Soaking in a warm Epsom salt bath may be a relaxing way to shed the day's worries and cares, but many pregnant women shy away from doing so for fear they might be causing harm to their unborn baby. Learn more about the role Epsom salt or magnesium sulfate can potentially play during pregnancy and you may just gain a new appreciation for this unassuming mineral. Always check with your obstetrician before using Epsom salts during pregnancy, especially if you're experiencing a high-risk gestation.
A naturally occurring mineral known as magnesium sulfate, Epsom salt contains various chemicals, including magnesium--the chemical considered primarily responsible for the mineral's positive health effects--and sulfur. Possessing a crystalline, salt-like structure, Epsom salt has a cloudy, white appearance; it is generally available for purchase in bags or cartons in the first aid or health aisle at grocery stores and pharmacies. Be prepared to spend approximately $1 to $3 per pound, depending upon various factors, such as the package size and supplier.
Marybetts Sinclair, author of the book "Modern Hydrotherapy for the Massage Therapist," notes that an Epsom salt bath provides a prime treatment for pregnant women suffering from normal pregnancy swelling. Often called edema, this swelling is typically mild and occurs in the extremities of pregnant women, typically in the feet, ankles, hands and wrists, generally as a result of increased body fluids, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
To utilize Epsom salt to help reduce mild swelling or aching feet during pregnancy, dissolve 1 cup of the Epsom salts in a gallon of warm water, as recommended by Sinclair. Soak your feet or hands in the warm water for approximately 15 to 20 minutes, gently massaging them or having another person do so, if desired. Follow up by drinking plenty of fluids and resting or raising your feet in a reclining position to minimize the swelling.
Magnesium sulfate is often administered to pregnant women intravenously as a treatment for pre-eclampsia--pregnancy-related high blood pressure--and preterm labor. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, magnesium prevents complications from pre-eclampsia and is typically the preferred treatment option if a pregnant woman progresses into eclampsia and begins to suffer seizures. Although it's considered effective at inhibiting preterm uterine contractions, the use of magnesium sulfate for preterm labor is somewhat controversial due to possible side effects in the mother, which may include chest pain, breathing problems, and pulmonary edema, according to Dr. Deirdre Lyell, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford School of Medicine.
Although many people use Epsom salts as an inexpensive, readily available oral laxative, talk to your doctor before using it for this purpose if you're pregnant or may become pregnant. As a saline laxative, Epsom salts operate by displacing fluids, shifting them to the intestines from nearby parts of your body. While this serves the purpose of softening your stool, it also has the ability to produce powerful intestinal cramping and contractions, which may increase your chances of experiencing certain pregnancy complications, especially if you have a history of miscarriages. The loss of body fluids and higher magnesium content that occurs when using Epsom salt as a laxative may also negatively affect pregnant women with a history of a poorly functioning heart or kidneys, notes M. Rost van Tonningen, coauthor of "Drugs During Pregnancy and Lactation."