Is it safe to have hot baths in pregnancy?

Be careful about the temperature of your baths during pregnancy, advises Dr Abigail Brun

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In a nutshell

No, if the bath is too hot, but warm baths can be beneficial in pregnancy.

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The expert view

“Be careful the bath isn’t too hot,” says Dr Abigail Brun, a family GP. “The essential thing to get right when you have a bath in pregnancy is the water temperature.”

“This is because when an expectant mother overheats (becomes hyperthermic) it can potentially cause problems to your unborn baby.”

So what temperature bath is too hot?  

Experts don’t seem to agree on a set temperature – The Royal college of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) recommends warm baths. The thing to watch is what it does to your body temperature – you don’t want your normal body temperature to rise by more than 2°C.

“Overheating is most dangerous in the 1st trimester, especially the first 6 weeks. If your body temperature exceeds 39.2°C (that’s 2.2°C higher than your normal body temperature of 37°C), that’s when problems can start to arise.” If you’re used to dealing with Fahrenheit you don’t want your body temperature to rise above 102°F.

If you like to have a recommended bath temperature, an easy guideline to follow is to keep your bath at body temperature – 37°C (98°F).

If you do want a slightly warmer bath, RCOG advises not to stay in for more than 10 minutes. “This is because it can take 10-20 minutes for your body temperature to rise,” Brun explains.  . 

Why is overheating unsafe when you’re pregnant? 

Raising your body temperature too high can lead to a drop in blood pressure, which carries a risk of reducing the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your baby is able to get and could lead to miscarriage.

Studies with animals have also found a link between overheating body temperature during pregnancy and birth defects in their offspring – particularly during early pregnancy.

Overheating appears to affect brain and spine development, leading to defects such as spina bifida or neural tube defects. “There is some evidence that there may also be a link with heart defects and even early miscarriage if the body temperature is persistently very high,” Dr Brun says. 

Finally, getting too hot can make you feel faint and dizzy. 

Is it safe to exercise in water? 

If you’re exercising in a pool (in an antenatal aqua class, for example) the pool temperature should not exceed 32°C. 

“When you exercise, your core body temperature goes up and if you’re already in hot water, you can’t sweat to keep cool,” Brun says.

So, if you’re feeling uncomfortably warm while exercising in water (for example, swimming lengths), come out and make sure you cool down. 

Are hot tubs and saunas safe? 

No, the risks of overheating are higher with hot tubs and saunas as they’re maintained at a constant high temperature. Hot tubs are usually set at 40°C. “If you’re very keen to have one, turn the temperature down to 37/38°C and limit it to 10 minutes,” Dr Brun says. 

What about hydrotherapy pools?

Shallow pools for relaxing in (such hydrotherapy pools) shouldn’t be hotter than 35°C – which is safe. Always check the temperature before you get in.

Can you use bubble bath or bath oils? 

Dr Brun advises keeping baths plain and simple, even using an emollient (such as E45 or aqueous cream) as a substitute to soap.

However, it is safe to use bath foam in pregnancy. “Bath products can’t harm the baby as it sits up in the womb, behind the cervix, and is protected by its own amniotic fluid,” says Dr Brun. 

But take more care if you want to use oils in your bath. “Concerns have been raised about using excessive aromatic oils in pregnancy – namely jasmine and Clary Sage (found in products such as Radox) as these are thought to cause the womb to contract. If you want to use these oils, do so in moderation.” 

Dr Brun also says you should watch for bath products and soaps irritating your sensitive pregnancy skin. “Some women find that bubble baths and soaps cause irritation or soreness around the vagina. During pregnancy, thrush is more common, which may be exacerbated by using irritants like too much soap or bubble bath. If this is the case, they are best avoided.”

Why warm baths are good in pregnancy

• To help reduce stress 

Many of our MFMers say hot baths helped them to relax during early pregnancy, when they found themselves worrying about whether their precious baby bundle would make it safely to 12 weeks. “My best tip for relaxing is a bath”, says x.Laura.x.

• For relieving aches and pains 

One MFMer writes on our forum of how she has a bath daily, in order to relieve back pain. “I have a hot bath at the end of the day and it seems to help a lot. I use some Radox or other stress relief bath bubbles and also add a little oil.” 

• To soothe your body during labour 

Baths are an effective means of soothing your body when you’re in the first throes of labour. “Baths are helpful in the early stages of labour and even later on, as the warmth and support that a warm bath provides can ease the pain of contractions. By helping you to relax, you’re more likely to cope better with your labour,” Dr Brun says. 

Mums on our forum share their experiences of baths in pregnancy 

“Baths are great in pregnancy for easing aching muscles, even in the first trimester when your womb is starting to stretch and you get aches.” Gail1977

“I bath every day as I am so uncomfortable. A nice soak is lovely, as long as it is not too hot. My baby always has a wriggle when I lie in the bath” xGemx 

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