Hydration and pregnancy: Understanding the role of electrolytes

Hydration becomes even more important when you are pregnant.
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Gemma Kaczerepa
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June 3, 2024
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Drinking Electrolytes While Pregnant: The Role It Has In Pregnancy | Kin Fertility
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You probably already know the importance of staying hydrated. It keeps everything in your body running without a hitch and is also a total must for good sleep and good mood [1].

But did you know hydration becomes even more important when you’re pregnant? Not only does it do all of the above, but it also supports your unborn bub and lowers your risk of developing a bunch of nasty pregnancy conditions.

Hydration might seem as simple as drinking enough H20 and being done with it. However, there’s actually quite a bit more to it — namely, ensuring you get the right electrolyte balance so the fluids you drink can actually do their job and your body can stay hydrated.

So, here’s the lowdown on hydration and pregnancy, and why electrolytes are so darn crucial.

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes is the name given to a group of essential minerals that keep many of your bodily functions running smoothly. They assist with maintaining fluid balance, keeping your blood pH in check and supporting muscle function, among many other vital tasks [2].

You generally absorb electrolytes through fluids (such as sports drinks, which have added electrolytes, and water, which has small amounts of them) and foods (including many fruits and veggies). 

The most important electrolytes are sodium (also the most abundant electrolyte), calcium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, bicarbonate and phosphate, all of which are found in varying amounts in different foods and fluids [3].

How do electrolytes work?

Not to be dramatic or anything, but your survival really is based (at least in part) on electrolytes. They’re absolutely essential for numerous bodily functions, as we learned earlier.

But how exactly do they work in the body?

First up, it’s useful to understand what electrolytes actually are. Sure, they’re essential minerals, but more specifically, they’re essential minerals that are positively or negatively electrically charged — meaning they’re able to conduct electricity in water.

Your cells use electrolytes to create electric charges in your body, which in turn allows your muscles to work and keeps your body hydrated and your fluids balanced [4].

The result is that your body is able to operate like a well-oiled machine. Some of the ways electrolytes keep your body in good nick include [5][6][7]:

  • Regulating hydration: Electrolytes are crucial for keeping your body hydrated because they effectively direct water to the places it needs to go
  • Balancing your blood’s pH: Electrolytes such as bicarbonate, sodium, chloride and potassium balance acids and bases in your blood, helping to maintain a healthy pH level
  • Supporting blood clotting and maintaining healthy blood pressure: Blood pressure is partly regulated by electrolytes such as chloride and calcium
  • Allowing your muscles to function, including your heart muscles: This is where sodium, potassium and magnesium become crucial
  • Encouraging healthy bone growth: Magnesium is a big part of this, as is phosphate
  • Bolstering your nervous system: Your nervous system relies on magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium to function well
  • Removing waste from your body: Bicarbonate in particular plays a key role in getting carbon dioxide out of your bloodstream

Can you have too many or too few electrolytes in your system?

The thing with electrolytes is that you can have an imbalance of them. 

Your body loses electrolytes in several ways, including sweating, urinating, vomiting and diarrhoea, and if they’re not replaced, you can end up with too little of certain electrolytes in your body.

On the flip side, you can also have too many electrolytes. This isn’t usually the result of consuming an excess amount but is often caused by supplements [7]. Sodium is the only exception; certain foods, like processed ones, as well as takeaway meals are very high in the stuff.

Other causes of electrolyte imbalance include respiratory issues such as emphysema; health conditions including high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, kidney disease, liver disease and metabolic alkalosis (where the pH of your blood is too high); some medications like antibiotics and diuretics; and eating disorders [5].

What can electrolyte imbalances lead to?

So, what’s the issue with having an electrolyte imbalance? Left unchecked, it can lead to pretty serious health complications like coma, seizure, cardiac arrest and, in the most extreme cases, even death [5].

However, the symptoms and eventual health problems can be somewhat specific to the actual electrolyte you have an imbalance of.

There may also be some crossover between symptoms, which is why it’s always best to reach out to a doctor to have your electrolyte levels checked. And remember that the severity of symptoms usually depends on how acute the imbalance is.

Here are the conditions that electrolyte imbalance can lead to, and some of the more common symptoms of each.

  • Hypernatremia (too much sodium): Excessive thirst, confusion, muscle twitching and lethargy [8]
  • Hyponatremia (too little sodium): Nausea and vomiting, headache, confusion, muscle weakness or spasms [9]
  • Hyperkalemia (too much potassium): Muscle weakness and fatigue, heart palpitations and nausea [10]
  • Hypokalemia (too little potassium): Constipation, heart palpitations, fatigue, abnormal heart patterns and feeling lightheaded [11]
  • Hypercalcemia (too much calcium): Increased thirst, frequent urination, pain in the bones, headache and constipation [12]
  • Hypocalcemia (too little calcium): Dry skin and hair, brittle nails, muscle cramps and abnormal heart patterns [13]
  • Hypermagnesemia (too much magnesium): Weakness, nausea, confusion, dizziness and headache [14]
  • Hypomagnesemia (too little magnesium): Abnormal heart patterns, weakness, appetite loss, muscle spasms and nausea [15]
  • Hyperphosphatemia (too much phosphate): Muscle cramping, dry skin and hair, brittle nails, trouble remembering things and irritability [16]
  • Hypophosphatemia (too little phosphate): Muscle weakness or pain, pain in the bones, confusion, irritability and feeling numb [17]
  • Alkalosis (too much base): Muscle twitches, tremors or spasms, nausea, lightheadedness, confusion and numbness [18]
  • Acidosis (too much acid): Decreased appetite, fatigue, confusion, headache, increased heart rate and rapid breathing [19]

Fluids and foods high in electrolytes

By now you’re probably wondering how you can get electrolytes into your body. Fortunately, there are several foods and fluids that are quite high in them. 

Electrolyte-containing fluids

  • Cow’s milk
  • Coconut water
  • Fruit juices (just make sure they're 100% fruit)
  • Electrolyte waters and some sports drinks
  • Rehydration supplements (ideal if you’ve been vomiting or suffering from diarrhoea)

Water does contain trace amounts of certain electrolytes, and is usually enough for adequate hydration. But, it isn’t as potent as other fluids.

If you’re showing any signs of dehydration, you’re best opting to consume electrolyte drinks, like an oral rehydration solution or water with added electrolytes [20].

Electrolyte-containing foods

  • Vegetables like spinach, kale, green beans, broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms and potatoes
  • Fruits such as watermelon, citrus, strawberries, bananas, tomatoes and avocados
  • Nuts, seeds and legumes like beans, soybeans (including tofu), almonds, peanuts and pumpkin seeds
  • Yoghurt
  • Meats and seafood including chicken, turkey, veal, tuna, cod, salmon and flounder

A quick note on sodium: as we know, foods that are very high in it (think really salty and processed foods, as well as restaurant dishes) do run the risk of causing your sodium levels to skyrocket.

With that in mind, you’re best sticking to less processed sources — like veggies, meats and seafood — and curbing the amount of salt you add to your meals.

Are electrolytes safe during pregnancy?

Absolutely. Your body actually loses more electrolytes during pregnancy than it normally does, partly because your bub is taking some from you and also because you’re peeing a heck of a lot. This is why pregnant women typically need more of them.

You might also experience vomiting if you’re suffering from morning sickness, or diarrhoea as your bowels undergo some pretty drastic changes thanks to fluctuating hormonal levels. Inadequate intake of certain foods can also be a cause — particularly if you’ve got food aversions [21].

If you’re experiencing frequent thirst, headaches, constipation, severe fluid retention or nausea, you might just need to up your electrolyte intake.

Why are electrolytes important during pregnancy?

We know how important electrolytes are for keeping your body working soundly, but why are they so crucial when you’re pregnant?

The importance of hydration during pregnancy is repeated a heck of a lot, with most experts recommending you up your fluid intake to 8-12 cups every day [22].

Adequate hydration is necessary for a healthy pregnancy, as it supports both your and the foetus’s health and helps manage certain pregnancy symptoms, like morning sickness.

It also makes sure your body can tolerate any blood loss you experience during delivery [23]. Electrolytes factor into all of these things because they’re essential for proper hydration.

You also need to remember that hydration is just as crucial if you’re breastfeeding. This is because your body requires more fluids to produce healthy amounts of breastmilk and to replace any nutrients lost through feeding. Experts suggest getting about 16 cups of fluids every day while breastfeeding, which can come from drinks and food [24].

Eating and drinking electrolytes while pregnant

If you’re going to consume electrolytes during pregnancy, you can very easily do so through a healthy diet and by ensuring adequate water intake. 

However, if you’re dehydrated, struggling to maintain the recommended amount of fluid intake or experiencing vomiting and/or diarrhoea, you could consider an electrolyte supplement. When you’re dehydrated, your body needs to rehydrate as quickly as possible — and a supplement will help to replenish any lost fluids in a shorter amount of time.

Kin’s Electrolyte Powder does exactly that, offering potent hydration that keeps your body’s mineral and fluid balance in check while you’re pregnant and breastfeeding. 

With electrolytes like ​​sodium, potassium and chloride, and the nutrient powers of vitamin C, the Electrolyte Powder is your handy sidekick for staying hydrated, healthy and well-equipped to take care of yourself and your newborn bub.

Photo credit: Getty Images

References

  1. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/the-importance-of-hydration/
  2. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002350.htm
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541123/
  4. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diagnostics/21790-electrolytes
  5. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/24019-electrolyte-imbalance
  6. https://www.roswellpark.org/cancertalk/201808/electrolytes-what-are-they-what-happens-if-you-dont-have-enough
  7. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/electrolytes.html
  8. https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-au/home/hormonal-and-metabolic-disorders/electrolyte-balance/hypernatremia-high-level-of-sodium-in-the-blood
  9. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hyponatremia/symptoms-causes/syc-20373711
  10. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/what-hyperkalemia
  11. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17740-low-potassium-levels-in-your-blood-hypokalemia
  12. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14597-hypercalcemia
  13. https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-au/home/hormonal-and-metabolic-disorders/electrolyte-balance/hypocalcemia-low-level-of-calcium-in-the-blood
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549811/
  15. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/magnesium-deficiency
  16. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24293-hyperphosphatemia
  17. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24040-hypophosphatemia
  18. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/001183.htm
  19. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24492-metabolic-acidosis
  20. https://www.scripps.org/news_items/3988-when-to-pick-electrolyte-drinks-over-water
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9108779/
  22. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/experts-and-stories/ask-acog/how-much-water-should-i-drink-during-pregnancy
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1595116/
  24. https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/breastfeeding-and-formula/nursing-your-baby-what-you-eat-and-drink-matters
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