Normally, when you feel achy or that your body needs some rest a heating pad is a great idea. But is it safe to use a heating pad for pain relief during pregnancy? I’m here to tell you that YES you can use one, but it is important that you do it in the right way. So, when is it good to use a heating pad and how can it help your tired pregnant body?
But, how do I know so much about heating pads during pregnancy?
Hi — I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse 👩⚕️. I have been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of OB nursing experience, I am also the curly head behind Pulling Curls and The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. 🩺 I can’t tell you HOW many times I’ve chatted with women about their aches and pains of pregnancy and how they can best alleviate them (an often that is a heating pad).
So, let’s ask the question….
Can You Use a Heating Pad While Pregnant?
Yes, you can use one as long as it doesn’t cover your belly, is at a low heat and only for about 20 minutes. Most people use it tucked to the sides of their belly or on their back which should be fine. Personally, I prefer a microwaveable heating pack that will cool over time rather than staying as hot (or possibly getting hotter).
But, why would you want to use one and what things do you need to watch out for? Let’s dive in a bit deeper so you understand the why‘s moving forward.
Why might it not be safe to use a heating pad during pregnancy?
It’s important to keep in mind that you should minimize increases to your core body temperature during pregnancy, and also not to put direct heat on your baby.
Extensive exposure to high temperatures can potentially lead to birth defects. Therefore, it’s important to avoid things like hot tubs that can increase your core temperature too much. However, brief use of heat pads or heating pads are safe and can provide much-needed relief to aching back muscles. Always make sure the heating pad is not too hot and use it for short periods of time to stay safe during pregnancy.
Can I Use a Heating Pad on My Back During Pregnancy?
During pregnancy your posture has to adjust to accommodate your growing belly, which can lead to back pain with everyday tasks. According to experts, it is generally safe to use a heating pad during pregnancy, as long as certain precautions are taken, especially on your back and hips (and not across your belly).
Pro tip: You can also use a heating pad on isolated parts of your body (let’s say you twist your knee, or you have some inner-thigh pain) that should be fine too — as long as you follow these guidelines:
The American Pregnancy Association recommends that pregnant women use a low-heat setting or a warm compress on their back for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. It is also important to avoid placing the heating pad directly on the abdomen or any area that is sensitive or has decreased sensation.
It is always best to consult with your healthcare provider before using any type of heat therapy during pregnancy, as they can provide personalized recommendations based on your individual needs and health status. Overall, it is safe to use a heating pad on your back during pregnancy, as long as you take the necessary precautions to ensure your safety and the safety of your baby.
As always you still don’t want your core body temperature to rise, which is why the recommend a lower setting vs keeping it on high. And again, why a microwaveable pack might be a better option as it will cool.
If you like easy tips like this that make pregnancy easier, your next step should be to join me in here. It only takes a few hours and you’re going to love how easily it prepares you from bump to bassinet!
Can Pregnant Women Use Heating Pads on Their Stomach?
Pregnant women often experience muscle cramps, especially in the stomach area. This can make it difficult for them to get comfortable or even sleep properly. Some women consider using a heating pad or hot water bottle to alleviate the cramps. However, there is some controversy about whether pregnant women should use heating pads directly on their stomach. While gentle heat can help ease muscle tension and discomfort, too much heat can be harmful to the growing fetus. Therefore, it is advisable for pregnant women to avoid using heating pads directly on their stomach unless they have consulted with their healthcare provider. It may be safer to use a heating pad on other areas of the body, or to use a hot water bottle.
Also, if you are prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy and having abdominal cramping you want to consult your healthcare provider as you could be going into preterm labor. I have a whole post on 24 weeks and cramping that you might find helpful too!
What is the big deal about my body temperature?
I actually don’t see any studies on this, but we DO know that increases in core body temperature can be problematic to the baby during pregnancy. We know this because if you have a fever during pregnancy it can cause issues with the baby. Because of this we don’t recommend pregnant women use too hot of hot tubs (or even too hot in a regular bath), use saunas or heating pads for long periods of time.
If you’re wondering what TOO hot is, please talk with your provider about your specific needs or what you want to do and they can help you find the safest option for you.
But, in general because we already know that increasing core temperature is bad with fevers, there wouldn’t be a study testing how hot is too hot because of the risk of hurting a baby.
I’m Pregnant and Fell Asleep Using a Heating Pad: Should I Worry?
If you are pregnant and have fallen asleep while using a heating pad, it is understandable to feel worried. The use of heating pads during pregnancy is generally safe, but it is important to remember that prolonged exposure to excessive heat can harm the growing fetus. ALso, the heating pad should never be across your abdomen/belly.
Falling asleep while using a heating pad increases the risk of overheating, which could result in dehydration, fatigue, and possibly problems with your pregnancy or baby. If you feel super hot after doing it try to cool yourself off. Remove clothing, drink a few glasses of water, possibly even take a cool shower if you feel very warm to just help re-adjust your core body temperature.
The reality is that you’re likely to fall asleep using a heating pad during pregnancy, so it’s good to have one that either turns off after 20 minutes, or get a microwavable kind (or a hot water bottle) that will cool with time rather than keep its heat going.
Why would you need a heating pad?
A heating pad is a useful tool to have on hand for various ailments. If you experience an ache or pain in a specific area of your body, using a heating pad can help alleviate the discomfort. It works by increasing the blood flow and relaxing tense muscles in the area being treated. There are a few reasons pregnant women love using a heating pad:
- Ligament pain can be helped by allowing those muscles and ligaments to relax with some heat (don’t worry, we’re going to talk more about what that is)
- Back pain from changes in posture or baby can feel great with some heat
- Pregnant women can’t use as many medications for aches and pains, so it’s a good option for you
Remember that it is important to know how to safely use a heating pad. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and do not exceed the recommended length of use or temperature setting. It is also important to be aware that using a heating pad while pregnant requires extra caution, as overheating can be dangerous for the developing fetus.
Therefore, always consult with a healthcare provider before using a heating pad during pregnancy. Overall, a heating pad is a great option for easing discomfort, as long as it is used properly and with caution.
You may think I’m over-doing it with reminding you about how a heating pad is safe, but I just want to make sure everyone knows how to use it safely whether they’re a skimmer or a reader. 🙂
What Kind of Heating Pad Should I Use During Pregnancy?
In general there are 3 types of heating pads:
- Electric heating pad — this obviously plugs in (or charges) and keeps the heat going for a longer period of time something like this.
- Hot water bottle — you’ll fill a sealed container with warm water and use that to relax that area — like this
- Microwaveable — you run this for a certain period of time in the microwave to get warm and then use that against your body to relax like this (or you can make your own, instructions below)
At no point in time should any of them feel “hot” it should just feel warm. Too hot and it could raise your core body temperature.
How to make a microwaveable heating pad?
You can easily make one of these at home!
I have just used an old kitchen towel or use a new one if you’d prefer.
I fill it with rice or wheat berries (I think some people use beans) and then sew the edges closed. Then, test how long is good for it in the microwave. Wheat tends to take a bit longer of heat vs rice, so try it at 1 minute increments until you feel like it’s nice and warm (not hot) and enjoy!
You CAN burn these if you over-do it in your microwave, so be cautious on how long you heat it for!
Using a Heating Pad During Your Pregnancy
As you go through pregnancy there will be specific times a heating pad will be more helpful:
Is a heating pad safe in the first trimester?
Some women have a good amount of cramps in their lower abdomen as the baby is growing and the uterus/organs are shifting to accommodate and want to use a heating pad for pain relief. I would ask your provider, but in general they say to NOT use a heating pad across your abdomen. However, some doctors might be OK with it as baby is still small and you have many layers of muscle, fat, and uterus that is protecting it at this point if you only use warm heat. BUT ask your provider before using it (and you still don’t want to increase your body temperature).
Is a heating pad safe in the second trimester?
The second trimester can be hard on your back! So, many women find relief using it on their back during that stage in pregnancy. But, remember to only use it for about 20 minutes and to only use warm heat, not hot.
Is heating pad safe in the third trimester of pregnancy?
This is the time that things are getting very uncomfortable. While you can’t use a heating pad draped across your belly, you can use it bunched up on the sides where ligaments can be painful. It’s one of my favorite home remedies for sore ligaments.
But again, only 20 minutes on at a time, not across your belly, and WARM heat, not hot.
How can a heating pad help round ligament pain?
The round ligaments help connect your uterus to your body and keep it all in position. As you move, cough, sneeze, laugh too hard, get up to quickly those ligaments can feel over-stretched and VERY painful at times. Heat can help them, and the muscles they attach to to relax and feel less painful.
Your ligaments attach at the edges of your uterus, so you can use a heating pad or water bottle at the EDGES of your uterus (not draped across it) or below your uterus as it attaches to your pelvis there.
But again (can I say this enough), no more than 20 minutes, not across your belly and WARM heat, not hot.
Ok, hopefully this article helped you to know that a heating pad IS safe to use during pregnancy, as long as you use the heating pad correctly:
- NOT across your belly
- Less than 20 minutes (or pick one that cools down with time)
- WARM heat, not hot (so pick a low setting if you’re using something like that).
And, abdominal pains should be discussed with your provider so you can be sure it’s not your uterus acting up vs something else.
If you’d like to prepare more simply for your pregnancy, come join me in The Online Prenatal Class for Couples where we prepare you in just a few hours from bump to bassinet!
And, if you’re not quite sure you’re ready for that whole thing, check out my free prenatal class. It’s your first step toward getting in the driver’s seat of your birth.
- About the Author
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A nurse since 1997, she has worked in various fields including pediatrics, geriatrics & hospice.
She has 20 years of labor and delivery experience in the San Jose, CA and Phoenix, AZ areas.
She is also the curly head behind the website Pulling Curls and is the creator of The Online Prenatal Class for Couples — the #1 hospital-based prenatal class on the internet.