Pregnancy dos and don'ts
Being pregnant is generally lovely - but there are some aspects which, truth be told, are a bit of a PITA (morning sickness, constipation, tiredness etc). Avoiding the things you're not supposed to do or eat while pregnant is high on the list labelled 'irksome' - not least because the advice seems to change so often.
Before you lock yourself away like an oversized Rapunzel for the next nine months to avoid any possible risk, remember that unborn babies are remarkably tenacious - they must be or the human race would long since have dwindled into extinction.
Common sense is the best yardstick and, in the grand scheme of things, nine months isn't that long to give up or avoid a few things
though it may feel like forever.
BEST TO AVOID
OK IN MODERATION
Current guidance is to avoid all alcohol, particularly in the first three months (hands up who knew they were pregnant as soon as sperm met egg?), but many believe the occasional glass probably does no harm.
The Royal College of Obstretricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) says there's no evidence a couple of units once or twice a week do any harm to the baby, but can't categorically rule out any risk.
The advice may be vague, but it's there for a reason: drinking during pregnancy is potentially dangerous because the alcohol crosses the placenta and your baby's developing liver can't process it as fast as your body can.
Too much alcohol raises your risk of miscarriage and your baby's chance of having a low birthweight. It can also lead to foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which causes serious health problems for your baby, such as heart defects and behavioural disorders.
- "I drank my usual three or four glasses a day for the first 10 weeks of pregnancy - I had no idea I was pregnant."
- "I drank a glass of wine an evening in the second and third trimesters of my pregnancy. I think it has a lot to do with how well your body processes alcohol and my body has a lot of experience and seems to process it rather well!"
- "I used to make the most of that one drink on a night out. I told my partner if I could only have one, it had to be a good one - normally a lovely glass of chilled champagne."
- "I probably believe it's better to abstain completely, but in the scheme
of things (ie life is not a risk-free activity) I think small amounts of
alcohol are unlikely to have a measurable effect."
This is one area where there's no disagreement - smoking is not good for your baby (or you).
Cigarettes increase the risk of babies having a low birth weight, being born prematurely and/or with respiratory problems, and maternal smoking is linked to miscarriage and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
For some women who smoke (and certainly those who don't), pregnancy is the ultimate aversion therapy - where one whiff of tobacco makes you feel nauseous.
But for others it can be more of a struggle to give up, especially with the added stresses of pregnancy.
Remember though, it's no longer just your health you need to worry about. Bottom line: every cigarette you don't smoke is good news for your baby.
- "Every time you manage to go without a cigarette you should praise yourself, and every time you give in at least know that you tried. I took up chewing gum - I'm totally obsessed with it, keep it in pockets, in my bag, all over the house."
- "Maybe seeing it from your baby's point of view and wanting to be around
to see your baby grow up will give you the incentive to kick the habit."
Taking drugs during pregnancy
If you're using cannabis, ecstasy, ketamine, cocaine or other illegal drugs, then so is your baby, because drugs cross the placenta. This increases the risk of pregnancy complications and foetal abnormalities.
Don't worry about what you've done in the past, just concentrate on stopping
in the present.
You should also check with your doctor or midwife about any over-the-counter
drugs (such as painkillers) you take or may need to take during
your pregnancy. They will be able to advise you on the correct dosage and offer
alternatives where necessary.
You may be worried about environmental chemicals in everyday items such as food and drink packaging, cleaning products, pesticides and paint.
The RCOG says pregnant women should 'play safe' and avoid exposure to products and foods that may contain chemicals such as bisphenol A and phthalates, which could harm your unborn baby.
The fact is, you're likely to come into contact with potential risks throughout your pregnancy and the effect of many environmental chemicals on a baby's development is still unknown. The best provision is to be aware of these risks, and avoid them wherever possible, even if it may be minimal or eventually unfounded.
There's a pretty hefty list of foods to avoid during pregnancy: certain cheese, shellfish, rare meat, caffeine... It may seem like everything you're craving has a big label slapped on it saying 'not for you, pregnant lady'.
But there's a good reason for cutting back on certain consumables - namely, that they could be harmful to you and/or your baby.
Basically, you're trying to avoid foods containing bacteria that cause infections and might (note, might) lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or infection in your newborn.
The guidance is frequently changing, and many people believe that moderation rather than abstinence is the key. But it's still a good plan to be aware of the risks. You should also observe normal kitchen hygiene:
- Wash fruit and veg
- Store meat, fish and dairy separately and at the correct temperature
- Wash your hands after handling raw food, particularly meat
There are also things on the 'do eat' list, including plenty of starchy foods (wholegrains, pasta, rice, pulses, fruit and vegetables) for the usual reasons but also to prevent, or at least limit, constipation (a bane of pregnancy).
You need plenty of calcium (milk, yoghurt, cheese - the right kinds), protein (pulses, lean meat, chicken, fish and eggs - all well cooked) and iron (fortified cereals, red meat, pulses, bread, green veg).
- "I was really unknowingly evil and ate about a million raw oysters when about five months pregnant with my boys and on holiday in France. I'd read the dos and don'ts religiously, but somehow missed the shellfish embargo. Good grief but they were tasty though!"
- "You can eat shellfish safely if it's thoroughly cooked and piping hot
all the way through. The same goes for everything really. No piping hot food
can contain listeria. And hard cheeses are all safe, too."
You don't need to cut out all caffeine, but you should limit yourself. Current research indicates that high levels of caffeine can result in miscarriage or low birth weight, so government health advice is not to exceed 200mg of caffeine a day.
That's roughly one Americano and a small bar of chocolate, or a couple of brews and a can of cola, per day. To reduce your intake, try substituting your daily cuppas with decaffeinated options or herbal teas.
One pregnancy plus is that many women find their hair gets thicker - it's one aspect of your appearance you still have some control over (unlike your boobs and waistline)
It's fine to colour your hair during pregnancy, only enormous doses of the chemicals used in semi-permanent and permanent hair dyes would cause your baby harm.
If you're doing it yourself at home, wear gloves and open a window for ventilation. And because your hormones are all over the place, you might be more susceptible to an allergic reaction from a dye (even ones you've used before), so do a patch test 24 hours before application.
Make sure you tell your dentist you're pregnant - for a start, you'll get free dental treatment on the NHS. If an X-ray is needed, they will probably suggest waiting until after your baby is born to do it, although they are thought to be safe.
At the back of your mind, you may recall something about underwired bras being bad for pregnant women because they can interfere with milk production. The main thing to remember really is that whatever bra you wear, it needs to fit well - so wires shouldn't be digging in.
As your boobs get pumped up with hormones, you'll need to be re-fitted to make sure you're getting the right support.
Cleaning the cat litter can't figure high on many women's 'chores I enjoy' list, so pregnancy is a good excuse to get out of it.
Cat faeces can carry a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, an infection that isn't serious for you but can be for your baby. It's also carried by some birds and other animals, and found in undercooked meats. Cats get it by eating dirt and raw meat (usually rodents).
Your odds of contracting it are low, and if you've had it, you can't get it again. But to err on the safe side, if your moggy likes to prowl around outside, get someone else to clean the cat litter. If you have to do it, wear rubber gloves and wash both your hands and the gloves thoroughly afterwards.
If you don't have a cat, but neighbours' moggies regard your garden/children's sand pit as a toilet, wear gloves when you're gardening and handling soil or sand.
Your skin is more sensitive during pregnancy, so if you're venturing out into the sun, be sure to slap on the factor 50.
Heatstroke is very dangerous for the foetus, so sticking in the shade, keeping cool and hydrated should be of higher priority than spending hours sunbathing for a bit of summer colour.
Other risky activities during pregnancy
Mumsnetter Zebra has a pretty definitive list:
"Aerobic exercise is OK if you were doing it pre-pregnancy, you just have to watch for: joint strain, dehydration, sunburn and fatigue. Don't go near ewes about to drop their lambs. Avoid any reptile or bird that might carry salmonella. No to most insect repellents (they contain DEET=diethyl toulamide, which causes birth defects).
"No to many over-the-counter drugs. No to dental x-rays. No to working with lots of specific chemicals found in certain work places. No to painting with paints with high VOC (volatile organic compound) levels. Also remember that pregnant women should avoid other people with shingles, chickenpox or rubella, unless you know you're immune."
But she adds:
"Having said all that, when I was pregnant, sometimes because I didn't know I was pregnant, I have got drunk, had a dental x-ray, self-applied DEET-containing repellent and worked with ionising radiation. I never bothered with gloves in the garden because I grew up drinking raw cow's milk and chucking cat poop out of sandpits. If I haven't had toxoplasmosis before now, it's not possible for anybody to catch it."
Pregnancy can be trying enough without beating yourself up. None of us can escape exposure to ALL potentially harmful substances, but remember the vast majority of babies are born perfectly healthy.
Our grandmothers and mothers smoked and drank through pregnancy, and doubtless our kids, in turn, will be scandalised by our reckless disregard for their health in utero.
What Mumsnetters say about pregnancy dos and don'ts
- "Moan like mad if you want, as it is a pain in the bum missing out on so many of life's pleasures. But when you have finished moaning, do everything in your power to stay safe in the knowledge that it isn't forever (and chocolate is not on the list)."
- "All this makes you realise that once you're pregnant you should stay at home, in bed, in a dark room and not leave it for the full nine months. My view while I was pregnant was to eat and drink what I liked in moderation, as I figured that's what people have done since the beginning of time and before we had doctors who told us what we couldn't do."
Do join Mumsnet, if you haven't already, for advice and support from our forums - to help throughout your pregnancy, and beyond.
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Last updated: 4 months ago