What to Do About a Burn During Pregnancy

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An accidental burn can happen to anyone at any time. But many women experience a bit of clumsiness or distractedness during their pregnancies, which means that an accidental burn may be more likely to happen to them then.

You know the feeling. You’re tired and you didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Or you are in the third trimester and you feel a bit off balance. A one-second distraction and you’ve accidentally spilled hot coffee on your knee or you grabbed the hot handle of the skillet without a potholder.

What should you do if you accidentally burn yourself? Knowing the proper first aid for a minor burn can help you deal with the situation quickly. You should also know when a burn isn’t minor, and you need to see a doctor.

A burn is damage to the skin and other tissue. We tend to think of burns as injuries from fires, hot objects, hot liquids, or steam, but a burn can also be caused by accidents with chemicals or electricity.

According to MedlinePlus, burns are divided into three categories based on their severity. A first-degree burn affects only the top layer of skin, where the skin becomes red and sore. The classic example of a first-degree burn is a sunburn.

In a second-degree burn, the damage extends deeper into the skin. The skin becomes red and blisters form. A small second-degree burn is usually considered a minor injury, but a second-degree burn over a large area is serious. Second-degree burns can be painful and can become infected when the blisters break open.

In third-degree burns, the full thickness of the skin is damaged. All third-degree burns are serious and require immediate medical attention.

When to Seek Immediate Help

According to the Mayo Clinic, you should call 911 or seek immediate medical care for a major burn, which is when:

  • The skin appears to be charred or has patches of white, brown, or black.
  • The burn is deep
  • The burn is larger than 3 inches wide, which is about the width of the palm of your hand.
  • The burn is large and is on your hands, feet, face, genitals, buttocks, or on a major joint.

Don’t base your decision to seek emergency help on whether the burn feels painful. A bad burn may be painless because it has damaged the nerve endings in the skin that register pain.

A burn that is red or blistered and is less than the size of the palm of your hand does not require emergency attention. However, if the burn starts to look infected, see your doctor. Symptoms of an infection include increased pain, redness, and swelling in the area, and a fever.

Burn First Aid

The first step in treating a minor burn is to cool it down. Hold the burned area under cool running water for several minutes. If you can’t put the burned area under running water, put a cool, clean wet cloth on it and change or rewet the cloth when it isn’t cool anymore.

The area with the burn may swell, so remove any rings, watches, or other jewelry and loosen any tight clothing.

For a small second-degree burn with blisters, cool the burned area in running water. Then cover the burn with a gauze bandage or a clean cloth. Don’t use fluffy cotton on a burn. Use a nonstick bandage and hold it on with tape. If you use an adhesive bandage, use one that has a center, nonadhesive section that is bigger than the burn. Don’t apply butter and don’t use any lotions or creams that have a fragrance. Once the burn is cool, you can use aloe vera or a product made to treat burns.

Change the bandage every day. Make sure to keep the burned area clean.

For a sunburn or other first-degree burn, there are over-the-counter products that numb the burn, which can make you more comfortable.

If blisters form, do not break them or puncture them. Blisters help prevent a burn from becoming infected. If the blister breaks on its own, gently wash the area with clean water and apply an antibiotic ointment.

If the burn is painful, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Talk to your obstetrician or midwife before you take aspirin or ibuprofen.

Valerie DeBenedette
Valerie DeBenedette is an experienced health and medical writer who lives about an hour north of New York City with a dog that is smaller than her cat. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and on websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

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