As an OB/GYN, I often get asked about what is safe and what should be avoided during pregnancy. I enjoy these conversations with patients because I feel that I can do a lot to ease fears. Occasionally, I even get to provide some unexpected good news: “Go ahead and order the tempura!”
The questions haven’t changed much over the years: “Can I paint the nursery? Is it safe to color my hair? Should I avoid deli meat altogether?” The Internet has provided so many places to look up the answers and so many advice-givers (both professional and not), that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. With the information overload, it may seem easier to avoid, avoid, avoid.
Coffee Shop Barista: “What’ll you have?”
Pregnant mama: “I’m just here for the smells, thanks!”
But you don’t need to do that.
To help my patients wade through some of the confusion, I try to keep things simple. Dangerous behavior is usually obvious. For instance, don’t BASE jump or do extreme sports. Stay away from tobacco, alcohol, or drugs.
Here is a list of answers that I give to the most common questions about what you can and can’t do. Please note that they are aimed toward a low-risk, singleton pregnancy.
Is exercising OK?
- SHOCKER! This doctor recommends exercise. Along with increasing cardiovascular fitness and improving overall health, benefits specific to pregnancy include reducing back pain, promoting healthy weight gain, and diminishing the risks of preeclampsia. It has been shown to decrease the chances of gestational diabetes and c-section as well.
- If you are already a gym regular, you can continue to exercise at a moderate level throughout pregnancy. For the inexperienced: warm up and cool down slowly, and be able to hold a conversation while working out.
- Go for it: walking, running, indoor cycling, yoga, Zumba, SWIMMING!
- No-no’s: bungee jumping, contact sports, American Ninja Competitions.
When can I travel?
- Try to schedule trips between 12 and 36 weeks. Complications are more likely to occur in the first and third trimesters. Do not get in the car or on a plane if you are having pain, contractions, or bleeding. Having a baby at 30,000 feet may get you on the news, but the excitement is just not worth it.
“Please don’t say I have to give up my coffee!”
- If you can do without it, awesome. (I myself could not.). Good news, though. In pregnancy, you can drink up to 200 mg of caffeine (or 2 small cups of coffee) per day. Go easy on sweeteners. Ditch the diet soda. Also, Red bull may give you wings, but try to keep your feet on the ground for 40 weeks.
“But I heard I can’t eat fish.”
- Sure you can! While raw sushi is forbidden, don’t avoid fish! Eat 2-3 servings per week for the healthy omega-3’s. If you are one of those that have cravings for sharks, swordfish, or king mackerel, I kindly recommend leaving those monsters alone for 9 months.
- Why shouldn’t you consume undercooked food in pregnancy? There are two reasons: 1) the immune system is altered and 2) the fetus is vulnerable. The baby can become infected, which can have devastating effects on normal development and the nervous system. Fortunately, these complications are rare.
“I’d give my left hand for a turkey sandwich”
- I’ve never been really strict on lunchmeat, but it is clear that fresh and heated is the way to go, given the risk of listeriosis. Limit to once or twice per week. Pay attention to the produce recalls in the media.
- Paint the nursery? Prolonged exposure to some solvents (which can be found in paint, among other things) can cause issues. Painting a room or 2 during pregnancy is ok as long as you keep the area well ventilated and wear a mask.
- Color my hair? I’m OK with it. I suggest doing it only once during pregnancy.
- Spray tan? It’s safe as far as we know. Limit it to once as well.
What can I use for breakouts?
- Acne treatment is OK in pregnancy, but you MUST avoid certain medications. Absolutely no isoretinoin nor topical retinoids. Topical benzoyl peroxide and salicyclic acid are ok. Read the labels and ask your doctor.
All in all, treat your body like a temple. Eat five servings of fruit and vegetables per day. Quit smoking. Take your pre-natals!
Ask yourself: Is this thing I’m doing/putting into my body good for my baby? It serves as a guide for behavior that will lead to a healthy baby and healthy you for 9 months and beyond.
Dr. Logan Kracht, MD FACOG at Women’s Clinic of Johnson County.