Applying heat to a specific body area can help soothe 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.
Can You Use A Heating Pad During Pregnancy?
Using a heating pad during pregnancy is generally safe for temporary relief from pains. 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 healthcare provider before using a heating pad during pregnancy to ensure its safety for you and your baby.
When To Use A Heating Pad?
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 painiXA 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 painiXA condition characterized by pain and discomfort in the pelvic region.
- Leg and knee pain
- Shoulder pain
Benefits Of Using A Heating Pad
Using a heating pad during pregnancy can provide several benefits to pregnant women. Some of these include:
- 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 tense muscles relax and reduce pain perception (4).
- 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 to relax the muscles and ease the pain (1) (5).
- 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).
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 pregnancy.
Safety Tips To Follow While Using Heating Pads
When using a heating pad during pregnancy, staying aware of potential risks and adhering to safety guidelines is vital to ensure your and your unborn baby’s safety. Some essential tips to keep in mind include (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.
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.
- Use support devices such as bracesiXDevices 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):
- Take pregnancy-safe pain-relief medications (12)
- Use a pelvic support garment
For headaches (13):
- Get a massage and take ample rest
- Use over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)iX A class of medications that help in reducing inflammation and pain. such as ibuprofen or aspirin (during the first trimester)
- 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 in the abdominal area, may raise the core body temperature and adversely affect the unborn baby. 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 defectsiXA 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?
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.
- 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.
- Back Pain During Pregnancy
- Aches and pains during pregnancy
- Pelvic pain in pregnancy
- Hot & Cold Therapy
- Use Heat or Ice to Relieve Low Back Pain
- Ice Packs vs. Warm Compresses For Pain
- Back Pain During Pregnancy
- Some ways to ease back pain during pregnancy
- Round Ligament Pain During Pregnancy
- Pelvic pain in pregnancy
- Malaika Babb et al.; (2010); Treating pain during pregnancy
- Headache and migraine remedies that are safe during pregnancy
- Using Cold and Heat Therapies
- 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.
- Pelvic Health Physiotherapy Antenatal Advice for Women Experiencing Back or Pelvic Pain
- A Milunsky et al.; Maternal heat exposure and neural tube defects
- When to Apply Ice Vs. Heat Packs
- Treating Sports Injuries with Ice and Heat