Who wants to crawl into a cold bed on a winter's night? Not I, which is why my electric blanket has been one of my all-time favorite Christmas presents. I used to "preheat" my sheets so that everything would be cozy by the time I lay down. But once I found out I was pregnant one February day, I left my beloved blanket in the closet. I don't remember asking my doctor about it, but I didn't want to take any chances that the temperature would harm my growing baby. So, is it safe to use an electric blanket when you're pregnant? While research studies haven't found strong links between electric blankets and birth defects, experts generally take a better-safe-than-sorry approach to the issue.
Over email, Adrienne D. Zertuche, an OB-GYN at Taylor, Suarez, Cook, Carroll, and Khan (Atlanta Women's Healthcare Specialists), tells Romper that "during pregnancy, women should avoid activities that may raise core body temperature, as some studies have suggested that elevations may increase the risk of birth defects. For instance, they should avoid the use of hot tubs, saunas, and electric blanket uses. In addition, if a pregnant woman has a high fever that does not respond to Tylenol, she should seek immediate evaluation and treatment from a physician."
Zertuche's recommendations are supported by a 1998 study published in Epidemiology, which "indicates that electric blanket used at the time of conception and in early pregnancy may be associated with a slight increase in risk of pregnancy loss." This article also refers to previous epidemiologic studies on the relationship between electrically heated beds and birth defects. While electric blanket use wasn't shown to cause birth defects, researchers found that "other sources of heat, in the form of hot tub, sauna, or fever in the first trimester, did increase risk [of neural tube defects]." Hot tub exposure was identified as the riskiest of the three.
However, a similar study published in the same journal two years later did not find any higher chances of pregnancy loss due to electric blanket use. Although the study results have been mixed and generally indicate a low risk for pregnant women who use electric blankets, Zertuche recommends avoiding electric blankets entirely during pregnancy. The same thing goes for heated water beds, which "may elevate a woman’s core temperature in a similar manner to hot tub use, so I would recommend against use during pregnancy," Zertuche says.
If you're wondering how much heat exposure is safe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says your body temperature should not become higher than 102.2 degrees. In addition to increasing your baby's risk of birth defects, high internal temperatures can cause heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or dehydration, which are harmful to you and your baby.
Additionally, KidsHealth from Nemours stated that "If your body temperature goes above 102°F (38.9°C) for more than 10 minutes, the elevated heat can cause problems with the fetus. Overheating in the first trimester can lead to neural tube defects and miscarriage. Later in the pregnancy, it can lead to dehydration in the mother." They recommend limiting or avoiding electric blanket use and other heat sources.
If you are concerned about electric blanket use during your pregnancy, talk to your doctor to get specific recommendations for your situation. Your doctor can also help you identify alternate ways to stay comfortably (and safely) warm during the winter months. For example, if you often fight with your partner over the thermostat setting, this might be the time to play the pregnancy card and win control of your home's temperature. You could also buy warmer bed linens, pajamas, or socks. And keep in mind that if you're due later in the summer or fall, you'll likely have to sweat your way through those uncomfortable sunny months, so it might be wise to savor the chill in the air while you still can.
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