Hydration – are you drinking enough?
Health studies have shown how important drinking sufficient water and being adequately hydrated is to our general health and wellbeing, and how we function each day. Ensuring that you drink adequately is particularly important for new mothers in promoting healing and recovering from your labour and birth. Where you have chosen to breastfeed, good hydration also helps support your body’s production of breast milk (lactation).
Health advice recommends that we drink at least eight glasses of water each day. Doing this has been found to be associated with the following health benefits:
a). Drinking plenty of water flushes the toxins/waste products out of our body and helps our kidneys to function more efficiently
b). It improves our physical and mental health performanc
c). Where we drink adequately we avoid becoming dehydrated which is known to cause headaches, indigestion and feeling faint/light-headed
d). Top models drinks lots of water because they know that it hydrates and ‘plumps’ their skin, gives them a healthy glow, and helps limit the effects of ageing
e). Water is calorie-free and reduces the appetite, so can be useful as part of a weight-control diet. NB. If you are breastfeeding, you should not diet because your body needs the calories – you burn on average, an extra 500 calories a day when breastfeeding!
f). Drinking plenty of water will not make you feel bloated or make you retain fluid (called oedema). Fluid retention tends to be associated more with poor venous circulation (blood circulation problems in your legs) and hormonal fluctuations. If you have any underlying medical conditions which affect the amount of fluid you should drink, your doctor will advise you accordingly.
What happens if we don’t drink enough?
Our body is more than 60% water and if we don’t drink sufficiently we are likely to become dehydrated. Dehydration is where we lose a greater volume of water from our bodies than the fluid that we are consuming. There are two forms of dehydration:
1). Hypernatraemic dehydration – is a type of dehydration that is commonly seen in young babies where there are feeding issues and the baby is not receiving adequate fluids, or where babies/infants are vomiting and/or have watery diarrhoea. Young babies and small children are easily affected by even the smallest amount of fluid loss and can consequently lose more water than sodium (salt).
2). Isotonic dehydration – is a type of dehydration where salt and water are lost in equal proportions to the salt and water that is present in the fluid surrounding the body’s cells (ie extracellular fluid). Isotonic dehydration is most often associated with severe bouts of watery diarrhoea.
What are the signs and symptoms of dehydration?
There are a number of signs and symptoms that we experience when our body has not received the fluids that it needs. Sometimes if we’re busy rushing around, we eventually realise that we haven’t had enough to drink or, notice that we’ve not drunk anything for quite some time. Where this is the case, we are likely to experience the following minor signs and symptoms of dehydration:
- We feel thirsty!
- Our mouth, lips and eyes feel dry
- We feel faint or light-headed
- Headaches are a very common symptom
- We experience fatigue and lethargy (feeling tired and lacking energy)
- We don’t pass urine so often and, when we do, it isn’t its normal clear, pale yellow colour but is much darker (it can actually look quite brownish!)
What can I do to avoid becoming dehydrated?
We should all be following the Government’s health advice and be drinking at least eight glasses of water each day. Ensuring we are adequately hydrated is, as we’ve already shown, important to our personal health and wellbeing. There are however, additional circumstances when new mothers will need to ensure that they drink sufficient water and remain adequately hydrated:
a). If you are breastfeeding your baby, you are likely to feel more thirsty than usual and it is helpful to get into the habit of having a glass of water, milk or fruit juice close to hand while your baby is breastfeeding. Remaining hydrated is also important in supporting lactation and setting up a good breast milk supply for your baby
b). During labour or around the time of your baby’s birth, you may have needed to have a urinary catheter inserted into your bladder and this usually stays in for between 12 and 48 hours post birth. This is a part of normal bladder care where your baby was: (i) born by caesarean section; (ii) their birth was assisted using forceps or ventouse (vacuum extraction); (iii) you needed help to deliver your placenta (afterbirth) – this is called manual removal of placenta; (iv) you had a perineal tear that needed to be sutured (stitched) in theatre; or (v) you required an epidural during labour. Where you have a urinary catheter in place, it is important that you drink plenty of fluids to flush the catheter through and help prevent any urinary tract infections (UTIs) from developing
c). If you had a perineal tear or episiotomy and needed sutures, drinking plenty of water helps to dilute your urine so that it is less acidic. This can make it feel more comfortable when you pass urine in the initial days following your baby’s birth. Drinking plenty of water also helps to prevent constipation.
d). Drinking water is also important where you’ve had a Caesarean birth. Research has shown us that drinking water within a few hours of your caesarean helps the stomach and bowel to get back to its normal functioning quicker. If it’s not possible for you to drink oral fluids (because you are feeling/being sick) the maternity staff will need to ensure that you are still receiving adequate fluids. The doctors will therefore, prescribe fluids that are given by intravenous infusion (ie through a drip). This helps to ensure that your body stays hydrated until you are ready to start drinking normally again.
Helpful hints to stay hydrated!
There are a number of measures that we can all take to make sure we don’t become dehydrated:
- Sip water regularly throughout the day
- Wherever possible try to begin and end your day with a glass of water
- If you wait until you are feeling thirsty, this is too late! You should be drinking water at regular intervals throughout your daily activities
- Instead of drinking a cup of tea or coffee, try swapping it for a glass of water instead!
- Cool water is absorbed into our bodies more rapidly than warm/hot water. If we have a high temperature, drinking cooled water can help to reduce our temperature more quickly and often makes us feel better
- If we are physically active (eg exercising, doing high-impact sports, or strenuous physical activities) we will need to drink regularly throughout
- Never underestimate the amount of fluid (sweat) that can be lost through perspiration; particularly, when doing high impact sports or strenuous activities. Look at how much tennis players drink during Wimbledon!
- Illness can cause dehydration, especially if you are running a high temperature, vomiting or have diarrhoea – it is important to drink more if you’re feeling unwell
- Air travel causes dehydration, so it is always better to avoid alcohol, tea and coffee and instead, stick to drinking water or water-based juices when flying
- If circumstances mean you are unable to manage sips of water (eg you’re vomiting) try sucking ice cubes instead. These will give your body the fluid that it needs but tend to be easier to tolerate.
What is best – tap or bottled water?
Tap water is something we have little control over – if we live in a ‘soft’ water area our tap water is likely to taste quite different from ‘hard’ water areas. However, bottled water isn’t necessarily a superior choice to water from our household taps. In fact, some brands of bottled water can contain high levels of sodium because of where the water originally comes from. Similarly, many parts of the UK add fluoride to their tap water because of its recognised health benefits in protecting/hardening tooth enamel and strengthening our bones and joints. If tap water isn’t for you, there are many brands of bottled water to choose from. You may also wish to consider using a household water filter system? These work by removing unwanted contaminants from your water while leaving healthy minerals intact and can really transform the taste of your tap water.