Risks of Using a Heating Pad During Pregnancy

By Arwen R. Petty
Heating pads are a great way to relieve pain associated with pregnancy, but only when used correctly.
Heating pads are a great way to relieve pain associated with pregnancy, but only when used correctly.

Pregnancy is one of the most exciting and life-changing times of a woman's life, and one that presents myriad questions, concerns and challenges. As a woman's body adapts to the growing baby within, she experiences increased stress on joints and muscles, particularly in the back, legs and feet. Experts recommend that pregnant women avoid submerging themselves in heated water to alleviate soreness; increasing the overall body temperature can harm the fetus. However, with proper use, heating pads provide a safe alternative for pain relief.

Increasing the Womb's Temperature

Placing a heating pad on the abdomen can cause the body's core temperature to rise and is not recommended for pregnant women, according to the March of Dimes. Increasing the internal temperature heightens the risk of miscarriage, neural tube defects and spina bifada, says obstetrician Russell Turk. If you are experiencing prolonged soreness or severe pain in your abdominal area, contact your physician immediately. Although it is often merely a symptom of exhaustion and physical stress, this could be a sign of a uterine rupture, placental issues or early labor, according to JustMommies.com.

Electromagnetic Fields

Heating pads that plug in to electrical outlets emit electromagnetic fields (EMFs), a type of low-level radiation. These magnetic charges emanate from the heat-controlling cords that run through the pad, and can penetrate the skin and other tissues. Some medical research indicates that routine exposure to these fields increases the risk of miscarriage and complications during birth. Invest in a battery-operated or microwavable heating pad to avoid EMF exposure, as recommended by the World Health Organization website.

Skin Sensitivity and Irritation

During pregnancy, influxes of hormones cause a woman's heart rate to escalate dramatically and frequently. This causes blood to rush to the outer layers of skin, increasing sensitivity to temperature, touch and cosmetics, according to AskDrSears.com. Because of this side-effect, utilizing a heating pad at too high a temperature can severely irritate and even burn the skin. Although sore muscles are quickly soothed by high temperatures, keep heat levels low to protect the skin. Secure a rolled-up towel or small pillow beneath the pad before laying down on it. This presses it against the affected area, better focusing heat on sore muscles and joints. If you are placing the pad over part of your body, tie it down with a scarf or strong ribbon to keep it in place.

About the Author

Hailing from San Francisco, Arwen Petty is a market development editor for international academic publisher Cengage Learning Inc. Her work has appeared in "[X]Press Magazine," "AMP Magazine" and on StuffChicksWant.com. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from San Francisco State University.