Epsom salt has a long history of being used to treat swollen feet, sore muscles and joint pain -- making this home remedy common with pregnant women. This magnesium sulfate compound is most often used as an additive in foot soaks or bath water, but it is also used orally as a constipation remedy. While Epsom salt soaks are considered safe for pregnant women, internal use should be avoided unless specifically approved by your doctor.
The Science Behind Soaks
Epsom salt soaks are claimed to provide many benefits, such as skin exfoliation, stress relief, improved circulation, pain relief and detoxification. Many of the touted benefits are based on the assumption that magnesium from the Epsom salt gets absorbed through the skin. However, these health claims are not evidence-based, but linked to Epsom salt’s longstanding reputation as an effective home remedy. In fact, available research suggests too little magnesium gets absorbed through the skin to be responsible for any health benefits, according to a 2012 review published in “International Journal of Cosmetic Science.”
Soaking in Epsom Salt
Despite the lack of research on Epsom salt baths in pregnancy, there is no evidence to suggest taking a bath or soaking your feet is harmful. In fact it may feel good, reduce stress and be an effective remedy for aches and pains. Pregnancy counseling guidelines published in the February 2014 issue of “American Family Physician” recommend the avoidance of hot tubs and saunas, particularly in the first trimester due to the potential risk of miscarriage and birth defects. But taking a warm bath is considered safe -- with or without Epsom salt. To prepare an Epsom salt bath, add 2 cups of the salt to warm bath water and stir with your hands to dissolve. Soak for 15 to 20 minutes.
Use as a Constipation Remedy
Epsom salt is also FDA approved for use as an oral laxative to treat constipation -- a symptom common in pregnancy. A typical recipe is to mix a few teaspoons of Epsom salt with water and consume. When this substance reaches the intestines, it draws more fluid into the gut, which leads to soft stools. But it can also cause diarrhea, powerful intestinal cramping and dehydration, which may lead to pregnancy complications. A review of medication management of constipation, published in the December 2009 issue of “Neurogastroenterology and Motility,” noted that no specific trials have been completed on the use of Epsom salt. Furthermore, the safety of Epsom salt laxatives has not been studied in pregnancy, so talk to your doctor before using it.
Magnesium sulfate has a history of being administered to pregnant women intravenously as a treatment for the pregnancy complication pre-eclampsia and preterm labor. This is not the same as over-the-counter Epsom salt, which should never be injected. If you have any pregnancy complications, seek the advice or your doctor for treatment.
While soaking in Epsom salt is generally considered safe, talk to your doctor first if you have any skin conditions, or if you have concerns about the use of this product. Also, consuming Epsom salt, even in the doses recommended for laxative use, should be avoided in pregnancy unless your doctor specifically approves. There is a potential for serious gastrointestinal side effects and dehydration with large or frequent doses, and a risk of harm if used by people with health problems such as kidney disease.
Reviewed and revised by Kay Peck, MPH RD