Is It Safe To Use a Heating Pad During Pregnancy?
Dr. Angel Rivera
Your body is changing, and your baby is growing. Along with all the growth and change come aches and pains unlike you’ve ever experienced.
Because you’re pregnant, dealing with pain is a little more complicated. Some pain medications aren’t suggested for use while you are pregnant.
Experiencing back aches, hip pain, and lower extremity achiness can make your days long and your nights restless.
We’ll cover what’s causing the pregnancy pain and what you can do to get relief and better rest.
What Causes Pain During Pregnancy?
Almost every pregnant person will experience some level of pain during their pregnancy. Although it’s normal, it can be frustrating.
There are several reasons why pain is so common for pregnant people.
Your hormones change during your pregnancy and help relax the ligaments and tendons in your pelvic area so you can deliver a baby.
This relaxation is important, but unfortunately, it isn’t localized. The ligaments and tendons all over your body are relaxing, including those supporting your spine, hips, and legs.
When your tendons and ligaments weaken, it puts more stress on your bones and muscles to support your weight, resulting in aches and pains.
Shifting Center of Gravity
As your baby grows, your center of gravity changes and pulls you forward, exerting more pressure on your back and creating a shift in your posture that can lead to aches and pains.
This change usually happens later in your pregnancy, as your baby grows larger.
It’s normal to gain between 25 and 30 pounds while pregnant if you were within a healthy weight range before becoming pregnant.
Additional weight can cause your joints to ache and create more pressure on your back.
Maintaining a healthy weight will help you avoid unnecessary pain or additional stress on your back.
What Are the Most Common Types of Pregnancy Pain?
Your pregnant body is under more stress than it has likely ever experienced. It’s normal to experience different pains in different places.
Here are some of the most common.
Pregnancy Back Pain
One of the most common complaints made by pregnant people is back pain.
Nearly 50-70 percent of all pregnant people will experience back pain during their pregnancy. While back pain is most common in the last trimester as your baby grows, it’s possible to experience it earlier.
As your baby grows and you gain more weight, there is added pressure and strain on your spine and the muscles that support it, which results in the pain you feel across your lower and mid-back.
It isn’t uncommon to experience hip and pelvic pain during pregnancy.
The softening ligaments in this area will make it possible for you to deliver your baby, but they will also make it harder for your hips and pelvis to support the weight of your body and uterus as your belly grows.
Hip pain is also common while sleeping. If you are used to sleeping on your back, for instance, sleeping on your side can cause more pressure on your hips, resulting in pain.
Leg and Foot Pain
Aching calves, feet, and knees are also normal during pregnancy. Because of the added weight from your expanding uterus and natural weight gain from pregnancy, there is an increased load on your legs.
Combined with softer tendons and ligaments, it is natural to experience aches and pains and swollen ankles and feet.
Muscle cramps and spasms are fairly common during pregnancy, affecting about half of all pregnant people.
These tend to manifest in the legs, but cramps and spasms in the back and abdomen are also possible.
How Does a Heating Pad Work?
Heating pads widen blood vessels to increase blood flow to the affected area.
This blood flow carries fresh oxygen and nutrients to these areas, reducing pain, soothing soreness, and relaxing muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Heating pads offer localized pain management, which means the treatment is limited only to the affected area, unlike pain medication, which circulates throughout your entire body.
Are Heating Pads Safe To Use During Pregnancy?
You’ve probably heard that keeping your core body temperature regulated while pregnant is important. As such, you know to avoid hot saunas and scorching baths. So is a heating pad safe?
The answer is yes — using a heating pad during pregnancy. It’s an excellent non-medicinal way to manage pregnancy aches and pains.
Heating pads do not raise your core body temperature like submersion in a hot tub or bath can.
Because some pain medications are not safe for use during pregnancy, using heat therapy can be a way of getting relief (and probably helping you sleep better).
How Can I Safely Use a Heating Pad While Pregnant?
Heating pads are safe to use while pregnant, but you still need to follow a few simple rules to ensure safety.
- Unless your heating pad has a cover of its own, always cover your heating pad with a thin dishtowel. Covering the pad can help you avoid burns or irritation on the skin.
- Only use a heating pad for 20 to 30 minutes. Some heating pads have switch-off mechanisms that turn them off after several hours, but the benefits of a heating pad on sore muscles and joints do not extend past the 30-minute mark. Using it for too long can cause inflammation because the dilated blood vessels bring inflammatory cells to the area receiving heat.
- Never sleep with a heating pad. You could risk burning your skin or electrical damage to the heating pad itself.
- Don’t forget to turn it off. “Pregnancy brain” is a real thing, so if you are afraid you’ll forget to turn your heating pad off, set a timer on your phone or a clock to remind you to switch it off.
Can You Use a Heating Pad on Your Belly?
You’ll need to contact your doctor if you want to use a heating pad on your belly.
While it is probably safe, there is concern that using a heating pad on your abdomen could mask any pain that needs medical attention.
During pregnancy, it isn’t uncommon to experience pains around your midsection.
Round ligament pain, for instance, can start during the first trimester. Two long, rope-like ligaments support your uterus. As your uterus grows with your baby, these ligaments stretch and expand, which can cause sharp, shooting pains.
Normally, round ligament pain is not continuous, so using a heating pad would not be beneficial for getting relief.
Other abdominal aches and pains could indicate an issue with your pregnancy that requires medical attention. Contact your healthcare provider if you experience:
- Severe cramping
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pain while urinating
These symptoms could indicate a life-threatening emergency or an issue with your pregnancy that needs immediate attention.
If your abdominal discomfort is normal but still painful, try moving around, going for a walk, or soaking in a warm (but not too hot) tub.
What Are Other Ways To Get Relief From Pregnancy Pain?
In addition to heat therapy, these remedies can help you send pain packing and get relief and better rest.
Walking is an excellent way to help rid your body of aches and pains and keep your joints limber.
Unless your doctor has told you it isn’t safe to exercise, walking 10 to 15 minutes daily can help increase blood flow to your muscles, release endorphins, and keep your joints from becoming stiff and inflexible.
Prenatal yoga is a form of yoga that encourages stretching, breathing, and mental clarity. It can help keep your muscles loose and help ease discomfort while you are pregnant.
Strengthening your core muscles can also help you have an easier delivery. Breathing techniques can help you work through painful aches.
A Warm Bath
It’s best to avoid a hot tub and a jacuzzi, but a warm bath is safe while you are pregnant. A bath can be beneficial if you struggle with round ligament pain.
The weightless feeling you experience in the water can help ease the stress on your back and pelvis and alleviate pain.
Just be sure the water temperature does not rise over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and that you don’t stay in longer than 20 minutes.
Normally, you won’t need ice for sore muscles, but if you have pulled a muscle, alternating ice and heat can help reduce inflammation and ease discomfort.
Make sure you wrap an ice pack in a thin dish towel before use and only keep it on your skin for 20 minutes.
Ice is appropriate to use when you are experiencing swelling.
You might find it comfortable to use a wrapped ice pack on your feet at the end of the day or on your ankles if you are experiencing swelling.
Supporting a Healthy Pregnancy
A healthy pregnancy usually has plenty of aches and pains, but there are steps you can take to reduce your discomfort.
Using a heating pad is a safe way to get relief, and you can use it in combination with other pain-relieving techniques like the ones mentioned above.