Can You Use A Heating Pad During Pregnancy?

✔ Research-backed

Applying heat to a specific body area can help in soothing muscle tension and relieve pain. Perhaps that’s why several women turn to a heating pad during pregnancy to eliminate cramps and aches. A heating pad is an electric or manual device, such as a heating pad fillable with hot water, which can be used to relieve aches in specific body parts. Electric and microwavable heating pads typically contain a cushion filled with materials such as electric coils, gel, or heat-absorbent material. It comes in different shapes and sizes to suit various body areas. While using a heating pad is generally considered safe, knowing some precautions can ensure its safety for pregnant women and their unborn babies.

Keep reading to discover the benefits and risks of using a heating pad during pregnancy, along with safety tips and alternative options.

In This Article

Can You Use A Heating Pad During Pregnancy?

Using a heating pad during pregnancy is generally safe for temporary pain relief. To safely use a heating pad, use it on the lowest heat setting and avoid placing it directly on the skin or the abdomen (1). Remember, a heating pad on isolated body parts will not raise your core body temperature. Still, consult your obstetrician before using a heating pad during pregnancy to ensure its safety for you and your baby.

When To Use A Heating Pad?

Heating pad is an electric or a manual device

Image: Shutterstock

During pregnancy, it is common for women to experience various aches and pains. You may use a heating pad to relieve (2) (3):

  • Back pain
  • Round ligament painiA sharp or stabbing pain in the lower abdomen caused by the stretching and contracting of the round ligaments supporting the uterus during pregnancy.
  • Pelvic girdle painiA condition characterized by pain and discomfort in the pelvic region.
  • Leg and knee pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Headaches

protip_icon Quick tip
Take regular breaks while using a heating pad to avoid overheating a particular area. Overheating may irritate the skin or even cause burns.

Benefits Of Using A Heating Pad

Using a heating pad during pregnancy can provide several benefits to pregnant women. Some of these include:

  1. Relieve muscle aches and cramps: Pregnant women often experience muscle aches and cramps, particularly in the lower back and legs. Applying a heating pad to affected areas can help in the relaxation of tense muscles and reduce pain perception. However, it’s important to consult your doctor in case of constant pain and possible contractions (4)(19).
  2. Ease back pain: Back pain due to the added weight and strain on the lower back is common during pregnancy. You can apply a heating pad for 10 to 15 minutes at a time for optimal comfort and to ease the pain. However, it’s important to seek your doctor’s advice to ensure its safety based on your gestational age and overall health (1) (5).
  3. Reduce tension: Heat increases the blood flow to the affected area, alleviating joint stiffness and muscle spasm. Reduced stiffness, in turn, helps relax the muscles and ease the pain (6).
Using heating pad when pregnant can help ease back pain

Image: IStock

Relaxing sore muscles and easing joint pain makes it easier for pregnant women to fall asleep. Sound sleep and optimum rest are essential to maintain proper health during gestation.

Safety Tips To Follow While Using Heating Pads

Avoid placing the heating pad on your belly

Image: Shutterstock

When using a heating pad, exercising caution, staying aware of potential risks and adhering to safety guidelines is vital to ensure your and your unborn baby’s safety and to receive proper prenatal care. Some essential tips to keep in mind includee (7):

  • Never place the heating pad on your belly.
  • Do not sleep while the heating pad is on.
  • Wrap the heating pad with a cloth or use a cover for it, before using it on your body.
  • Do not put a heating pad on an area that has numbness.
  • Drink plenty of water when using a heating pad, as prolonged use may cause dehydration.
  • Never leave a heating pad unattended on or near flammable materials.

protip_icon Do remember
Never reheat a microwaveable grain- or wheat-based heating bag unless it is completely cold, as reheating a partially warm bag can cause uneven heating.

Safer Alternatives To Heating Pads

While using a heating pad is beneficial in relieving aches and pains, its prolonged use can raise the risk of overheating. Here are some pregnancy-safe ways to manage pain and aches in different body parts.

For back pain (8) (9):

Placing a pillow under knees while sleeping can relieve back pain

Image: Shutterstock

  • Use support devices such as bracesiDevices that are worn to support and align the spine to help alleviate back pain.
  • Place a pillow under the knees while sleeping
  • Take help from a chiropractor or massage therapist

For round ligament pain (10):

  • Get ample rest and change positions at regular intervals
  • Flex the hips to reduce the pull on the ligaments
  • Perform stretching exercises
  • Consult a doctor if the pain persists and interferes with daily activities

For pelvic girdle pain (11) (3):

Taking pregnancy-safe medication to relieve pelvic girdle pain

Image: Shutterstock

For headaches (13):

  • Get a massage and take ample rest
  • Use over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)i A class of medications that help in reducing inflammation and pain.  such as paracetamol
  • Consult the doctor in case the headaches get severe, over time

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can the heat affect my unborn baby?

Using heating pads during pregnancy is generally considered safe when used in moderation and on a low setting. However, prolonged heating pad use, especially for the abdominal pain, may raise the core body temperature and adversely affect the fetal development. Some studies have shown that a pregnant woman’s exposure to elevated temperatures might be associated with the baby’s low birth weight and preterm birth (14). However, more clinical studies are warranted to understand if prolonged exposure to a heating pad can adversely affect fetal outcomes.

2. Can I use deep heat on my back when pregnant?

It is generally not recommended to use deep heat therapy during pregnancy. However, you can speak to your obstetrician or midwife to determine its safety specific to your needs and overall health (15).

3. Can a heating pad cause birth defects?

A cohort study revealed that women’s exposure to a hot tub or sauna during pregnancy might increase the chances of neural tube defectsiA group of birth defects that affects a fetus’ brain and spinal cord development. in the fetus (16). However, no clinical evidence exists to show that using heating pads might lead to congenital disabilities.

4. When to avoid using heating pads?

Expecting women should not use a heating pad on an open wound, numb areas, or during a fever as it might lead to overheating (17) (18).

A heating pad is a convenient device that provides warmth to localized areas and helps alleviate discomfort and pain. Generally, using a heating pad during pregnancy is considered safe. However, consulting a doctor before use is essential to avert its potential risks. A doctor can guide you about the different types of heating pads and their correct usage as per your need. Besides, they can share the safety measures you should follow to safely and effectively ease stiffness, tension, cramps, and aches using this commodious heat therapy form.

Infographic: Relieving Pain During Pregnancy Without Heating Pads

During pregnancy, a woman’s body undergoes several changes that can cause discomfort and pain. A heating pad, in such cases, can provide temporary relief conveniently. However, some women may be unable to use it due to medical conditions or other reasons. In such cases, they would need to look for safer alternatives. The following infographic lists alternative options for a heating pad would-be moms can safely use.

relieving pain during pregnancy without heating pads (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • A heating pad is an electric or microwaveable device that uses heat to provide relief from muscle or joint stiffness and pain.
  • Expecting women should use a heating pad on the lowest possible heat setting to prevent overheating.
  • Using a towel or other barrier between the heating pad and the skin can help reduce the risk of burns.
  • Braces and massage are a few safer alternatives to opt for when heating pad use is deemed unsafe.
Heating pad while pregnant_illustration

Image: Dalle E/MomJunction Design Team

References

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Back Pain During Pregnancy
    https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/back-pain-during-pregnancy
  2. Aches and pains during pregnancy
    https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000580.htm
  3. Pelvic pain in pregnancy
    https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/pelvic-pain/
  4. Hot & Cold Therapy
    https://www.beaumont.org/treatments/hot-cold-therapy
  5. Use Heat or Ice to Relieve Low Back Pain
    https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health-wellness/health-encyclopedia/he.use-heat-or-ice-to-relieve-low-back-pain.hw47901#:~:text=You%20may%20also%20want%20to,for%2010%20to%2015%20minutes.
  6. Ice Packs vs. Warm Compresses For Pain
    https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/ice-packs-vs-warm-compresses-for-pain
  7. Back Pain During Pregnancy
    https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/back-pain-during-pregnancy/
  8. Some ways to ease back pain during pregnancy
    https://news.sanfordhealth.org/womens/back-pain-during-pregnancy/
  9. Round Ligament Pain During Pregnancy
    https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-complications/round-ligament-pain-during-pregnancy/
  10. Pelvic pain in pregnancy
    https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/pelvic-pain-during-pregnancy#relieve
  11. Malaika Babb et al.; (2010); Treating pain during pregnancy
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2809170/
  12. Headache and migraine remedies that are safe during pregnancy
    https://utswmed.org/medblog/headache-migraine-pregnancy/
  13. Using Cold and Heat Therapies
    https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health-wellness/health-encyclopedia/he.using-cold-and-heat-therapies.acn6587
  14. Louisa Samuels et al.; (2022); Physiological mechanisms of the impact of heat during pregnancy and the clinical implications: review of the evidence from an expert group meeting.
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00484-022-02301-6
  15. Pelvic Health Physiotherapy Antenatal Advice for Women Experiencing Back or Pelvic Pain
    https://www.esht.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/0832.pdf
  16. A Milunsky et al.; Maternal heat exposure and neural tube defects
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1640616/
  17. When to Apply Ice Vs. Heat Packs
    https://www.hackensackmeridianhealth.org/en/HealthU/2019/11/14/strains-sprains-chronic-pain-when-to-apply-ice-versus-heat-packs#.Y8qBDXZBzIV
  18. Treating Sports Injuries with Ice and Heat
    https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/injuries-emergencies/sports-injuries/Pages/Treating-Sports-Injuries-with-Ice-and-Heat.aspx
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Dr. Swati Chitnis is a gynecologist and endoscopic surgeon with over 8 years of experience. She did her bachelor in medicine at BJ Medical College & Sassoon Hospital, Pune, India  and MS at the prestigious King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. Dr. Chitnis has numerous publications to her name in national and international journals and extensive experience in high risk pregnancy....read full bio