Most pregnant women are understandably keen to avoid anything which could potentially harm them or their baby. Minimising risk factors and knowing what to avoid during pregnancy are some of the ways to reduce the likelihood of problems, but there is a limit to how much you can control.
Keeping informed and knowledgeable about what you can do is important. It may seem while you are pregnant that every horror story soon finds its ways to your ears. Filtering what you want to hear and what you’d rather not takes some energy and you’ll find it’s not always possible to block out what you’d like to. It is common during pregnancy for mothers to worry about all the “what if’s” which can happen and how they would deal with them if they did.
A diet high in folic acid is important, especially in the first trimester. Low folic acid has been linked with babies having a higher incidence of neural tube defects, for example, spina bifida. A good quality pre-natal vitamin supplement which contains 0.5mg or 500 micrograms of folic acid is the daily recommendation. Foods high in folic acid are green leafy vegetables, good quality cereals, fortified cereals, liver and grapefruit.
Some foods are considered too risky for pregnant women to eat and they are advised to avoid them. This is because of the chances of contracting an infection with Listeria, which can lead to stillbirth and other complications. Listeria is a food-borne illness which can be transferred in soft cheeses, coleslaw and sushi. Refrigerated foods which have not been stored correctly or cold enough, soft serve ice-cream, unpasteurised milk and products made from unpasteurised milk and ready to eat seafood are also risky.
Some fish are potentially risky to eat during pregnancy. High levels of mercury are found in some fish species and when a developing baby is exposed to high levels of mercury they can have problems with their nervous system.
The current recommendation regarding safe alcohol consumption in pregnancy is that there is no proven safe amount. The placenta does not completely filter out alcohol and a percentage still makes its way to the baby. If you had been drinking alcohol when you conceived try not to worry. The important issue is that you abstain for the remainder of your pregnancy.
If you have been prescribed medication by your doctor and they are aware you are pregnant, do not stop taking them. There is a risk to your own health if you do stop suddenly. If you are in any doubt double check with your doctor and a pharmacist. Most large public hospitals have drug and medication hot lines; you can phone to speak with a pharmacist.
The general guidelines around medication use in pregnancy are:
- Avoid taking anything unless you have to. Do not self prescribe and assume something is safe just because it worked for someone else.
- Although a medication may be considered safe for you to take as an adult, to a forming baby with only a few hundred cells it may be very dangerous.
- Consult your doctor or pharmacist if you are unsure.
- If you do take a medication make sure you take the right dose, at the right time and how it is recommended.
There are associated risks with taking some herbal or natural therapies during pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester when the baby is forming. Again, check with your doctor or pharmacist regarding what has been proven to be safe and what is potentially toxic.
The current recommendation is for pregnant mothers to limit their caffeine intake. Cola and energy drinks need to be limited
Chemicals, paint fumes, pesticides and cleaning agents can all pose a risk to pregnant women and their unborn babies. Get used to reading the labels on all products and their precautionary warnings. If there is a chance you could be exposed to a potential hazard, ensure you are in a well ventilated room. If your working environment is risky, let your employer know you are pregnant and see if you can arrange for an alternative working location.
Cigarettes contain nicotine and a host of other dangerous chemicals. Babies who are born to mothers who smoke are smaller than they would should be. They are also at more risk of being born prematurely, dying from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), developing asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Lactating mothers who smoke do not produce as much breast milk as they could and their babies can smell like cigarette smoke.
It will be impossible to completely protect yourself from the risk of illness when you are pregnant. Viruses and bacteria are not selective about whom they colonise; their primary focus is to look after their own interests and replicate in as many innocent people as they can. Just because you are pregnant does not mean you can’t be ill. Pregnancy can mean a lowered immune response which means you may be even more vulnerable than you usually are.
Become vigilant about hand washing. Avoid inhaling when other people are coughing and sneezing and if you happen to be unlucky enough to be in close vicinity with someone who is vomiting, hold your breath, at least temporarily. Many viruses are air borne and hitch a ride on air particles which are easily inhaled.
Threatening or violent relationships
Domestic violence within relationships is thought to be vastly under-reported. Pregnancy is a time when it can peak, especially when the baby has not been planned, when parents are young and unsupported. Unemployment, homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse can all make violence worse.
If you, your unborn baby or other children are at risk, you need to get help. Think about developing a safety plan and establishing a safety network of trusted people who can help you if you need it.
Not Wearing Seatbelts
The safest way for a pregnant mother to travel when in a car, bus, plane or any other vehicle is to be restrained by a seatbelt. Although it may feel uncomfortable, in the event of an accident a correctly applied seatbelt could save your own, as well as your baby’s life.