When you're suffering from pregnancy aches, pains and tiredness, the idea of relaxing in a sauna, hot-tub or steam bath might seem appealing, but there are good reasons why you should give these spa treatment staples a miss when pregnant.
Overheating – a risk for your baby
The first reason for caution is a potential risk to the developing fetus. Heat treatments like these, and even hot baths at home, could raise your core body temperature and even raise the temperature of the amniotic fluid surrounding your baby.
The risk is theoretical, but it can't be discounted as there is evidence linking raised core body temperatures with neural tube defects in the fetus, particularly during the first three months of pregnancy when the neural tube is developing. Not all experts agree that saunas and the like are dangerous for the fetus but it would seem wise to err on the side of caution.
Dizziness - a risk for you
The second reason to exercise caution is a more definite increased risk of inflicting physical injury on yourself after a sauna or hot bath. If you've ever stepped from the sauna or hot bath feeling dizzy and woozy then you'll understand why.
The high temperature of a sauna is intended to encourage your veins to dilate and make the body sweat, the idea being that you sweat out impurities. This can make you lightheaded and dizzy at the best of times, but when you're pregnant and have far more blood to pump around your body, as well as weaker blood vessels, you are more likely to experience over-dilation of the veins and excessive sweating. The excessive sweating will dehydrate you while the over-dilation of the veins will lower your blood pressure, making your heart work even harder and significantly raising your chances of fainting and falling if it can't keep up a good blood supply to the brain.
Not only are you more likely to fall and injure yourself after the sauna, but the lower blood pressure won't help maintain a good blood supply to your placenta and baby either.
Playing it safe in pregnancy
In many health spas and gyms you'll find that saunas, hot tubs and steam rooms are out of bounds for pregnant women, largely to protect the spa legally in the event of personal injury precisely because of this increased risk.
At home you'll need to exercise your own judgment when relaxing into a warm bath to soothe your aching body. When deciding how hot is too hot then a useful guide is whether the water makes your skin turn red, if so it is too hot. If after a few minutes in the bath you're sweating and your face has turned very red then it's too hot for your pregnant body and it's time to turn on the cold tap.