Can Being Dehydrated While Pregnant Harm The Baby?
It’s important to consume the recommended amount of water during pregnancy for the health of yourself and your baby. Keep reading to learn the effects of dehydration during pregnancy.
By OBGYN and fertility specialist Dr. Kenosha Gleaton
Staying hydrated is one of the most important things you can do to support yourself and your baby during pregnancy. Water is necessary for a lot of body processes, including a healthy pregnancy and fetal development.
The importance of hydration
Water is vital for all living things and is especially important for the maintenance, growth, and development of our bodies. Proper hydration allows the body to regulate temperature, lubricate and cushion joints and bones, fight off infections, keep organs functioning, and can improve mood, sleep, and cognition. There is an even bigger need for water intake during pregnancy, as blood volume increases greatly to support a fetus, and water is responsible for helping transport vital nutrients. Proper nutrient supply is necessary for growth and development, cell proliferation, and DNA replication. There is even evidence that dehydration during pregnancy may have negative effects on maternal and fetal health, which we will get into more later. Read more about the importance of hydration during pregnancy and while trying to conceive.
How much water should you drink during pregnancy
In general, it’s recommended that water intake correlates with caloric intake. So if someone is consuming the recommended additional 340 calories a day during pregnancy, they should also consume an additional 300 ml of fluid. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) suggests that pregnant women drink eight to 12 cups of water daily (64 to 96 ounces). A great way to stay on top of this is to set reminders for yourself throughout the day. Start the day with a large glass of water and your prenatal vitamins (on a full stomach) and carry around a travel water bottle with you everywhere you go.
Fetal effects of dehydration during pregnancy
Decreased amniotic fluid
Studies show that dehydration may have effects on amniotic fluid, which is responsible for keeping the fetus safe from injury, insulating the fetus, protecting the umbilical cord, and fighting off bacteria. Amniotic fluid also helps with the transport of various nutrients, including electrolytes, vitamins, and proteins. Amniotic fluid can be used to monitor pregnancy and fetal outcomes. Without the adequate amount of water, there is a risk of oligohydramnios, or decreased amniotic fluid. This is a treatable disorder, but may result in poor fetal outcomes or maternal and fetal complications.
Research shows that inadequate water intake may impact fetal outcomes, including lower birth weight and smaller chest circumference, length, and head circumference. A study compared water intake and fetal outcomes of 38 pregnant women and discovered the following:
Birth Weight (g)
Birth Length (cm)
Head Circumference (cm)
Chest Circumference (cm)
As you can see, the dehydrated group had smaller averages for weight, length, head circumference, and chest circumference. This is important to note for general fetal development, but there is also some research that links head circumference to neurological development and brain volume. Speak with your healthcare provider about any concerns or questions you may have about your baby’s growth and development.
The National Birth Defects Prevention Study has provided data on maternal water consumption and birth defects. A case control study reviewing this data found evidence that with increased water consumption, the odds of some birth defects decreased, such as:
A neural tube defect defined by the spinal column not forming properly
Including cleft lip and/or cleft palate
This includes limb deficiencies, which could refer to the absence of a limb, duplicated digits or limbs, overgrowth, and more. Gastroschisis is also a risk, which refers to a condition in which a hole in the stomach wall may result in the intestines spilling outside of the body.
Congenital heart defects:
The most common birth defects, congenital heart defects alter the structure and function of the heart.
All of these defects showed decreasing odds with an increase in water intake.
I know this can all be alarming to read about, but the goal isn’t to scare you. Speak with your healthcare provider about any of your concerns and encourage a healthy pregnancy through a balanced diet, drinking water, and taking your recommended prenatal vitamin.
Risk of dehydration during pregnancy
Water requirements increase with gestational age, so it’s important to follow ACOG guidelines for adequate water and nutrient intake. Pregnancy demands a lot from your body and changes it in many ways, including increased blood volume, enlarged kidneys, and a lot of pregnancy symptoms. Some pregnancy factors can put you at an increased risk of dehydration, including morning sickness, diarrhea, hormonal fluctuations, etc., so it’s important to know the warning signs of dehydration and how to treat them. Look out for symptoms like dark urine, strong smelling urine, low urine output, constipation, thirst, and muscle cramps. Be sure to drink at least eight cups of water a day and take your prenatal vitamins or use pregnancy safe hydration packets for vital nutrients during pregnancy.
If you’re concerned about your hydration, you should speak to a healthcare provider and drink plenty of water. In most cases, the best treatment is replacing lost electrolytes and fluids through water, fruit juices, and something salty to help replace lost sodium. Rehydration solutions should contain electrolytes like potassium, sodium, magnesium, etc. to help your body restore electrolyte balance and properly rehydrate, but keep an eye out for extremely high sugar contents or high amounts of caffeine. Read over some tips for staying hydrated while pregnant.
Severe dehydration should be taken very seriously. If you’re experiencing any confusion, lethargy, dizziness, very little urine output, abnormal pulse, or seizures, you should seek medical attention immediately. In cases of severe dehydration, intravenous fluids (an IV) may be necessary to replenish lost nutrients.
Proper hydration allows the body to regulate temperature, lubricate and cushion joints and bones, fight off infections, keep organs functioning, and can improve mood, sleep, and cognition.
ACOG suggests that pregnant women drink eight to 12 cups of water daily.
Dehydration during pregnancy can lead to serious pregnancy complications, including neural tube defects, low amniotic fluid, inadequate breast milk production, and even premature labor.
Birth weight, chest circumference, length, and head circumference may be impacted by inadequate water intake.
Studies show there are links between water intake and the risk of spina bifida, oral clefts, musculoskeletal defects, and congenital heart defects.
Look out for symptoms of dehydration, including low urine output, dizziness, confusion, thirst, abnormal pulse, and muscle cramps. See a healthcare provider if you’re concerned about your hydration status.