Ask any pregnant woman: soothing those pregnancy aches and pains can be serious business. Comfort for those nine long months is vitally important for the wellbeing of any mom-to-be, but it's also equally important to understand which comfort measures are safe, and which are not - especially when it comes to heat-related comfort and pain relief.
How does heat therapy work, anyway?
During pregnancy, a woman's posture can be compromised as her centre of gravity shifts to accommodate the weight she carries around due to her growing baby. Her back, hips, joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments also experience additional stress. Heat opens up the blood vessels, which increases blood flow. This results in fresh blood mixing with nutrients and oxygen quickly getting to places where it's needed the most to ease pain. While localized heat therapy using a heating pad is extremely safe and effective, under no circumstances should you ever place it on your abdomen if you are pregnant.
According to midwife and Philips Avent ambassador Liz Wilkes, heat packs are a common - and safe - way to manage pain not just during pregnancy, but also 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."
She also stresses the importance of heat placement, and whether or not the heating pad you're using is for localized relief.
"If a heat pad will increase the mother's temperature overall, then they should be avoided," she says. "However if they are for localized relief of muscular aches and pains they are very useful."
While heat therapy can offer soothing relief for the aches and pains of pregnancy and labour, experts warn that if at any time you feel significant pain in your abdomen or back, ditch the heating pad and let your medical team know immediately.
Pain and discomfort in the abdominal area - such as gas, round ligament pain and constipation - are also quite normal during pregnancy. However, if you experience abdominal pain or discomfort along with any of the following, you should seek urgent medical attention: bleeding or spotting, fever or chills, vaginal discharge, nausea and vomiting, feeling lightheaded, severe itching, discomfort while urinating.