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DURHAM, N.C. -- Pregnancy can be a wonderful and stressful experience any time of the year, but during the summer months, women should take extra steps to avoid complications, according to obstetrician/gynecologists at Duke University Medical Center.

According to Amy Murtha, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Maternal and Fetal Medicine in Duke's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, pregnant women should be careful not to get too hot and should drink enough fluids to stay hydrated.

"In the summer, women who don't drink enough can get dizzy, light-headed and have headaches," Murtha said. "We generally recommend that women drink between six to eight eight-ounce glasses of juice or water each day to avoid any potential problems. If they don't, they can put themselves at risk for complications."

As the pregnancy progresses, women who get dehydrated may increase their chances of experiencing pre-term contractions. Pregnant women should also avoid extended exposure to the sun during the summer, even though the warm weather is enticing, Murtha said. Hours in the sun can lead to overheating that can harm the fetus. Body temperature, taken under the arm, should not exceed 101 degrees Fahrenheit, she said. Pregnant women should also avoid hot tubs since they can cause the core body temperature to rise quickly.

These precautions, however, do not mean that women should forego exercise. During the first trimester, most exercise is safe as long as women pay attention to their bodies and stop when they get tired, Murtha said. But as the pregnancy progresses, Murtha recommends women swim rather than run or bike.

In addition to summertime precautions, women should take other steps to keep their pregnancy healthy and minimize the risk of birth defects. All vaccinations should be up-to-date to avoid infections, including influenza and Hepatitis B vaccines, Murtha said.

Women can also help prevent neural tube defects in their babies by conscientiously taking prenatal vitamins daily. A 400 microgram per day dose of folic acid can guard against spina bifida, congenital heart disease, spinal defects, miscarriage and still birth.