One of the most common pieces of advice people having contractions will hear is, “Drink a glass of water and see what happens.” But what does drinking water actually do for you?
When people say this, they are working from a belief that dehydration can precipitate contractions or preterm labor. And when we look at the logic, this makes a lot of sense. But there are a few key clarifications that can get lost in the conversation. And today, National Hydration Day (June 23), seems like a great day for us to chat about those important things to remember. So grab yourself a glass of water, and let’s talk about contractions.
The reasoning behind dehydration causing contractions rests on hormones. Oxytocin and other labor-inducing hormones move around around your body in your blood. Since your blood can get more concentrated when you are dehydrated, it makes sense that being dehydrated could result in a higher concentration of hormones, which might trigger contractions and labor even before baby is full term. And indeed, we see that Braxton Hicks (“practice contractions”) often lessen after drinking water, and, on the flip side, that doing physical exercise while dehydrated can lead to an increase in contractions – practice or otherwise.
For this reason, people recommend you drink water if you’re experiencing contractions, from Braxton Hicks to full-on preterm labor. But contractions and preterm labor are not necessarily the same thing, and here’s where drinking water can have different results.
If someone shows up to Labor & Delivery for preterm labor, “Rehydration is the first line of defense“. But this may not be an evidence-informed protocol. In fact, one study from 2016 found that patients who went to Labor & Delivery because they were concerned about preterm labor were just as likely to be dehydrated than those who did not have preterm labor to the point of needing to go to the hospital. Further, a 2013 Cochrane review of two studies found no evidence that IV hydration was helpful in preventing or stopping preterm labor (it’s important to note that these reviews did not look at whether people drank water in addition to receiving water through an IV). So the evidence we have (which, to be very clear, is scant) doesn’t seem to indicate that being dehydrated starts preterm labor or that getting hydrated stops it.
But keep in mind that these studies are just looking at preterm labor, not at contractions, so advice to stay hydrated is still very evidence-based. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends pregnant women drink 64-96 oz of water daily (that works out to between 8 and 12 cups). If your contractions are practice contractions, water might soothe them. And if you are experiencing labor contractions, it’s probably even more important to get a lot of water, as your body may soon start producing breastmilk, your provider may limit your liquid intake during labor, and labor may cause you to sweat or lose liquids in other ways. Further, to the best of our current knowledge, drinking water can help ensure a healthy amount of amniotic fluid, and being hydrated (especially by both receiving an IV and drinking) might actually reduce the amount of time labor takes! So even if drinking a glass of water won’t stop preterm labor, it is very likely a great idea.
If you’re concerned about whether you might be dehydrated, check out this list of symptoms and call your medical care provider.