Mayans had the Temazcal – which roughly translates as sweat lodge – while the Japanese have the mushi-buro, Russians have the Banya, and Finns have the sauna. Heat has long been used therapeutically in many cultures, and for good reason. Since posting about the science-backed benefits of sauna bathing and a review of the sauna I chose, I’ve received a few questions about how long one should stay in a sauna and whether or not it’s safe while pregnant or breastfeeding, so I thought I’d put together an intro guide for you.
Quick note: As always, that this is not medical advice and you should always talk to your healthcare provider about any questions you have. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about what the research says regarding safety.
According to this study, sauna bathing “is well tolerated by most healthy adults and children. Sauna bathing does not influence fertility and is safe during the uncomplicated pregnancies of healthy women.” However, many sources recommend avoiding sauna use during the first trimester, and the American College of Gynecologists recommends limiting sauna sessions to under 15 minutes. (source 1, source 2)
Regarding use with children, it’s important to use common sense and evaluate an individual child’s readiness. I wouldn’t bring a very young child into a sauna because they aren’t able to communicate when they need to get out – and really they’re still mastering the task of maintaining homeostasis – however my three-year-old joins me for a snuggle when he feels like it. I’m comfortable with that because he can communicate with me and hop out whenever he wants to.
For breastfeeding, this study concluded that “Far-infrared sauna use is safe and effective for increasing lactation in breastfeeding mothers.”
So who should avoid sauna use? According to this study, contraindications “include unstable angina pectoris, recent myocardial infarction, and severe aortic stenosis. Sauna bathing is safe, however, for most people with coronary heart disease with stable angina pectoris or old myocardial infarction. Very few acute myocardial infarctions and sudden deaths occur in saunas, but alcohol consumption during sauna bathing increases the risk of hypotension, arrhythmia, and sudden death, and should be avoided.”
1. Drink dihydrogen monoxide (errr, water)
As I mentioned mentioned earlier, sweating helps to eliminate heavy metals, PCB’s, BPA and other toxins. However, it also depletes our bodies of water and minerals, so we need to replenish both. I drink a glass of water before heading into the sauna, and also take 2 quart-sized mason jars of electrolyte-rich water (and a jar of plain water) in with me to sip on during and after I sauna.
I use my Coconut Lime Electrolyte Drink Recipe (in diluted form) or just water with a generous pinch of sea salt. According to Dr. Rhonda Patrick, kale is also a concentrated form of electrolytes, so you can put some in a smoothie after you sauna to replenish electrolytes as well. (source)
2. Take it slow
Most sources recommend starting with a 10-15 minute session, increasing the time spent as you feel comfortable. I usually spend about 30-40 minutes in my sauna, depending on whether or not my kids game of Memory or Wildcraft is going well. Some infrared sauna studios book sessions up to an hour – that seems to be the generally agreed upon max time.
3. Wear cotton
Breathable, washable natural fibers are ideal for use in the sauna. I prefer a cotton towel, while my kids prefer oversized t-shirts. I also place towels on the bench and the floor to keep the surface of the sauna clean. Once I finish a session, I toss everything in the laundry hamper so that all the stuff I eliminated can be washed away.
3. Wait an hour after a meal
Saunas increase the flow of nutrients (glucose, amino acids, fatty acids, and oxygen) via the circulatory system. While it may seem like the perfect time to be pulling in more via digestion, the reality is that digestion gets put on the back burner while the circulatory system ramps up nutrient delivery to the muscle and skin. For that reason, it’s best not to eat a heavy meal right before stepping into a sauna. If I’m hungry I opt for a light snack, then eat when my session is over.
4. Listen to your body
If you feel lightheaded, queasy or off in any way, end your session. It’s not weakness, it’s wisdom.
5. Red light at night
If you’re using the chromotherapy feature, stick with red light at night. Blue light (and possibly other wavelengths on the spectrum) can disrupt your circadian rhythm and make it difficult to fall asleep.
6. Rinse and repeat
Take a warm shower after your session to rinse away any toxins eliminated via sweat. By now you should be feeling amazing and looking forward to your next session, so go ahead decide when that will be. 🙂
Got a question?
Leave it in the comments below!