1. Be stress free
Stress is a normal part of life. But, while you’re pregnant, it’s best to avoid stress as much as possible. Obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Judith Carter from the Netcare Parklane Clinic explains that the uterus is susceptible to stress hormones, and if you’re in a stressful situation, you might get contractions or experience discomfort, which is unhealthy for your growing baby. “We all lead stressful lives and pregnancy can be a stressful time, but excessive stress may increase your chances of going into preterm labour or having a low birth weight baby,” says Dr Carter.
2. Steer clear of tobacco smoke
Whenever you smoke, the blood vessels in your body tighten. Dr Carter explains that the placenta is full of blood vessels, and in order for your baby to get proper nourishment, the placenta has to have a large surface area through which oxygen and nutrients can transfer from Mom’s blood to Baby’s blood. Anything that affects your blood vessels will affect the functioning of the placenta. “Tobacco or cigarette smoking damages all of the blood vessels in your body. Once the blood vessels in your placenta have been damaged, they won’t transfer nutrients and oxygen to your baby as effectively, which could stunt your baby’s growth. Other devastating effects of smoking during pregnancy include an increased risk of miscarriage or still birth.
3. Don’t self-medicate
The rule of thumb is to avoid most medications while you’re pregnant, unless your healthcare provider prescribes or approves of the meds. “There‘s nothing wrong with taking paracetamol for a headache, but if it doesn’t work, consult with your healthcare provider before taking stronger medication,” says Dr Carter.
4. Go easy on the caffeine
A high intake of caffeine will constrict the blood vessels in your placenta, which could lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or poor growth for your little one. Too much caffeine could also increase your chances of experiencing insomnia, heartburn and anxiety. Dr Carter adds that caffeine tends to dehydrate you, and if you’re dehydrated, your blood pressure could drop. If you already have low blood pressure and it drops even further, it could lead to decreased blood flow to your baby. Although a safe level of caffeine intake during pregnancy has not yet been established, one caffeinated drink a day is thought to be safe. Remember that some teas, cold drinks and chocolate also contain caffeine.
5. Take vitamin A in moderation
You shouldn’t avoid vitamin A completely during pregnancy, but you should be careful not to take more than 5 000 international units a day. “This is why it’s a good idea to stick to only one prenatal vitamin, preferably one that your doctor or midwife recommends, and not take a variety of vitamins, because the accumulated amounts of vitamin A could be too high, which is dangerous for your baby,” says Dr Carter. Too much vitamin A can lead to birth defects of your baby’s head, face, heart thymus, brain and ear.
6. Stay away from pesticides
Pregnant women should avoid any pesticides that attack insects’ nervous systems. “ These are problematic during the first trimester as your baby’s nervous system is still busy developing, and long term or intense exposure to pesticides can have a negative effect on your baby’s development,” says Dr Carter. The greatest risk to Baby is from the third to the eighth week of the first trimester, when your baby’s neural tube is developing. Exposure to pesticides during this period could lead to spina bifida.
Pregnant women should avoid agricultural areas where pesticides are used, or remove themselves from the area until the risk period has lapsed. If possible, try to avoid using pesticides in your home, on your pet or in your garden, especially during the first trimester of pregnancy. If you really need to use them, ask someone else to apply the pesticides where necessary, and open windows to ventilate the house and make sure that all food is covered before using any pesticides indoors.
“Don’t be concerned if you’ve been exposed to pesticides unknowingly; any real concerns come after long or intense exposure to pesticides,” says Dr Carter. Pregnant women are also discouraged from travelling to malaria areas, but if you are going to a malaria area, it’s safer to use physical barriers against mosquito bites like tabard, mosquito nets and long-sleeved clothing than it is to use pesticides. It’s advisable to consult your healthcare provider with this regard.
7. No saunas, jacuzzis or tanning beds
It’s a bad idea to do anything that will significantly raise your core body temperature during pregnancy. “There have been some isolated reports that suggest that congenital abnormalities could form if you’re exposed to things like saunas, Jacuzzis and tanning beds during the first trimester,” cautions Dr Carter. When your core body temperature is increased, chemicals called prostaglandins are released into your blood stream. These chemicals can initiate labour. ”Saunas in particular are bad for pregnant women because they lower your blood pressure and decrease the blood supply to your baby.”
8. Be a picky fish eater
Pregnant women should avoid eating fish that contains mercury. Mercury is a toxin and eating fish that contains high levels of mercury can be dangerous to everyone’s health, but especially for pregnant women and their babies. “Exposure to high levels of mercury during pregnancy can affect your unborn baby’s brain and nervous system development. Mercury concentrated in the baby’s brain and nervous system can cause problems with language, motor and cognitive skills, so it’s important to avoid eating predatory fish like tuna, sword fish and shark,” says Dr Carter.
9. Alcohol is a no-no
Although the guidelines say that pregnant women are allowed to have one alcoholic beverage a day, most gynaes encourage their patients not to drink at all, as there’s no consensus about the absolute safe limit of alcohol during pregnancy. Large amounts of alcohol and binge drinking during the first trimester of pregnancy can cause irreparable damage. “Your baby could be born with foetal alcohol syndrome, which includes conditions such as poor growth, developmental and neurological delays, heart defects and facial defects,” says Dr Carter.
10. Don’t clean the cat’s litter box
It’s best to ask someone else to take care of your cat’s litter box while you’re pregnant. Dr Carter explains that cats carry toxoplasmosis, a parasite found in litter boxes and cat faeces amongst others, and when you handle those faeces and don’t wash your hands properly, you could ingest the parasite which will then enter your blood stream and infect the placenta. “The infection causes the most damage during the first trimester, but the risk actually increases as the pregnancy progresses. Toxoplasmosis usually causes a very mild or asymptomatic infection in the mother but may lead to miscarriage, stillbirth and neurological abnormalities like cerebral palsy in the baby,” warns Dr Carter. You should also avoid eating sand (no matter how strong the craving) or undercooked meat while you’re pregnant, as the parasite can be found in these as well.