect on the body and, therefore, contribute to dehydration.

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Photo by Devin Rajaram

The recommended amount of water, further, does not have to be consumed in one sitting. Sipping water at regular intervals is recommended as opposed to gulping water or drinking large quantities of water at one sitting. Sipping water works to keep a pregnant woman more steadily hydrated and can control the timing of bathroom trips. In contrast, gulping or drinking large amounts of water at once is not recommended because it often leads to uncomfortable feelings of fullness or promotes heartburn. The general rule: You should never feel thirsty and you should always have clear or light-yellow urine. Thirst or dark yellow urine are the body’s signals that its dehydrated and needs water replenished.

As a pregnancy progresses the idea of managing the discomfort of a full bladder with the pressure of the growing uterus in the pelvis is uncomfortable. Skipping water to avoid a full bladder is not the answer. Water is necessary throughout all stages of pregnancy, but with some creativity and an exploration of different flavors, combinations, or sources of food high in water content, your intake of water can be adequate, less boring,  and, above all, tasty.

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Photo by Milo McDowell

Lemon Ginger Water

  • 8oz (1 cup) water
  • 3 frozen lemon wedges
  • 2 frozen slices of ginger

Add lemon wedges and ginger to a glass. Add 1-2 ice cubes. Pour over water and allow to sit for 5 minutes

Berry Flavored Water

  • 6-8 blueberries, washed
  • 5 blackberries, frozen
  • 5 raspberries, frozen
  • 2 strawberries, hulled and sliced into quarters, frozen
  • 8 oz  (1 cup) of water

Add blueberries to a glass and gently muddle with a spoon or fork to break apart. Add in frozen berries

Add 1-2 ice cubes and pour water over berries. Allow to sit. Water will turn light purple to blue. Mix and enjoy

Cranberry Cinnamon Water

  • 6-8 cranberries
  • 1 cinnamon stick (or ¼ teaspoon of powdered cinnamon)
  • 3-5 red seedless grapes for sweetness (optional)
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) water

Add the cranberries to a glass and muddle with a spoon or fork (the cranberries can also be boiled until they open for additional flavor). Add in the cinnamon stick and pour water over berries. Stir with the cinnamon stick and allow to sit for 5 minutes.  Add in grapes one at a time for sweetness as desired.

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