Being pregnant makes you suddenly aware of all the everyday things that might be hazardous to your baby while he is at such a crucial stage of development. This is obviously a good thing, but if you become too anxious about everything, you will not be able to relax and enjoy your pregnancy. The lists below give general guidelines and suggestions.
We use an enormous number of chemicals at work and at home and they are not usually harmful if we follow the manufacturer's instructions. However, they may have a cumulative effect, so it is best to restrict their use during pregnancy, especially during the first 3 months.
- Use natural cleaning agents, for example, bicarbonate of soda, salt, vinegar and lemon juice, or eco-friendly products.
- Avoid coming into contact with chemicals. Wear rubber gloves or wash your hands thoroughly.
- Avoid inhaling vapours from, for example, glue, petrol and paint, oven-cleaners, cleaning fluids, air-fresheners, and use pump-action sprays rather than aerosols.
- Avoid exposure to toxic wastes or polluted water.
- Avoid polluted air, for example, noxious fumes or smoky atmospheres.
- If your house still has lead pipes, always run the tap for a few minutes before using the water.
You should avoid coming into contact with infectious diseases, especially rubella, chickenpox and mumps. Apart from fever affecting your baby's development, these diseases carry a number of particular risks Chickenpox may cause fetal malformations in early pregnancy and problems in the newborn. Mumps is associated with a slight risk of miscarriage in the first 12 weeks.
Rubella is associated with malformations, such as deafness, blindness and heart disease, especially in the first 3 months of pregnancy. This is why your doctor or midwife will always check your immunity to rubella.
Avoid these at all costs because of their potential side-effects. For example, cannabis affects the production of male sperm for up to 9 months after use, and hard drugs (for example, cocaine and heroin) can damage the chromosomes in the sperm and egg, leading to abnormalities in the baby. Sharing syringes also increases the risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis. Use of recreational drugs during pregnancy can cause such problems as miscarriage, low birth weight, congenital abnormalities and even babies born with addictions.
Over-the-counter and prescription drugs
You are just as likely to get everyday illnesses, such as coughs, colds and tummy upsets, when pregnant than at any other time, and knowing what over-the-counter or prescription drugs are safe can be confusing. If you are in any doubt, check with your pharmacist or doctor, who will be able to give you the most up-to-date advice. Always tell them that you are pregnant, particularly in the early stages, when your pregnancy may not show or may not yet be in your medical notes. The following is a guide to what you can and cannot take during pregnancy.
Antibiotics Certain antibiotics are safe - your doctor will be able to prescribe something appropriate. Aspirin can affect how your blood clots and is therefore best avoided unless specifically prescribed in low-dose form by your obstetrician.
Codeine and medicines containing it, such as some cold or flu remedies as it has been linked with certain birth defects. Always check with your doctor.
Cough/cold/flu remedies often contain codeine, aspirin or ibuprofen, so check with your pharmacist or doctor before using any of them.
Cystitis remedies are not safe because of their high salt content.
Diarrhoea remedies are not safe because they slow down the action of the stomach and the intestines, which has already been slowed down by pregnancy hormones. However, you can use rehydration sachets, which help replace lost nutrients.
Ibuprofen is best avoided because it has been associated with problems in fetal heart growth. Laxatives containing senna, cascara or bisacodyl are not safe. These ingredients may cross the placenta and also stop your bowels working normally so that your baby may be deprived of nutrients. Bulk-forming laxatives are safe.
Migraine remedies often contain codeine, so ask your doctor if there are any that are safe for you to take. Paracetamol is safe in small doses, but large doses can harm your baby's kidneys and liver.
Supplements Only take those specially designed for pregnant women.
Thrush remedies are not safe if taken by mouth, but you can use creams or pessaries.
Vapour rubs are safe.
Drug treatments for ongoing conditions
With many conditions, for example, diabetes, epilepsy or depression, the most important thing during pregnancy is that your health should be as good as possible because this is vital to the health of your baby. For this reason, your doctor will always weigh up whether it is better for you to continue with your current medication, to change drugs, or to come off them entirely, and he will make the best decision for your particular situation.
Babies born to women with insulin-dependant diabetes are at greater risk of heart defects so, if you are diabetic, it is important to monitor your glucose levels and manage your diet carefully, both before you conceive and throughout your pregnancy.
If you are epileptic, it is vital to see your doctor for advice before you try to conceive. He may advise a change of medication because some drugs have been more thoroughly tested for pregnant women. However, the most important thing for you and your baby is to keep your seizures to a minimum, so he will take this into consideration when giving you advice. He will also advise you to take extra folic acid, as epilepsy drugs can affect your ability to absorb it. You will be carefully monitored throughout your pregnancy to ensure that both you and your baby are alright.
The majority of women who take anti-depressants during pregnancy go on to have healthy babies, and there are now drugs available that are considered safe for use during pregnancy. Your doctor will be able to advise you on the best way to change or manage your medication to ensure that both you and your baby are as safe as possible.