You can eat this, but you can’t eat that. This kind of exercise is fine, but that kind definitely isn’t!!! Aaarrrgggh!! Suddenly you’re sharing your body with a little person and there are a lot of do’s and don’ts – confusing isn’t it! We take a look at the most common areas of confusion and our pregnancy experts explain things simply and clearly.
Food – what’s safe and what isn’t?
Midwife, Hannah Hulme Hunter says, “There are certain foods you shouldn’t eat while you’re pregnant because they can contain high levels of listeria, a germ that can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illness in a newborn baby. Remember to avoid the following:
- soft mould-ripened cheese, such as Camembert, Brie and blue-veined cheese. There is no risk with hard cheeses (such as Cheddar), cottage cheese and processed cheese
- pâté (any type, including vegetable)
- uncooked or undercooked ready meals. Make sure you heat ready meals until they’re piping hot all the way through
- Avoid eating raw eggs and food containing raw or partially cooked eggs. Only eat eggs that have been cooked until both the white and yolk are solid. This is to avoid the risk of salmonella, which causes a type of food poisoning.
- Always wash your hands after handling raw meat, and keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods. This is to avoid food poisoning germs, such as salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli O157.
- Make sure you only eat meat that has been well cooked. Take particular care with sausages and minced meat.
- Always wear gloves when you’re gardening or changing cat litter, and wash your hands afterwards. This is to avoid toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by a parasite found in meat, cat feces and soil. Toxoplasmosis can be harmful to unborn babies.
- Make sure you don’t have too much vitamin A. This means you should avoid taking high-dose multivitamin supplements and fish oil supplements, and avoid eating liver and liver products such as pâté. You need some vitamin A, but too much could harm your baby. Ask your GP or midwife if you would like more information.
- Avoid eating shark, swordfish and marlin and limit the amount of tuna you eat. Don’t eat more than two tuna steaks a week (weighing about 140g cooked or 170g raw) or four medium-size cans of tuna a week (with a drained weight of about 140g per can). This is because of the levels of mercury in these fish. At high levels, mercury can harm a baby’s developing nervous system.
- Choose cooked shellfish rather than raw. This is because raw shellfish might be contaminated with harmful bacteria and viruses that could cause food poisoning. And food poisoning can be particularly unpleasant during pregnancy.
It’s also a good idea to:
- Cut down on foods such as cakes and biscuits, because these are high in fat and sugar. This can also help you to avoid putting on too much weight during pregnancy.
It’s okay to eat:
- Well washed raw vegetables but best to avoid unwashed vegetables. Even packaged, supermarket fruit and vegetables should be thoroughly washed under running water
- salads made from fresh, well-washed ingredients and dressed salads prepared immediately before eating but best to avoid ready-prepared and packaged salads straight from the bag and ready-made dressed salads (such as potato salad or coleslaw).
What medications are safe?
Dr Jo Lee says, “The time of maximum vulnerability of the foetus is from the third to the eleventh week when foetal development is taking place. However, some of the above drugs can be harmful at other stages of pregnancy too. It is always wise to check with your GP and pharmacist that a drug that you have been prescribed is safe to take in pregnancy.”
Antibiotics – some antibiotics are considered safe in pregnancy and some are to be avoided.
- Safe: Penicillins, including amoxycillin, cephalosporins, macrolides
- Not safe: Metronidazole, sulphanamides including Trimethoprim,
Anticoagulants – It’s OK to become pregnant on warfarin, but the woman should be changed to heparin or a similar drug when pregnancy is diagnosed.
Antidepressants – If an antidepressant is required in pregnancy, then amitriptyline is one of the preferred ones to choose. Paroxetine is also considered to be one of the safest of the antidepressants for use in pregnancy, although concern about its use relates to the fact that it has not been used for long enough to be certain of its safety.
Is it safe to colour my hair?
Midwife Nicola Malcolm says, “Modern commercially-produced hair dyes, used in accordance with the instructions, should be perfectly safe during pregnancy. The chemicals in permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes are not highly toxic.
A lot of doctors advise pregnant women to wait until after the first trimester before using hair dyes, even though there is little scientific evidence that colouring your hair in pregnancy could be harmful to your baby. Even so, many women still decide to wait until after the first 12 weeks. If you’re colouring your hair yourself, make sure the room is well ventilated and ensure minimal contact with the dye on your skin by wearing the gloves which usually come with home colouring kits.
“A safer alternative would be to have highlights as the dye does not come into contact with the skin, so there is less risk of any chemicals entering your blood stream.
“It’s worth speaking to your hairdresser for advice before adding any type of chemical process to your hair as pregnancy hormones can alter its thickness and condition. Many pregnant women have found their normal hair dye comes out a different colour to usual, or perms have ended up frizzy or completely flat. Do a strand test first using the treatment(s) you intend to use.”
What forms of exercise are safe in pregnancy?
Midwife, Hannah Hulme Hunter says, “In all discussions about exercise in pregnancy, a distinction must be made between regular moderate exercise that leaves you nicely ‘glowing’, slightly puffed, and pleasantly relaxed, and all-out, hell-for-leather, push-to-the-limit-and-beyond activity that leaves you sweating, over-heated, and gasping for breath.
“The first type of exercise is of benefit to almost all pregnant women, whilst the second is generally not advised. Vigorous exercise (the second type) is certainly not suitable for women who have had two or more miscarriages, bleeding in this pregnancy, high blood pressure/pre-eclampsia in this pregnancy, placenta previa (when the placenta lies over the neck of the womb), twins (or more) – or any previous problems with the growth of the
“I would suggest that very vigorous exercise should be avoided right from the start of pregnancy, perhaps even before, since many women do not know when they actually conceive. On the other hand, it may take up to a year to get pregnant, and many women understandably resent forgoing serious training for this long ‘just in case’.
“Furthermore, there is no direct evidence to link vigorous exercise with the miscarriage of a healthy pregnancy. You may like to take expert advice on this particular point from your doctor or a qualified fitness instructor with an interest in pregnancy.
“Once the pregnancy has established, there seems to be two possible ways in which the baby itself may be harmed by continual vigorous exercise. Firstly, there is possibility, not yet proven, that getting very hot during exercise may affect the baby’s developing nervous system. We’re not talking here about getting slightly warm and puffed, but about getting seriously over-heated during a marathon run, or in a sauna or steam bath.
“During any exercise, especially during pregnancy, it is important to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise, and to stop before getting too hot.
“Secondly, there is also the possibility that very vigorous exercise may affect the blood supply to the baby by diverting blood away from the uterus to the leg muscles and so on, and so reduce his or her growth.
“It is therefore better to exercise for several short periods spread throughout the week, than to have one long and demanding session, and to stop well before you become exhausted.
“Finally, if you experience any of the following warning signs, stop exercising and see your midwife or doctor urgently:
- bleeding or loss of fluid from the vagina
- lack of baby movements
- shortness of breath
- dizziness, or chest pain
- swelling or pain in leg or calf, or severely swollen ankles
- headaches, sickness of vomiting.
“Various forms of exercise may be harmful to the pregnant woman as opposed to her baby. In conclusion, unless you have been specifically told otherwise, there is no harm, and probably considerable benefit, in continuing to exercise moderately – as defined above. Just keep in mind that pregnancy is not the time to go for a ‘personal best’!
What about alcohol? Yes or no?
The impact of alcohol on pregnancy, even a small amount, seems to change daily! Experts go to and fro on how much is safe, and so the common sense approach is to avoid alcohol completely while you’re pregnant.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) says women should not drink any alcohol during pregnancy.
Can I Have Sex Whilst Pregnant?
Midwife Nicola Malcolm says, “Be reassured, it is generally safe to have sex in pregnancy. It is not a good idea to have penetrative sex if you have had bleeding from a low lying placenta, your waters have gone, or either you or your partner suffers from a genital infection. If you suffer from recurrent miscarriages it may be wise to refrain for those early weeks.
“Women often feel more sexy and have a greater sex drive while pregnant, thought to be due to hormone shifts. Others feel less aroused and lose their sex drive completely. “Certain positions may prove difficult; do what is comfortable and be aware that sex is very unlikely to harm your unborn baby. The baby grows inside a bag of waters (amniotic fluid) that protects it by acting as a buffer between it and the outside world.”
Why Do I Need Folic Acid Supplements?
Dr Jo Lee says, “Folate or folic acid is one of the B group of vitamins, also known as B9. We all need folic acid to make DNA which carries the genetic information that controls the correct development and function of every single cell in our bodies.
“A good intake of folic acid when you are trying for a baby and /or at least during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (when the baby’s neural tube is forming), significantly reduces your baby’s risk of developing a neural tube defect, such as spina bifida or anencephaly (when the brain does not develop).”