During the winter months, many women long for a hot bath, a relaxing sauna or a visit to the spa to relax. This is when women tend to ask themselves what’s okay during pregnancy and whether hot temperatures could possibly harm the baby.
When it gets cold outside, there’s probably nothing more pleasant than a visit to the sauna. Generally, sauna visits are also possible during pregnancy, but there are a few things you should keep in mind. The decisive factor is whether you’re a sauna novice or a sauna regular. Women who’ve never been to the sauna and would like to start going during pregnancy are advised to wait until after the first three months because circulatory problems are most commonly encountered during the first trimester and the baby is most sensitive to external influences during this period. However, women who are already well-acclimated to sauna visits can enjoy the sauna from the beginning of their pregnancy until shortly before the birth.
A sauna session has many positive effects: It activates your body’s immune system, strengthens your health and helps prevent colds. But a visit to the sauna also offers several benefits specifically for pregnant women: Sweating allows pregnant women to lose fluids, which can reduce the effects of water retention commonly experienced during pregnancy. In addition, being in the sauna allows the muscles to relax, which can be helpful in preparation for the birth. In fact, the muscle relaxation associated with regular visits to the sauna has been said to make birth faster and easier for women. In Finland, the country where the sauna originated, pregnant women often enjoy a sauna session shortly before the birth, and in the past, it wasn’t uncommon for babies to enter the world directly in the sauna! There’s no need for pregnant women to worry that the sauna’s temperature will harm the baby since the heat barely reaches the baby at all. During a sauna visit, the body’s internal temperature increases no more than one degree Celsius. The important thing is to drink plenty of fluids before and after sitting in the sauna and taking enough time to rest between individual sessions.
Other things you should keep in mind:
- Only spend a short period of time in the sauna (no more than 5-10 minutes), for sauna regulars: no longer than 15 minutes
- Lower temperatures are generally recommended more than higher ones. Try visiting a gentle bio sauna rather than a hotter Finnish sauna
- Avoid heavy meals before a sauna visit
- Sit on the bottom or middle bench because the sauna is hottest around the upper benches
- Make sure you get enough rests between individual sessions (no less than 15 minutes)
- Avoid cooling down in the icy-cold plunge pool and opt for a shower instead
- Change your towel after every sauna visit to avoid the risk of a fungal infection
- Plan fewer sauna visits (two per week, with two sessions each) and pay attention to what feels good for you
- Avoid going to the sauna shortly before the birth because this could trigger contractions
Although sauna visits are safe for most pregnant women, women experiencing certain conditions are strongly advised to avoid the steam room: These conditions include premature labor, varicose veins, a high-risk pregnancy, high blood pressure and other complications. As an alternative to the sauna, pregnant women who prefer a more moderate heat level can opt for a steam bath, which, at temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees Celsius, is often perceived as being more comfortable. The advantage: At nearly 100 percent humidity, steam baths increase blood flow, open the pores of the skin and moisturize the respiratory tract. While steam baths are usually perceived as less strenuous by pregnant women, the moist heat can actually place more strain on the circulatory system in certain cases.
Swimming is among the sports recommended most during pregnancy. Our bodies feel extremely light when we’re submerged, which is why swimming is particularly relaxing for pregnant women. In addition, moving in cool water boosts circulation and improves stamina, while the water also relieves strain on joints and ligaments. Moreover, swimming trains all muscle groups, and the water has a soothing and regenerating effect. Especially during pregnancy, many women struggle with swollen legs, varicose veins and cellulite. These ailments can be noticeably improved by swimming, while the connective tissue is also strengthened. Another benefit: Swimming is good for digestion. Pregnant women often suffer from constipation. Aquatic exercise stimulates the metabolism, which in turn helps move along a sluggish intestine. Many women hesitate to visit the swimming pool during pregnancy because they are worried about possible infections. During pregnancy, vaginal immunity isn’t as strong, which is why the risk of a vaginal infection that could possibly harm the baby is higher. However, considering that most public swimming pools have very good hygiene standards, the risk of infection is quite low. You can additionally protect yourself from infection by immediately showering after swimming and changing out of your swimsuit.
Other things you should keep in mind:
- Start your swim training off slowly and don’t overdo it; breaststroke, backstroke and forward crawl are recommended swimming styles, but avoid overexertion and excessive training
- Choose the style that’s most comfortable for you
- Even if swimming is considered a safe sport with a low risk of injury, be careful and try to use the pool when it’s less crowded to reduce the chance that other swimmers will bump into you
- The water temperature should ideally be between 18 and 25 degrees Celsius—in general, you should feel comfortable when entering the water
- To prevent possible infections, a tampon soaked in yogurt can be inserted into the vagina prior to swimming
- Make sure to stay hydrated as this is very important during pregnancy
- A few warm-up exercises before swimming are recommended
- Wear skid-proof shoes when walking in wet areas to prevent slipping
- You should avoid public hot tubs because infection-causing bacteria and fungi can thrive in these
During the cold season, visiting a thermal spa is especially popular. The thermal water has a relaxing and soothing effect on the body. Thermal baths often contain sulfur compounds, salts or carbonic acid, which have a positive, health-promoting effect on the body. While visiting a thermal spa during pregnancy is perfectly safe, doctors do recommend avoiding very hot temperatures and rapid changes in temperature in order not to put strain on your circulatory system. The water temperature should not exceed 37 degrees Celsius because higher temperatures can trigger preterm labor. New studies show that thermal water has a positive effect on both babies and pregnant women. For example, preparing for the birth with visits to a thermal spa helped expectant mothers sleep better. The scientists also found that movement in the thermal bath water carries no risks for the mother or child.
Nothing is more relaxing after a busy day than soaking in a hot bath to unwind. During pregnancy, getting in the tub can be particularly soothing. The benefits: The warm water relaxes the muscles, strain is relieved from the joints and back and your baby can feel the warming sensation as well. A bath can also be effective against insomnia. The ideal water temperature is about 33-34 degrees Celsius—if the water is too hot, peripheral blood vessels can widen and blood pressure can drop, which may cause dizziness. Bathing in water that’s too hot for a long time can also increase the mother’s body temperature. At about 38.5 degrees Celsius, the risk of preterm labor increases as does the risk of premature birth and birth defects. Adding a few drops of essential oil to the bath can enhance relaxation even further.
Other things you should keep in mind:
- Don’t bathe too long: 20 minutes should be enough in order not to overstimulate the circulatory system and dry out the skin
- The bath water shouldn’t be hotter than 37-38 degrees Celsius
- Enter the tub cautiously in order not to slip
- Make sure to stay hydrated even while you’re in the bath
- When you’re in the bath, someone else should be home with you in case of an emergency
- Candles, relaxing music and certain essential oils can further enhance your bath experience
Taking the time for wellness during pregnancy is good for the body, mind and soul. If you follow a few basic guidelines to keep you and your baby healthy, nothing stands in the way of ultimate relaxation.