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Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

When you're pregnant, hormonal shifts and metabolic changes -- not to mention the 20 or 30 extra pounds you're lugging around -- can make you feel as if someone's turning up the heat. And that means the steamy summer months are no picnic.

"Essentially, a pregnant woman acts as a radiator for her baby," says Patrick Duff, M.D., a professor of obstetrics at the University of Florida at Gainesville. As the fetus grows, it generates heat, and the only way to vent that excess energy is through your cardiovascular system. As a result, your blood volume and metabolic rate rise -- which can make you feel uncomfortably toasty.

Aside from feeling like the warmest (and sweatiest) person around, this means you're at risk for heat-related problems, such as dizziness, weakness, and fainting. All may be symptoms of dehydration, which is more likely when you spend time in the sun. Light-headedness, excessive fatigue, and dark, scant urine are warning signs that you're drying out. If left untreated, dehydration can even lead to preterm labor.

Overheating early in pregnancy may also put your developing baby at risk. "Exposure to extreme heat in the third or fourth week after conception can disrupt the closure of the neural tube, causing spina bifida or other birth defects," Duff says. That's why hot tubs and saunas are off-limits if you're trying to conceive or think you may be pregnant.

Of course, you can't park yourself in front of an air conditioner all season. Although it's a good idea to find a cool sanctuary on the hottest days, there are ways to stay comfortable during the summer: