If you’re expecting, you might wonder if the sauna is safe to use.

The thought of soaking your body in the warmth of a sauna to help relieve back aches and other general pregnancy discomforts might sound wonderful.

But before you use the sauna, it’s important to understand the risks to you and your baby-to-be.

What are the risks of using a sauna while pregnant? 

Extreme and constant heat are the main concerns with using a sauna during pregnancy. While this heat may be relaxing and feel good, it may not be safe for your baby-to-be. When babies are in utero, they’re unable to regulate their body temperature. This means that they can’t tolerate the extreme heat of a sauna.

Studies have shown that some babies exposed to high temperatures (like those of a hot tub or sauna) during the first trimester experience serious complications to the brain and/or spinal cord.

It’s also possible that exposure to extreme heat may cause or contribute to miscarriages or birth defects like ventricular septal defects and patent ductus arteriosus. Research is ongoing.

The extreme heat of a sauna during pregnancy can even complicate some existing medical conditions.

Is the sauna safe to use during pregnancy?

If your doctor gives you the OK to use a sauna during your pregnancy, limit the amount of time you spend inside to 15 minutes or less. Some doctors recommend avoiding saunas completely during pregnancy. Even a limited amount of time in the sauna can result in complications for your baby.

You should leave the sauna immediately if you start to feel faint or nauseous. This may be a sign that your body is overheating.

It’s also important to note that not all saunas are the same. Some are kept at different temperatures and heated differently. All of these factors can affect the amount of time it takes your body to heat to a temperature that may be harmful to your baby.

What is a sauna?

A sauna is a room made or lined with wood that produces a dry heat with very low humidity. Most saunas are kept within a temperature range of 180 to 195°F (82 to 90°C). The humidity is kept below 15 percent.

Are there health benefits to using a sauna?

For those who aren’t pregnant, the benefits of using a sauna include:

  • detoxification
  • stress relief
  • pain relief
  • relieving muscle soreness after a difficult workout

Sweating out impurities is something you can experience in a sauna, too. This is similar to when you exercise.

Even if you aren’t pregnant, it’s important that you talk to your doctor to make sure using a sauna is safe for you. The extreme heat can complicate some existing medical conditions.

Are hot tubs safe to use during pregnancy?

The risks of sitting in a hot tub during pregnancy are similar to a sauna. But a hot tub can raise your body temperature faster. This is because you’re being covered by hot water. A hot tub will also increase your temperature faster if you sit next to or against the jets. This is usually where the heated water is entering the hot tub. Some doctors recommend that the water temperature stay below 95°F (35°C) during pregnancy.

If your doctor approves you using a hot tub occasionally during pregnancy, you should take some important precautions. These include:

  • don’t stay in for more than 10 minutes
  • don’t use a hot tub frequently or daily
  • don’t sit near the jets where the hot water is coming into the hot tub
  • get out of the hot tub immediately if you start to feel faint or nauseous

As with saunas, not all hot tubs are equal. They aren’t always kept at the same temperature and may be hotter or colder, depending on how closely they are monitored.

Next steps

Using the sauna during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester, is a risk. Most doctors recommend avoiding it.

Keep in mind that for some pregnant women, even a short time in a sauna can be dangerous. It’s not worth the risk for your baby-to-be. Always talk to your doctor before using a sauna or hot tub during pregnancy.

Q:

What are some alternative ways to relieve pregnancy aches and pains instead of using a sauna or hot tub?

A:

Pregnancy can be quite uncomfortable at times, especially in the third trimester when you’re carrying that much more extra weight. Prenatal massages are a great option for some relief, as is prenatal yoga. Getting exercise in a swimming pool will help you stay in shape while getting the weight off your joints. At home, you can try using warm packs or taking a warm (not too hot!) bath. Try using a pregnancy belt to help support your growing belly, or sleeping with a body pillow. 

University of Illinois-Chicago, College of MedicineAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.