By Ashley Williams, Press Secretary for the California Office of Community Partnerships and Strategic Communications
I’ve always loved summertime, but this year feels different for me now that I’m expecting during a year when California is experiencing record-hot temperatures.
As a Black woman and soon-to-be mom navigating her first pregnancy, extreme heat has taken on new meaning. I've come to understand that I’m at greater risk during extreme heat events.
And now, beyond the normal preparations for my first child, my days are filled with thoughts about how I can best protect my growing family.
Staying healthy while expecting is no joke, especially as a Black woman. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than our white counterparts. Sometimes we forget that pregnant people are more vulnerable to the impacts of extreme heat because carrying children disrupts the body’s ability to regulate sudden changes in temperature. Knowing how to navigate extreme heat when rocking a baby bump isn’t something to be played with.
This is definitely true for me. Once I feel overheated, I’ve discovered that it takes me much longer to cool back down. However, I have found ways to manage these changes by developing a plan to ensure my well-being.
I started by switching things up to fit the evolving needs of my growing child. Now I keep an extra vigilant eye on weather forecasts and heat advisories. When I’m out and about, you can find me in the shade and in loose, lightweight clothing.
My walks happen during the cooler hours of the day, usually in the mornings, or I exercise in environments with air conditioning or that prioritize comfort and safety such as at home in my living room. My spouse and I made sure to learn the signs of heat exhaustion, which include heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and headaches. It helps to have someone else nearby who is aware and can help spot the signs of heat illness. Lastly, I always have a bottle of water by my side to stay hydrated and a damp towel for a quick cool-down to help prevent heat illness symptoms.
As I look forward to welcoming my child into the world and embracing motherhood, I’ve also taken proactive steps to better understand the impacts of extreme heat on young children, particularly those ages 0-4 years old. After becoming pregnant, I learned that infants and children don’t sweat like adults do, reducing their ability to cool down on their own. And since infants can’t tell us why they’re uncomfortable, it’ll be my responsibility to watch for any signs of heat illness. Signs to look for in young children include less urine, no tears when crying, dry or sticky mouth, crankiness, and fatigue.
I also understand the need to be hyper-vigilant about car safety. Once I learned that temperatures in a parked car can rise almost 20 degrees in minutes, I decided that there’s absolutely no way I will ever leave my child in the car unattended, even for a quick stop with the window cracked open. The risk is simply not worth it.
I recognize that as my child grows, I’ll need to continue being an observant and engaged parent, but that this journey won’t be taken alone. It requires a village and will involve the child’s future doctors, teachers, and coaches. By understanding all the strategies for handling extreme heat and integrating them into my child's daily experiences along with my own, I can help ensure a balanced and safe environment.
The reality is that extreme heat is becoming more common, so everyone must understand how to assess their risk for heat-related illnesses and take the proper precautions to keep themselves and their families safer from extreme heat. As my personal journey has shown, expectant mothers and families with young children must be on top of it. I strongly encourage everyone to visit HeatReadyCA.com to create a personalized extreme heat plan that fits their unique needs to create a safer environment for ourselves and our vulnerable loved ones.
Together, we can build a heat-resilient, healthy community.