Does a Hot Bath Induce Labor?

If you're nearing your due date, or if you've passed it, you are probably wondering if there are any safe and effective methods for moving things along. If you've done any searching on the internet you've probably come across ideas for inducing labor that range from mundane to bizarre. Some of these suggestions are probably harmless, although ineffective. Others can be dangerous. 

One method for inducing labor that frequently shows up is taking a hot bath. Unfortunately, this is one that could be dangerous for pregnant women. There is also no evidence to support the theory that a hot bath will induce labor.

While it's fine to take a warm bath while you're pregnant, water that is too hot can reduce the blood flow to your baby, which can cause distress. The temperature of your bath water shouldn't be higher than 98 degrees Fahrenheit. You should not stay in a bathtub for too long because that increases the risk you may develop an infection. 

Warm baths may actually help stop preterm labor. It may slow down contractions by relaxing your muscles.

Health Benefits of a Hot Bath

While pregnant women shouldn't take a hot bath, there may be benefits to warm baths during the early phase of labor. Studies have shown that women who use water immersion during the early phase of labor need less epidural anesthesia than those who don't. Their labor is also shorter by about 32 minutes. However, water immersion isn't the best option for everyone. Some reasons to avoid water immersion in early labor include:

  • Your baby needs continuous monitoring
  • You're having preterm labor
  • You've taken sedating medicines or have an epidural in place
  • You have an infection that can be transmitted by blood
  • You have any other complications

Is a Hot Bath Safe During Pregnancy?

Hot baths are not safe during pregnancy. The main concern with taking a hot bath while you're pregnant is the risk of raising your body temperature. Staying in a hot tub or bath for more than 10 minutes can raise your body temperature higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Some research has shown that babies born to women who had fevers early in pregnancy have a higher risk of serious abnormalities of the brain and spinal cord. Further evidence is needed, but there are also some studies that suggest a fever during pregnancy may cause miscarriage.  

Continued

An analysis of birth defects showed that women who use hot tubs more than once during early pregnancy or for prolonged periods of time were more likely to give birth to babies with anencephaly, which is when part of the brain, skull, and scalp is missing. They were also more likely to have babies with gastroschisis, which is when the intestines extend outside of the abdomen. However, the sample sizes were small, so researchers can't be sure that the birth defects were related to hot tub use.

Another concern with baths during pregnancy is infection. Long baths increase your chances of developing an infection.  You should also avoid bubbles, bath bombs, and bath salts. Many contain ingredients that can cause itching or irritation. If you accidentally break your skin while scratching, you may leave yourself open to infection. Bath salts can change the pH level of the vagina, causing it to become unbalanced. This can decrease the good bacteria in your vagina, which can cause itching, irritation, yeast infections, and urinary tract infections.

While the last weeks of pregnancy can seem to go on forever, if you are thinking about trying to induce labor at home, you should always discuss it with your healthcare provider first to make sure it's safe for you and your baby. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 02, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

American Family Physician: "Methods for Cervical Ripening and Induction of Labor."

Birth Defects Research. Part A, Clinical and Molecular Teratology: "Maternal use of hot tub and major structural birth defects."

Dr. Susan Fox's Center for Women: "Bubble Bath and Women’s Vaginal Hygiene."

Mayo Clinic: "Is it safe to use a hot tub during pregnancy?"

UAMS Health: "Can Pregnant Women Take Baths?"

UT Southwestern Medical Center: "Water immersion during labor."

Women's Specialists of New Mexico: "Recognizing Preterm Labor."

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Pagination

Get Pregnancy & Parenting Tips In Your Inbox

Doctor-approved information to keep you and your family healthy and happy.

By clicking Subscribe, I agree to the WebMD Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of WebMD subscriptions at any time.