The National Institutes of Health recommends that pregnant women limit sauna use for the duration of their pregnancy. Increasing body temperature above 100 degrees can increase the risk of fetal complications or birth defects. This is especially important during the first trimester, based on information published by the Organization of Teratology Information Services (OTIS). OTIS is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing safety information to pregnant women and healthcare providers.
Why are saunas unsafe during pregnancy?
Increasing core body temperature above 101 degrees may cause hyperthermia. When hyperthermia occurs for extended periods during the first trimester, studies have shown an increased risk of neural tube defects, including anencephaly and spina bifida. Heart defects and oral cleft defects have also been noted in studies associated with hyperthermia during pregnancy.
While studies concentrate on the risks to fetal development during the first trimester of pregnancy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests skipping saunas and hot water baths during all three trimesters.
Other hot places to avoid during pregnancy
The same risk posed by sitting in a hot sauna also exists in hot tubs, hot showers, and hot baths. Spending any length of time in an area or condition with extreme heat can be dangerous. This includes spending time outside in the direct sun during the hottest part of the day. The average body temperature is just shy of 99 degrees. It does not take much direct sunlight or heated water to raise your core body temperature to 101 degrees.
Safe alternatives to saunas
The aim of sitting for a spell in a heated sauna is relaxation, particularly muscle relaxation. Yoga, massage, and stretching are safe alternatives for pregnant women in all three trimesters, as long as the pregnancy is uncomplicated and you make your obstetrician aware when starting a new exercise program. Massage should be reserved for the 2nd and 3rd trimesters. Only licensed, trained pregnancy massage therapists should be used as certain pressure points should be avoided during pregnancy.
Saunas and breastfeeding
There is no reason why a breastfeeding mother cannot relax in a hot sauna. The risk to the fetus has passed after delivery. However, there are infrared saunas on the market that may pose a problem. There is very little data on the effect of infrared on breast milk so manufacturers of infrared saunas suggest breastfeeding women avoid breastfeeding for 24 hours after using the sauna. It may be safer to avoid using infrared saunas all together while breastfeeding.
Nothing feels more relaxing than a hot bath or shower after a long day of work, parenting, or life in general. Pregnant women, especially women in the first trimester of pregnancy, must choose a safe alternative to saunas, hot tubs, hot baths, hot showers, and time spent lounging in the bright summer sun.