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Pregnancy

Universal Precautions for Every Pregnancy

Jessica Evert, MD

red no signEverything you eat, smoke, drink or otherwise ingest while pregnant affects not only your body but also the developing body of your baby. Do not assume that because you feel fine eating, drinking or smoking something that this something is also healthy for your baby. Your baby's developing body is far more fragile than yours. Your baby's dividing and growing cells contain fragile genetic material that can be poisoned by various substances that you wouldn't think twice about eating. Should such poisoning occur, your baby may develop abnormally and be born with birth defects, mental retardation, poor growth or other substantial undesirable complications.

Pregnant women should avoid certain foods and substances because of the way those foods and substances can negatively affect developing babies. The following list provides an overview of the types of things that can be dangerous during pregnancy. Depending on your particular pregnancy and history of complications or health concerns, however, there may be additional things that you need to avoid. Be sure to talk to your doctor about what you should avoid so as to best keep yourself and your baby healthy.

  • Certain Foods. Pregnant women should not eat:
    • raw shellfish
    • raw fish
    • raw meat
    • unprocessed, unpasteurized (raw) or aged cheese
    • unprocessed or unpasteurized (raw) dairy products

    These foods can be contaminated with infection-causing bacteria that can cause miscarriage.

    Pregnant women should also avoid consuming some ocean fish (such as tuna, salmon, shark, swordfish, tilefish and mackerel) whether or not such fish are cooked, because those fish are likely to contain dangerously high levels of mercury, a heavy metal that is associated with neurological and brain defects. No more than one can of tuna per week and no more than one serving of salmon a month should be consumed! More information on mercury in fish, as well as wallet cards identifying which fish are more and less dangerous, can be found at https://www.nrdc.org/stories/mercury-guide

  • Caffeine. Studies have shown that large amounts of caffeine can cause birth defects or premature birth. It is recommended that pregnant women limit their intake of caffeinated beverages to 1 or 2 per day, or that they avoid caffeine altogether.
  • Cigarettes, Drugs, and Alcohol. Use of Tobacco products decreases blood flow to the developing baby, decreasing the amount of oxygen the baby receives. The toxic effects of tobacco smoke can lead to low birth weight, miscarriage or stillbirth, and increased risk of cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and other serious problems summarized here.

    Use of alcohol and many illegal drugs including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, PCP, LSD, ketamine, esctasy, various glues and solvents, and methamphetamine can cause serious issues for the developing baby including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), brain damage, mental retardation and other growth and development problems.

  • Certain medications. Certain medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, can be harmful to your developing fetus. For instance, ibuprofen (marketed as Advil) may harm your fetus. You should alert your doctor of all the medications you are taking (or plan to take) so that he or she can advise you as to whether or not use of those medicines during pregnancy will be safe.
  • Cat Feces. The disease Toxoplasmosis is carried in cat feces (poop), and may very likely kill your developing fetus should you contract it. For this reason, pregnant women should not directly handle cat feces. If you cannot avoid changing your cat’s litter box even though you are pregnant, be sure to wear rubber gloves while scooping and handling material. Carefully wash your hands immediately afterward.
  • Hot Tubs. The use of hot tubs during pregnancy has been linked to increased risk of miscarriage. 

The above restrictions on what a pregnant woman can eat, ingest or do can feel overwhelming, particularly if you haven't already been living a healthy lifestyle. You may need to give up some unhealthy habits. The most important thing you can do to ensure that you will have a healthy baby is to make smart decisions that will keep you healthy.

 

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