Can You Use a Heating Pad When Pregnant?

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Heating pads offer a viable alternative to over-the-counter or prescription medication during pregnancy. Heat is a simple solution to a whole range of aches and pains including muscle and joint pain, which is very common during pregnancy. Muscle spasms and backache are two of the most common complaints during all trimesters of pregnancy, and traditional painkillers are a last resort.

But can you use a heating pad when pregnant? Doctors have often recommended avoiding activities like Jacuzzis and saunas when you are pregnant, because raising your core body temperature can be linked to increased risks of congenital disabilities and miscarriages. 

However, a heating pad works in a very different way creating heat in isolated areas, that are unlikely to affect your core temperature and are generally considered to be safe for use during pregnancy.

It is always worth seeking advice from your doctor before undertaking any pain reduction methods during pregnancy, and that is no different when looking at the use of a heating pad when pregnant.

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Benefits of Heating pads

Both heat and ice are common forms of pain relief, and this is no different during pregnancy, as they are natural, noninvasive and could reduce the need for ingesting more powerful traditional pain relief such as ibuprofen.

Pain such as backaches, aching hips and joints are very common during pregnancy as your body is undergoing many changes to accommodate the baby, while your body is also getting used to carrying the extra weight and flood of hormones.

Heating pads work by increasing blood flow to a specific area, which brings oxygen and nutrients, helping to reduce inflammation and ease sore muscles that may have gone into spasm. Muscle cramps are also a common occurrence in pregnancy with over half of all pregnant women experiencing cramps in the legs or back at some point.

Heating pads can play a useful role in relaxing tight muscles and improving flexibility, which in turn reduces pain. Overall this is a fantastic way to relieve these symptoms during pregnancy.

Safety Precautions

Many women are cautious about using heat for pain relief on the stomach, and the lower back as this area is more directly related to the position of the baby. 

However, there is no evidence to suggest that heating pads can raise body temperature to critical levels and it is core temperature and not isolated skin temperature that you need to be concerned about.

Using a heating pad is not like sitting in a sauna, as the heat is isolated to the area of the pad, leaving the rest of your body to regulate its temperature to the correct level.

Conversely, in a sauna or hot tub, the whole of your body is subjected to a rise in temperature, which may be harmful to your baby especially in the first trimester. For this reason, it is considered safe to use heating pads during pregnancy as it will not raise your core temperature. It is, however, worth implementing some guidelines to maximize safety and effectiveness.

  • Limit the use of heat during the first trimester as this is proven to be the most sensitive time for heat damage
  • Use the lowest heat setting on the device which is usually around 105° F
  • Try and stick to 20-minute maximum sessions
  • Avoid using combined sources of heat. For example, don't use a hairdryer while sitting with a heating pad on your back, as this dual heat source could affect your core temperature
  • Never fall asleep and try to buy a heating pad with a timer setting
  • Use a thin cotton towel between the skin and the pad
  • If the baby’s behavior changes at any time, such as excessive movement, stop use and seek your doctor's advice.
  • NB: If in doubt at any time seek your doctor's advice
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Combined Heat and Pain Relief

Heating pads are not for everyone, and some people simply don’t benefit from a heating pad the way others do. If you are one of the few people that need a bit of an extra kick to reduce your symptoms, some of the following techniques may be beneficial for you.

When you combine any of the following techniques with a heating pad, you may just experience the enhanced pain relief you are looking for.

  • Meditation has been a proven technique to reduce stress in a mindful way, which in turn can help the body relax and work in a preventative manner, relieving aches and pains
  • Breathing techniques are one of the essential natural pain-relieving methods that you will learn to master during pregnancy and childbirth. When combined with mild heat to specific localized areas of the body, this can be an effective method of treating muscle spasms and pain
  • Exercise and stretching is a good base for the treatment of all neuromuscular complaints as it keeps the body functioning and moving the way it is designed to do. Light exercise during pregnancy is very beneficial, and light stretching helps the body accommodate to the stresses and strains that the extra weight is putting on your muscles. Stretching specific areas such as your lower back are much more effective when they are warm, and a heating pad is an effective way to target those areas
  • Massage is one of the best ways to soothe aching muscles and spasms and has been practiced for centuries. Again, the addition of targeted heat to massage can be a really beneficial practice.

Conclusion

Using a heating pad while pregnant is a very beneficial way to relieve some of the symptoms commonly associated with pregnancy such as aches, pains and muscle spasm.

Heat therapy when used sensibly and with care is a fantastic natural remedy that will be a godsend during your pregnancy.  As with all activities and treatments we recommend you discuss them with your doctor or prenatal practitioner for detailed direction.

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