Ah, pregnancy — a time when nearly everything hurts at some point, and you're never 100 percent sure which over-the-counter medications or treatments are safe for easing the aches and pains. A major culprit of pregnancy discomfort? Your back. So, what do you do when you're expecting and that part of your body (or some other) starts making you miserable? Stretching it isn’t working, and you already know ibuprofen is out. What about some sort of pain-relief cream, though? Can you use Icy Hot while pregnant? Good news: You don't necessarily need to chuck your stash of that minty goo.
It’s entirely understandable if you're flustered and fumbling over what to do right now. As with everything related to a pregnant person's body, everyone has an opinion. Even more confusing? They're often all different. Since studies pertaining specifically to the use of Icy Hot during pregnancy are scarce, some healthcare providers feel it's safer to steer clear — even though others deem the pungent cream OK.
To get to the bottom of this question, Scary Mommy asked doctors to weigh in on the science behind Icy Hot's safety during pregnancy. Keep reading for the answers you need (and some solid advice) to help you get the pain relief you so desperately crave.
Is Icy Hot during pregnancy safe?
As is always the case regarding medications while pregnant, you should check in with your obstetrician or other health care provider(s) before making any decisions. Although Icy Hot isn't considered a restricted substance during pregnancy, there is enough debate surrounding it to get your doc's opinion.
But generally speaking, Dr. Victoria Glass — a practicing physician at the FARR Institute — says that Icy Hot while pregnant is typically fine as long as you don't apply it directly to your stomach. Her suggestion? Reach for a version of Icy Hot that doesn't contain methyl salicylate. Also known as wintergreen oil, this substance is a "no-no during pregnancy," as it's a relative of aspirin. You can use Icy Hot if you choose a version without those active ingredients and/or your health care provider explicitly approves of the exact type of Icy Hot you plan to use.
An important note: Not everything that looks like Icy Hot is safe to use. All you Tiger Balm and Bengay fans out there might have to make the switch! Why is one safe but not the others? It's all about the ingredients. "Tiger Balm has aspirin, making it unsafe," Glass clarifies. "So is Bengay."
What danger does aspirin pose during pregnancy?
"Aspirin may be harmful to pregnant individuals if they are either allergic to it or when used in large doses," Glass says. "Low doses of about 60-100 mg may sometimes be prescribed to patients with preeclampsia, clotting disorder, and recurrent pregnancy loss — with close supervision, of course. However, high doses of aspirin may result in congenital abnormalities and pregnancy loss in the first trimester, as well as premature closure of the fetus' heart blood vessels in the third trimester. Low levels of amniotic fluids, as a result of kidney issues in the fetus, and bleeding in the brain in premature infants are also risks if the drug is used for prolonged periods of time."
So, if you're pregnant and have a known sensitivity to aspirin, it's best to steer clear of any pain-relief cream that contains methyl salicylate (aka wintergreen oil) or aspirin itself unless you’ve gotten the all-clear from your health care provider(s).
What other pregnancy pain relief options are there?
As we mentioned before, ibuprofen is out; NSAIDs can reduce blood flow and negatively impact your amniotic fluid. Tylenol, however, is a category B drug, meaning it's the second safest rating a drug can have. Of course, it will likely come as no surprise that your safest course of action when dealing with pregnancy back pain is to consult your physician(s). In addition to offering suggestions, they can tell if the pain points to a bigger issue, such as a urinary tract infection.
Having said that, the following pain relief options are typically considered safe during pregnancy.
Be careful here, Mama. While massages can feel wonderful, it's important to make sure you go somewhere specifically offering prenatal massages. So, do your research. In addition to traditional prenatal massage therapists, you might look into a boutique that offers ultrasounds and early anatomy scans — they often also offer prenatal massages.
Just make sure whomever you book an appointment with knows you're pregnant so that they put you down for the correct massage with a well-qualified massage therapist.
Warm Baths (With Epsom Salts)
Not hot! Hot baths can be dangerous for pregnant people (or really anyone, especially people with blood pressure conditions). However, a warm bath with or without Epsom salts can make a world of difference.
As you may know, Epsom salts are different from table salt. They're the big, chunky flakes that come in large bags found in personal care aisles. Athletes often use them after workouts or games since they contain magnesium, which has many proven benefits. These may include soothing stress, nourishing skin, and even aiding digestion. (Perhaps a major bonus for you if you're dealing with pregnancy constipation.)
To use Epsom salts, simply mix 1-2 cups into your warm bath and escape from the noise and pressure for a good soak.
Like a warm bath, heat can help loosen tight, stiff muscles. Plus, it just feels so good! Being warm helps you to relax, which helps ease pains. Word of warning: Be particularly careful to keep heat packs away from your belly, and avoid overheating yourself. If your heating source of choice is a heating pad, keep safety in mind. Set it at a lower temperature, wrap it in a towel or thick pillowcase to prevent burns, and avoid prolonged use.
Current research suggests acupuncture is generally safe for most pregnancies, with adverse effects for baby or mama considered rare. However, you should always consult your health care provider(s) before trying acupuncture during your pregnancy. If you get the go-ahead, make sure the acupuncturist you choose is licensed by their state and certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).
Dr. Victoria Glass, practicing physician at the FARR Institute