While pregnancy is certainly one of the most joyous times in a woman’s life, it can also be one of the most stressful. As soon as you see that positive pregnancy test, you start thinking about all the things you’ve been doing. You obsess over that glass of wine you had with dinner last week, that espresso shot you had yesterday, that beer you drank three years ago—you start to worry about every little thing that could harm your baby.
The important thing to remember is that stress won’t do you, or your baby, much good. Take some deep breaths, and keep reading for some lesser-known things you should avoid starting now. Then call your doctor! They will be able to give you an exhaustive, official, and backed-by-science list of everything you should avoid.
The rule of thumb is: avoid any foods that are more likely than others to become contaminated with bacteria or heavy metals. This includes:
- Soft, unpasteurized cheeses
- Feta, goat, Brie, Camembert, Mexican queso fresco, blue-veined cheeses, etc.
- Unpasteurized milk, juices, and apple cider
- Raw eggs or foods containing raw eggs
- Mousse, tiramisu, raw cookie dough, eggnog, homemade ice cream, caesar dressing, etc.
- Raw or undercooked fish
- Sushi, shellfish, meat, etc.
- Pate and meat spreads
- Proceeds meats
- Hot dogs, deli meats, etc.
- If you are eating these, make sure they’re well cooked!
Fish and shellfish can be a very healthy part of your diet, because they contain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, they’re high in protein, and low in saturated fat. You should, however, avoid certain kinds with high levels of mercury, which can damage your baby’s developing brain. Fish to avoid include:
- King mackerel
- Tuna steak
- Although limited amounts of canned, light tuna are okay
Some low-mercury options that are safer for eating include:
- Canned, light tuna
Avoid foodborne illnesses like listeriosis, toxoplasmosis, and salmonella at all costs—these can cause birth defects or even miscarriage. Make sure you’re thoroughly washing all the fruits and veggies you eat, as they can carry bacteria or may be coated with pesticide residue. It’s true—you may have to miss out on some of your favorite foods, but you’ll sleep well at night knowing you’re doing everything you can to protect your growing baby! Not to mention, those foods will taste even better when you can enjoy them again.
Spending time with Mr. Whiskers is completely safe, but you shouldn’t be cleaning out his litter box. A dangerous infection called toxoplasmosis, can be spread through soiled cat litter boxes. It can cause some serious problems, including prematurity, poor growth, and severe eye and brain damage. A pregnant woman who becomes infected with toxoplasmosis often has no symptoms, but can still pass it along to her unborn baby.
So have someone else clean the litter box for a few months (see, some of these things are fun!) and make sure they clean it thoroughly, and that they wash their hands well after their done.
Over-the-Counter and Prescription Medicines
This one is tricky—there are a lot of different medications out there, so you should talk to your doctor about yours specifically. Even if they don’t seem like a big deal, talk to them about over-the-counter drugs you can and can’t take. Ask them about everything, and make sure to tell all of your healthcare providers that you’re pregnant, so they keep this in mind when prescribing your medications.
Even some over-the-counter medicines can be off-limits because of the potential effects they could have on your baby. Certain prescription medications can also harm your baby. The type of harm and the extent of possible damage depends on the medication, so talk to your doctor.
Be careful with herbal remedies and supplements—some of them may be safer alternatives to medical treatments, but none of them are required to be regulated by the FDA. This means they don’t have to follow any safety standards, and therefore could be harmful to your baby.
Sugar substitutes like aspartame, sucralose, stevioside, and acesulfame-K have been deemed safe in moderation during pregnancy. Experts are still unsure about whether saccharin, found in some foods and in little pink packets, is safe during pregnancy—it can cross the placenta and could remain in the fetus’ tissues. It’s safer to avoid it altogether.
Moderation, as with most things, is the key here. It’s okay to have the occasional diet soda, or sugar-free food with these sweeteners. If you’re really craving something sweet, though, the real thing is better for you! In moderation, of course.
If you or your partner suffer from a hereditary disease called phenylketonuria, you should avoid all aspartame. This rare disease causes the body to be unable to break down the compound phenylalanine.
Bug sprays, while they make your summer nights more bearable and your garden more appetizing, are considered poisons. They should be avoided as much as possible. The occasional household use of insecticides might not be dangerous, but it’s best to be cautious because high levels of exposure can cause problems as serious as miscariage, premature delivery, and various birth defects.
Common insect repellents can contain DEET or diethyltoluamide, but the risks aren’t fully known so it’s safest not to use them at all. Or, you can use gloves and put a very small amount on socks, shoes, and outer clothing instead of directly onto your skin to keep the bugs at bay.
If bugs are a serious problem where you live, there are some precautions you can take to ensure your baby’s safety around these chemicals. Instead of bug repellent, you can use boric acid, which you can find at your local hardware store. Always make sure someone else applies pesticides to your garden, and stay away from the treated area afterwards, for the amount of time specified on the product label. If you’re gardening outside later, make sure to wear rubber gloves. Whenever pesticides are sprayed outside, close all your windows and turn the air conditioning off to prevent the fumes from getting into your home. If pesticides are used indoors, have someone else wash any treated area where food is prepared or served. If you have well water, have it tested regularly if you use pesticides, fertilizers, or weed killers.
Anything that raises your core body temperature above 102 F can be harmful to you and your baby. This means you should avoid all of the following:
- Hot tubs
- Very hot, long baths or showers
- Electric blankets
- Heating pads
- Getting a high fever
- Spending too much time in the sun
- Exercising too hard
If your body temperature rises above 102 F for just 10 minutes, it can cause problems for your baby. The most important time to avoid these things is during your first trimester, during which overheating can cause neural tube defects or miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, the main concern is you becoming dehydrated, because that also means that your baby becomes dehydrated.
So skip the hot tub and take a dip in the pool instead! Keep your baths or showers warm, but not steaming. If you have a fever, you can talk to your doctor about ways to lower it. Make sure you’re listening to your body’s cues that you’re getting overheated—slow down your workouts, go inside for a few minutes, and drink plenty of water.
An extremely common question is “can I have sex while pregnant?” The answer is yes you can! In fact, most pregnant women continue having sex as usual all the way up until delivery—adjusting positions for comfort, of course, as their belly grows in size. Sex is perfectly safe for you and baby, so you can continue your sexual habits unless your doctor says otherwise. Your doctor may advise against sexual intercourse if they anticipate or find significant complications with your pregnancy like:
- History or threat of miscarriage
- History of preterm labor
- Unexplained vaginal bleeding, discharge, or cramping
- Leakage of amniotic fluid
- Placenta previa
- Incompetent cervix (your cervix dilates early)
- Multiple babies
While sex is deemed safe for pregnant women, there are still risks involved. You shouldn’t have sex with anyone whose sexual history is a mystery to you, or someone who could have an STD—if you’re infected, you could pass it on to your baby.
Keep your doctor updated, and talk to them about whether or not it’s safe for you to continue sexual intercourse. If everything is “normal” with your pregnancy, there’s no reason you shouldn’t enjoy what made your baby in the first place!
There are many vaccinations you should avoid, but some that are okay. Generally speaking, it’s best to wait until after your pregnancy for most vaccines, even though a few are considered safe. Your doctor may say it’s a good idea to get a vaccine if there’s a good chance you could be exposed to a particular disease or infection, and the benefits of vaccinating you outweigh the potential risks. They might also suggest a vaccination if an infection would pose a serious risk to you or your baby, or if the particular vaccine they’re suggesting is unlikely to cause any harm.
For example, the flu shot is considered safe during any stage of pregnancy—just be sure (and your doctor will know this) you only receive the shot made with the inactivated virus, not anything with live strains of the virus.
The Tdap vaccine is recommended for all pregnant women in the second half of each pregnancy, regardless of whether or not they’ve had the vaccine before, or when it was last given. This recommendation is fairly new and was made in response to a rise in pertussis (whooping cough), which can be fatal in newborns who haven’t had their routine vaccinations yet. Other vaccines that are considered safe to get during pregnancy include hepatitis B, meningitis, and rabies.
Most vaccination risks come with live-virus vaccines, or vaccines containing live organisms. The risk with these is that the actual infection or disease that it’s meant to prevent, could possibly be passed along to your unborn baby.
The important thing to take away here, is that you should always talk to your doctor. Most vaccines, and scenarios in which you may need a vaccine, are circumstantial. For example, getting the chickenpox vaccine, in some cases, may be safer for your baby than actually getting the infection. So keep your doctor in the loop, and you’ll be fine.
What to Avoid During Pregnancy: The Takeaways
It might seem like you can’t do anything anymore—this is a hefty list, and there are more things to avoid—but remember that everything is circumstantial, and temporary. So talk to your doctor often. Be open and honest with them, not only about what’s going on physically, but also how you’re feeling, and remember the good things! Like the fact that your partner has to clean the litter box, you can opt out manual labor, and you’ll get to meet your little miracle in no time.
Looking for a knowledgeable doctor to guide you through this journey? Call RMC today for personal, professional maternity care.