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Ice bath Eases Pregnancy

Updated: Jan 23

Late in her pregnancy, Marisa finds energy in her ice bath

Pregnant woman relaxes in ice bath
Marisa put her hands in the prayer position while she reclines into the Forge.

Is the ice bath safe for pregnancy?

Marisa is over 37 weeks pregnant, which means she is due with her first baby in less than a month.

When she read Cold Plunge During Pregnancy, she didn't doubt the benefits. She doubted her courage to participate in the experience.

So she did three things:

  1. She watched her husband do four minutes in the Forge, and listened to his description of his experience.

  2. She talked to her obstetrician about doing ice baths. He said, "That's great!" and told her it was fine to submerge her whole belly.

  3. And she messaged Dr. Josephine Worsek, the world's most experienced person on cold exposure and pregnancy.

Who is Josephine Worseck, PhD?

Josephine Worseck earned her PhD in molecular biology, became the first Wim Hof-certified woman in Germany, and is a new Mother. Her book Die Heilkraft der Kälte (The Healing Power of the Cold, Worseck 2020 [in German]) was written before her pregnancy, and before the birth of her baby boy.

Since then, she's chronicled her own experiences with deliberate cold exposure during pregnancy, and summarized responses to some popular questions in a series of posts on her Instagram feed (pictured).

Worseck emphasizes that her experiences, and those of other women she knows, are not exhaustive nor a definitive scientific study. She has encouraged women to share their stories about ice baths, cold showers, and winter swimming, so that more women can decide for themselves what might work for them.

She says that early in her pregnancy, concerns about the elevated immune response associated with ice baths caused her to give up her practice, but that she resumed ice baths later in her pregnancy -- after the placenta and fetus were already well established.

For example, Worsek wrote:

I enjoy the energizing effect of the cold - especially now in the final phase of my pregnancy. The cold helps me start the day fresh, awake & happy. - Josephine Worsek, PhD

Like many pregnant women, Worsek's sleep quality suffered. She found that practicing deliberate cold exposure for just 1-2 min in the morning, a few times a week, has helped restore her energy levels.

Marisa's experience

Several women have responded to Worsek's invitation to share their experiences on Instagram. However, Marisa sat down with me for a longer interview.

As part of her engineering Master's studies at Arizona State University (where I teach), we've been meeting weekly to research the role of nutrition in health and well-being, and how food quality relates to sustainability -- even though nutrition is absent from the United Nations Sustainable Development goals.

As part of her own research, Marisa has been reading about metabolism, ketosis, and diabetes. She was already aware of the metabolic benefits of deliberate cold exposure, and she knew that metabolic health is probably the single most important thing a pregnant woman can give her baby.

But she discovered some surprising additional benefits to her ice baths, including improved sleep. She says:

Throughout the pregnancy, there are anxiety things that keep me awake. I would have to soothe myself into sleep with reading, or aromatherapy -- natural things to get me to sleep. After that second ice bath, I actually fell asleep on the couch while sun was going down and we were watching a movie. - Marisa

Another benefit has been reduced inflammation and pain in her legs and hips:

I started getting swelling (in my ankles) a couple of weeks ago. The pressure was making it really inconvenient while walking. The day before I did my first ice bath, I had a hard time walking all day. It was probably the worst day. After my ice bath, my legs felt like I could go for a run, and I haven't had that severe pain like I did. - Marisa

Her routine

Marisa keeps it short -- just two minutes, twice a week. Her husband Richard, who is managing two chronic medical conditions (Type 1 diabetes and hypothyroidism), Forges with her.

She always goes in feet first, then lies back slowly, keeping her belly almost all the way out of the water. In the infrared FLIR image below (after her first ice bath), you can see how she's cooled her arms and legs, but kept her belly warm during her first ice bath.

However, the encouragement that she received from her doctor convinced her to finish her second ice bath with full submersion of her belly -- even if only for 20 seconds.

Infrared photography of pregnant woman after ice bath shows cold skin on body portions that have been submerged.
In the infrared image (left) you can see how the ice bath cools only the skin that has been submerged in the water. The bright yellow parts of the photograph at normal skin temperate -- about 92F. The pale blue portions are at about 42F. During this ice bath, Marisa kept her belly out of the freezing water.

She never uses the sauna. Based on the research in our earlier article, we've found that heat can be dangerous for pregnant women, so Marisa rewarms with red light therapy and exercise (walking) instead of heat.

She's also using the ice bath to practice her breathing, and thinking about what role the ice bath might have in her post-partum recovery.

Healthy baby girl born to mother who practiced ice baths during pregnancy

5 May 2022 update:

Marisa's first baby, a healthy girl named Zelie-Marie, was born today. She weighed 8lb 13oz.

To hear Marisa talk about her ice bath experience in her own voice, download the full conversation.

Now that Marissa in in her post-partum period, it's OK for her to use the sauna. It may even help her milk flow. She can even continue using ice baths while she's breastfeeding.


About the Author

Thomas P Seager, PhD is an Associate Professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering at Arizona State University. Seager co-founded the Morozko Forge ice bath company and is an expert in the use of ice baths for building metabolic and psychological resilience.

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