Is It Safe to Use a Heating Pad While Pregnant?
Pregnancy comes with all sorts of aches and discomforts—from implantation cramps to round ligament pain and everything in between. And when a pang hits, you’ll try just about anything to feel better fast. Of course, some of the tools and tricks you’d reach for pre-pregnancy may not be safe or recommended now that you’ve got a baby on board. So can you use a heating pad while pregnant—or should you steer clear of the beloved warming device? Suffice it to say that while you’ll want to avoid excessive heat during pregnancy, a localized heating pad is just fine. Ready to get some relief? Here’s what you need to know.
A heating pad is a go-to home remedy to help with aches, cramps and pains. “Superficial heat with a heating pad or warmed rice pack is a tried-and-true therapy for all sorts of musculoskeletal discomforts,” says Julie Lamppa, APRN, CNM, a certified nurse-midwife at the Mayo Clinic.
Warmth from a heating pad causes blood vessels to open, bringing additional blood, oxygen and nutrients to the affected areas, explains Lamppa. It can also help improve your range of motion, giving you more flexibility in your joints. To this end, heating pads can be especially helpful for hard-to-stretch areas, like your back and hips, notes Kjersti Aagaard, MD, PhD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine.
“Can I use a heating pad while pregnant?” It’s a common safety question from many a pregnant person, and we’ve got good news: Yes, you can use a heating pad while you’re pregnant. But it’s understandable if you still have some concerns.
Some research indicates that excessive heat exposure during pregnancy could raise the risk of birth defects of the brain, spine or spinal cord. Lamppa explains that there’s a higher potential of structural damage to a growing embryo if and when a pregnant person’s core body temperature reaches 102 degrees Fahrenheit. (For the record, this is why doctors advise against going in a hot tub during pregnancy.) But a heating pad is “superficial and localized, making it extremely unlikely to raise core temperature to an alarming level,” says Lamppa. Still, if you’re nervous about it, she advises avoiding usage in the first few weeks of your pregnancy and keeping the device’s temperature set below 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Can you use a heating pad on your back while pregnant?
Got an aching back? You should be just fine using a heating pad on your back while you’re pregnant. “Back pain in pregnancy is probably one of the most universal complaints, and heat can be extremely helpful,” Lamppa says.
Keep in mind that, while it’s less common than random pregnancy pains, back pain could indicate a kidney infection or be a sign of preterm labor. If you think you may be having more than normal discomfort, call your doctor or seek immediate care.
Can you use a heating pad on your stomach while pregnant?
Again, heating pads are safe during pregnancy. The big concern would be anything that can raise your core body temperature too high, and a heating pad won’t do that.
If the cramps or pain seems to originate in your uterus, reach out to your doctor or midwife to make sure there’s no major cause for concern.
Using a heating pad while pregnant can certainly give you some relief from aches and pains. But if it’s not giving you the comfort you need, there are other options to try, including:
Lamppa says that physical therapy can also be helpful when other forms of self-care aren’t alleviating the pain, and it’s becoming more intense. You can also try taking acetaminophen, but talk to your doctor before turning to any medications.
If you’re experiencing discomfort during pregnancy and you aren’t getting adequate relief from home remedies—or if the pain is severe or seems to be getting worse—talk to your doctor. They should be able to help guide you on next steps. In the meantime, using a heating pad during pregnancy isn’t a problem.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.
Kjersti Aagaard, MD, PhD, is a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine. She earned her medical degree from the University of Minnesota Medical School.
Julie Lamppa, APRN, CNM, is a certified nurse-midwife at the Mayo Clinic, where she also serves as a clinical instructor. She is also the author of Obstetricks: Mayo Clinic Tips and Tricks for Pregnancy, Birth and More.
Birth Defects Research (Part A), Maternal use of hot tub and major structural birth defects, June 2011
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