Expert Advice

Is it safe to use a heating pad while pregnant?

Expert advice from a midwife.

Using heat to relieve aches and pains can be a great relief, but what if you're pregnant? Is it safe to use heat pads and packs when your body is already acting as an incubator?

There's no denying that pregnancy brings with it a bunch of aches, pains and spasms as your body goes through the changes it needs in order to grow another human, but with all advice warning mums-to-be to avoid prolonged heat exposure in baths, spas and saunas, worrying about heat pads as a remedy is a natural query.

Using heat packs in pregnancy

Midwife and Philips Avent ambassador, Liz Wilkes suggests using caution when using heat for comfort during pregnancy.

"Women should avoid becoming overheated during pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester. So, the answer to the whether using heat packs is safe question is 'it depends'," says Wilkes.

"If a heat pad will increase the mother's temperature overall, then they should be avoided. However if they are for localised relief of muscular aches and pains they are very useful."

Midwife and Philips Avent ambassador, Liz Wilkes says heat packs can be very useful if used correctly. *Image: Supplied.*
Midwife and Philips Avent ambassador, Liz Wilkes says heat packs can be very useful if used correctly. Image: Supplied.

Heat therapy works by opening up the blood vessels which increases blood flow. That means fresh blood with the nutrients and oxygen it brings, gets to the places it needs to be, easing pain and soreness in joints and muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Localised heat therapy is great, non-invasive way to find comfort in specific areas like back, hips, joints and muscles during your pregnancy.

However you should avoid using a heat pack anywhere on your abdomen while pregnant.

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The aches and pains of pregnancy

Muscle cramps, joint pain, back pain … they're all part of the package when it comes to pregnant life. Not many of us escape. And there's no wonder, when you think about what is going on.

Hormone levels rise, your posture is compromised as your centre of gravity shifts and the weight you're carrying around goes up as your little bundle of joy grows in utero.

However, while some niggles are normal, you should always speak with your midwife or doctor if you're concerned about the twinges you're feeling.

While some abdominal pains – like those from gas, round ligament pain and sometimes constipation are to be expected, others can be an indication of something more serious that requires medical attention.

Seek urgent medical help if any you experience any abdominal pain which includes:

  • Bleeding or spotting
  • Fever or chills
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Severe itching
  • Discomfort while urinating

Avoid using a heat pack on your abdominal area during pregnancy. *Image: Getty*
Avoid using a heat pack on your abdominal area during pregnancy. Image: Getty

How to use a heat pack in pregnancy

Heat packs come in a variety of forms – microwavable, electric, hot water bottles. If you have questions about a specific heating item, seek medical advice before using.

When using a heat pack during pregnancy there are some basic guidelines that should be followed to keep you and baby safe.

  • Don't use heat packs in a way that will raise your core temperature
  • Avoid using heat packs on your abdominal area
  • Don't apply heat for longer than 10-15 minutes
  • Avoid applying a heat pack directly onto your skin, instead use it over clothing or with a towel or fabric in between your skin and the heat
  • Don't use a heat pack while sleeping
  • If a temperature choice is available, use the lowest setting

Heat packs during labour and childbirth

Non-addictive and non-invasive, heat packs are a common way to manage pain during labour and childbirth.

"Many women will use heat packs in early labour for pain relief," says Wilkes. "This is also completely safe and a drug-free way to manage labour."

During pregnancy and labour, if you feel significant pain in your abdomen or back, especially if your symptoms worsen, skip the heating pad and speak to your medical team.

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