Being pregnant means that you have to take extra care about what you put in and on your body. The child growing inside of you is extremely vulnerable and much more susceptible to toxins and other dangers. Below is a list of some of the things that you should avoid or minimize the use of during pregnancy. Make sure to check with your doctor before using any of the items listed below.
You will see that, with many of the items below, the risks to your unborn child are unknown. What this means is that no one has done a study to determine whether the procedure or chemical in question is safe to use while pregnant. So you should not assume that something is safe just because it has not been proven to be unsafe. Take the “better safe than sorry” approach to avoid any potential harm to your child.
There is no safe amount of alcohol to consume while pregnant. Excessive drinking can cause fetal alcohol syndrome. With that said, if you did consume alcohol before you knew you were pregnant, consult with your doctor but don’t stress yourself out worrying about it. Just stop the use from that point on.
Absolutely avoid all illegal drugs. Even a single of use of some drugs can seriously damage an embryo. Use of prescription drugs should only proceed after consulting with your doctor.
Cigarettes and Tobacco
As with drugs and alcohol, you should completely avoid tobacco while pregnant. Nicotine can pass into the baby’s bloodstream and cause a variety of problems including prematurity, low birth weight and other birth complications. You should also avoid the inhalation of second-hand smoke as well.
There is a lot of debate about the use of caffeine during pregnancy. Caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate. Even green tea and decaffeinated coffee have some caffeine (see this caffeine chart). It is best to avoid it or at least use it in moderation (no more than 2 servings per day). Caffeine can cross the placenta but the extent that it affects the fetus is not known. One study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that the risk of miscarriage doubled when pregnant woman consumed at least 200 mg of caffeine a day. However, other studies have found conflicting results. Caffeine also has a diuretic effect, increases heartburn, may exacerbate pregnancy mood swings, may interfere with sleep, and may interfere with the absorption of iron.
There are some pretty nasty chemicals in nail polish and acrylic nails. The effect on the fetus is undetermined, but one whiff of the stuff should be enough to trigger your inner mommy that it’s not a good idea. Plus the chemicals in these products absorb through the skin. If you do visit your local nail salon, make sure it is well-ventilated and try not to spend too much time in it.
If you are pregnant, you should postpone unnecessary x-rays until after baby is born. However, if an x-ray is warranted, the amount of radiation is most likely low and will not harm the baby. Excessive amounts of radiation have been shown to increase the risk for mental retardation and eye abnormalities. So make sure to discuss the risks with your doctor before getting an x-ray while pregnant.
Amalgams of silver, mercury, tin and copper have been used for dental fillings for more than a century. Mercury has been in the news lately and is being blamed for various health conditions, including autism, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and asthma. However, studies are still being conducted to determine whether the amount of mercury in dental amalgams is dangerous. If you are concerned, you can opt for composite resin fillings during pregnancy. Do not remove existing amalgam fillings as the removal could expose your baby to more mercury than leaving them in.
If the water in your bath gets too hot, then you can get overheated which could increase your heart rate, reduce blood flow to your baby and put the baby under stress. Some experts suggest that you keep the water below 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Massages are generally okay to during pregnancy. However, make sure you clear it with your doctor first. Some experts suggest that you avoid massages during the first trimester. If you do get a massage, opt for a prenatal massage done by a trained masseuse.
Hair Color and Highlights
Coloring your hair becomes an issue when the dye makes contact with the scalp and absorbs into the skin. Highlighting your hair is a little safer because the chemicals don’t usually come into contact with your skin. But you still have to worry about the fumes. You should definitely avoid coloring or highlighting your hair during your first trimester. After that, check with your doctor but it would probably be best to avoid it. Try some of the more natural hair color options, like henna dye.
Hair Perming and Straightening
It is unknown what kind of effect, if any, that chemicals from hair perming and straightening may have on the fetus. Plus, when you’re pregnant, your hair may respond to these procedures in a totally unpredicatable way. To be on the safe side, avoid these procedures or at least check with your doctor. In the meantime, get used to your curling iron or straight iron.
Fumes from paint, nail polish and hair dye should be avoided while pregnant. These fumes can contain VOCs and other toxins. VOCs have been linked to allergies, asthma, headaches, rashes liver or kidney damage and cancer.
Pets and Gardening
Believe it or not, pregnant women should avoid changing pet litter or gardening without gloves. Cat feces and soil can contain a parasite called toxoplasmosis, which can lead to miscarriage, birth defects and premature birth. Some people have an immunity to toxoplasmosis and you can ask your doctor to test for this immunity.
Candles & Fragrances
Breathing certain chemicals in synthetic fragrances can exacerbate asthma and lead to disruption of the immune, reproductive and nervous systems.
Everything from paint to flooring to furniture can contain harmful toxins. Your unborn child can be especially sensitive to these toxins. It is best to avoid any major home repair or renovation while pregnant. However, there are steps you can take to ensure that your home project will be gentler on the environment and on your health (see article on Decorating the Nursery and Home).
One of the biggest sources of toxic chemicals in our homes are our cleaning supplies. Because the harm to the fetus could be substantial, it is best to avoid using or breathing conventional cleaning supplies while pregnant. Safer alternatives are available or you can choose to make your own cleaning supplies from safe household ingredients. See the article on Green Cleaning for more information.
It is best to avoid depilatories and electrolysis while pregnant as it is unclear whether they are harmful to the fetus. Laser hair removal typically uses a numbing agent that could be absorbed by the fetus. There are studies that suggest avoiding laser hair removal on the breasts, abdomen and bikini area; however, it is best to avoid it completely while pregnant. Your best bet is to stick with shaving, tweezing or waxing while pregnant.
Avoid most acne treatments while pregnant, including benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and retinoids. They contain some pretty harsh chemicals that are absorbed through the skin and can potentially harm the fetus. Studies have shown that birth defects and other complications can result from high doses of oral salicylic acid and from oral retinoids such as Accutane. There are some natural acne treatments like topical tea tree oil but check with your doctor first.
While whitening toothpastes are mild and probably okay to use during pregnancy, at-home whitening treatments and dentist office whitening are off limits. If you check the box of at-home whitening treatments, it will probably advise against using it while pregnant since the effects on the fetus are unknown. Similarly, most reputable dentists will not take the risk of doing a whitening procedure on a pregnant woman’s teeth. Choose more natural whitening toothpaste options such as Tom’s of Maine.
Never visit a tanning bed while pregnant. The risk of overheating is too high, and exposure to UV rays has been shown to lead to folic acid deficiencies. Self-tanning and spray-tanning do not carry the same risks as tanning beds but they are still a cause for concern. No studies have been done on the effects on the fetus of the chemicals in tanning products, so it’s best to avoid them. If you do want to tan, try one of the all-natural self tanners on the market.
Using sunscreen is a must for avoiding skin cancer and other harmful effects from the sun’s rays. But to be safe, try one of the all natural sunscreens available.
Being natural or organic does not mean that a product is safe for use while pregnant. Many bath and body products contain “natural” ingredients that can be harmful to your unborn child. Even plant-based ingredients can be biologically active. Advocates claim that essential oils can do everything from relieve stress to clear up acne. If a natural ingredient works like a drug, then it is a drug! And like drugs, they can be potentially harmful to pregnant women. It has been suggested that many essential oils have properties that can irritate skin, have hormone-like behavior, cause miscarriage or cause contractions.
Below is a list of some essential oils that should be avoided during pregnancy. However, when in doubt, it is always best to avoid essential oils altogether. A good rule of thumb is to choose natural and organic products that are made specifically for pregnant women. But remember to always check the ingredients label as well. For more information about essential oils, try The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy.
- Bay and Bay Laurel
- Borage Seed (avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding)
- Celery Seed
- Clary sage
- Peppermint (during first 4 months of pregnancy)
- Rose (during first 4 months of pregnancy)
- Rosemary (during first 4 months of pregnancy)
Herbs are another example of a “natural” ingredient that may not always be a safe choice for pregnant women. Herbs can be found in herbal supplements, teas and other food and drink products. Advocates claim that herbs, such as in herbal supplements, can do everything from help you lose weight to cure disease. Herbs are drugs and most are not regulated by the FDA as drugs. For more information about which herbs are safe, check out Herbs for a Healthy Pregnancy: From Conception to Childbirth by Penelope Ody. Or look at this list of herbs to avoid while pregnant.
Certain foods and drinks should also be avoided while pregnant due to risks such as bacteria and the unknown effects of certain chemicals:
Studies have shown that green tea contains a compound that may interfere with the body’s utilization of folic acid. If you don’t get enough folic acid during pregnancy, your baby may be at increased risk of neural tube defects. The best approach is to avoid green tea while pregnant.
Studies are mixed as to the safety of sugar substitutes. Bottom line is that most are not natural and it is unknown was effects they might have on the fetus.
Deli meats and hot dogs
Deli meats and hot dogs can contain bacteria, Listeriosis, that is dangerous to a fetus. If you do eat them, heat them up to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Nitrates and nitrites are preservatives found in cold cuts and hot dogs. They can react in your stomach to form a carcinogen. Pregnant women and infants are at greater risk of toxicity from nitrates or nitrites.
Artificial Additives and MSG
MSG (monosodium glutamate) and other artificial food additives should be avoided during pregnancy because they can have unknown effects on the fetus. Studies on mice have shown that MSG can cause damage in brain development.
Raw and undercooked meat
Raw and undercooked food products including meat, poultry and seafood, especially sushi, oysters and eggs, can carry parasites or foodborne illness. Always cook your food thoroughly.
Raw eggs (as well as foods containing them, such as key lime pie, mayonnaise, Caesar dressing, mousse, hollandaise sauce) can contain Salmonella, a bacterium that is dangerous to a fetus.
Raw sprouts may contain the bacteria, e. Coli.
If not stored at low temperatures, soft cheeses can contain Listeriosis, a bacterium that is dangerous to a fetus.
Unpasteurized dairy and juice
Unpasteurized dairy products and juice may contain bacteria dangerous to your unborn child. Avoid fresh-squeezed juice.
Smoked and cured food
Smoked and cured foods can contain dangerous bacteria, such as E. Coli and Listeria, that can be harmful to the fetus.
Pate or meat spreads
Pate and meat spreads can contain Listeria, a bacterium that is dangerous to a fetus.
Processed and junk foods
Processed foods contain artificial flavors, colors, preservatives and hydrogenated oils (contain trans fat that prevent the synthesis and inhibit the utilization of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which are important for brain development).
Canned goods can contain BPA and phthalates in their lining. See article on Plastics.
See article on Plastics.
Health drinks may contain supplements that can prove dangerous to the fetus. Avoid all health drinks except those specifically designed for pregnant women.