Pregnant women are usually bombarded with contradictory information and advice from family and friends, books and “Dr Google”, which can leave them stressed and confused about how their daily actions are affecting their unborn child.
Here we offer some expert advice on what’s safe for you and your baby.
Feeling and looking good is important during pregnancy, but evaluating the risk factors can become stressful.
- Don’t use a sauna or steam room, or have a hot bath: Netcare medical director Dr Anchen Laubscher explains that increasing your core temperature significantly may cause dizziness with the risk of fainting when you get up out of the bath, sauna or steam room. “It’s best to avoid taking long hot baths or using a steam room or sauna while pregnant,” she says.
- Do book a pregnancy-friendly massage: A massage can be exactly what you need during pregnancy to relax and ease tired limbs. Opt for an unscented lotion or oil and seek out a treatment designed specifically for new moms.
- Don’t dye your hair: Avoid colouring or chemically straightening your hair before the second trimester, and skip any keratin treatments as many contain harmful formaldehyde.
The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the better.
- Do exercise: Studies show that pregnant women who exercise for 20 minutes at least three times a week experience shorter labour than moms who don’t. Exercise also helps control pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, weight gain and stiff muscles. Remember to check with your doctor before you start an exercise routine.
- Don’t Lift heavy objects: Lifting or carrying heavy things puts strain on your back and the pelvic ligaments. Dr Ndekwe advises pregnant women to use safe techniques if they have to pick up objects, like bending at the knees and not the waist.
- Do get plenty of rest: “If your body is telling you to slow down, try to get as much rest as possible by having a quick nap whenever you can,” says Dr Laubscher.
Food and drink
What you eat or drink has the potential to affect your child’s current and future growth.
- Don’t drink alcohol: Regardless of the amount, or how far along you are, drinking alcohol increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, foetal alcohol syndrome and low birth weight.
- Do cut down on coffee: The majority of studies on the effects of caffeine during pregnancy recommend that pregnant women consume no more than 200mg of caffeine, or one cup of coffee, per day.
- Do drink lots of water: Drink at least eight glasses (1.5 litres) of water every day. “If you don’t like drinking water on its own, try adding a wedge of lemon,” suggests Dr Laubscher.
- Don’t eat raw meat: Dr Ndekwe says pregnant women should avoid eating raw fish and meat. Dr Laubscher agrees. “Pregnant women should not eat raw protein as it could increase the risk of bacterial contamination. Although the chances of getting a parasitic infection from eating sushi, for example, are slim, the consequences are severe enough that you don’t want to take the risk.”
Medications and your health
Some medications are considered safe to take during pregnancy, but others could be harmful for your baby.
- Do Get the flu vaccine: The World Health Organization recommends that women who are pregnant during the flu season receive the flu vaccine. “There is sufficient evidence showing that the vaccine is safe for mom and baby at any stage of pregnancy, as it offers protection from what could be a severe illness in pregnancy,” notes Dr Laubscher.
- Do take it easy on the pain killers: Dr Ndekwe says there are risks associated with pain killers and pregnancy, especially anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen. “Paracetamol is a safe option, but must be taken in moderation,” he adds.
- Do manage any chronic medical conditions: These include hypothyroidism, hypertension, diabetes or epilepsy. Always consult your healthcare provider about whether the medication you are taking is safe for your unborn baby and before taking any new medication or changing the dosage of your current medication.
- Do Take folic acid: Studies reveal that taking folic acid before and after conception reduces the risk of serious neural-tube defects in babies by up to 70%.
- Don’t smoke and don’t take drugs: Remember, whatever you put into your body affects your baby too. “Smoking or taking drugs has negative effects on your baby’s growth, development and health, so it’s important for you to change your habits,” cautions Dr Laubscher.
- Don’t expose yourself to toxic substances and chemicals: These include cleaning solvents, lead and mercury, some insecticides and paint. Pregnant women should also avoid exposure to paint fumes.
- Do wear a seat belt: The lap belt should go over your hips and under your belly and the shoulder strap between your breasts.
- Do travel in your second trimester: Morning sickness has usually settled by then and most women are still reasonably comfortable.
- Don’t travel far from home in your third trimester: “If you do deliver unexpectedly between 27 and 34 weeks, your baby will need expert neonatal care,” says Dr Laubscher.
- Don’t fly after 36 weeks: If you have an uncomplicated pregnancy, it’s safe to fly during the first and second trimester. Doctors advise that pregnant women should not fly after week 36. Flying can increase the risk of thrombosis (blood clots) and varicose veins due to sitting for long periods of time.
- Don’t travel to malaria-risk areas: “Even though there are malaria prophylactics that can be prescribed during pregnancy, there are still health risks,” says Dr Laubscher.
Do seek advice
If you are unsure or worried about doing or eating anything during your pregnancy, always consult your healthcare provider.