Pregnancy: what's safe and what's not?

Mother and Baby
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Facts and myths about pregnancy. Image: Getty
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There's always a new scare story splashed over the papers about what you should and shouldn't eat, use or do when you're pregnant. We take the confusion out of the equation, with our simple guide to having a safe and healthy pregnancy.

Getting pregnant is one of the most exciting things that can happen to you, but it's only natural to worry as well. Pre-bump, you could eat what you wanted, down Breezers, dye your hair and take Aspirin without giving it a second thought. But now you've got a baby on board, things are a little different, and keeping on top of what you can and can't do feels like a daunting task. Luckily P&B has sifted through all the latest research and put together this guide to help you through.

Medications and drugs
You can't avoid things like headaches in preganancy, but you need to be careful with the remedies you take for them. Eril Maybury, midwife and P&B expert, warns: "Be wary of everything."

"Paracetamol is safe for occasional pain relief, but avoid aspirin and ibuprofen," Eril says. "Always check with a pharmacist before you buy anything over the counter, and inform a docotr you're pregnant before anything is prescribed.

"If you're on any regular medication you'll need advice from your GP before you plan to get pregnant."

Check cold remedies before taking them - many contain ephedrine, which can raise blood pressure.

Not all natural remedies are baby-friendly, either. "Many natural remedies haven't been formally tested for pregnant women, so there are a lot of unknowns," Eril says. "They're best avoided, or discussed with a professional."

What NOT to eat

Cheese, pate and ice-cream

  • Cheeses with a layer of white mould, such as camembert, and blue-veined cheeses, such as Stilton.
  • Pates made from meat, fish or vegetables (unless they're tinned or pasteurised)
  • Soft-whip ice-cream from machines

The facts: These pose a risk of a listeria infection. Listeria may cause milkd flu-like symptoms in you, but can pose a threat to your unborn baby - in rare cases, the infection can cause miscarriage or premature labour. Listeria can also be found in ready-made salads in chicken shops, so try to avoid those, too.

Undercooked chicken and eggs

The facts: Both pose a risk of salmonella. It won't harm your unborn baby directly but salmonella can cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea, leaving you dangerously dehydrated. Pick cooked chicken off the bone and refigerate it to lengthen the meat's shelf life - salmonella grows in the flesh around the bones.

Fishy friends

Certan fish such as marline, swordfish and shark. Eat no more than one portion of fresh tuna (a portion of uncooked tuna steak is 140g) or two medium-sized cans of tuna (140g, drained) in a week.

The facts: These types of fish contain high levels of mercury, which can damage your baby's nervous system. This applies if you're still breastfeeding, too.

Liver and liver products

The facts: Liver contains high levels of vitamin A and high doses have been linked to premature birth and brain defects in babies.

Raw meat and unpasteurised goat's milk

The facts: Both carry a risk of toxoplasmosis, which can lead to miscarriage and birth defects such as problems with brain development. It's caused by a tiny parasite which can also be found on unwashed vegetables and in cat faeces and soil, so wash fruit and veg thoroughly, avoid changing litter trays (wear gloves if you must do it) and wear gloves for gardening. And always cook meat thoroughly.


The facts: Research shows that heavy or frequent drinking can seriously harm your baby. Eril says, "If you had a few big nights before you realised you were pregnant, you're probably not alone and it's highly unlikely to be a problem. Just concentrate on cutting alcohol intake completely, or only have the occasional drink." Most western governments publish guidelines which state you should have no more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week (a single measure of a spirit or a small glass of wine is one unit). But recently the Canadian and federal US health departments have begun to say that no alcohol at all should be consumed during pregnancy.

Seafood and sushi
If you're positive the source is okay, fresh cooked seafood is fine. But avoid any restaurant or cafe seafood dishes and sushi to be safe. The facts: These are a common source of food poisoning, so try to avoid them while pregnant.


The facts: Most health organisations around the world currently recommend that you avoid eating all bpeanuts while breastfeeding or pregnant. "Eating peanuts in pregnancy doesn't affect everyone," Eril says. "But it's recommended that if you, your partner or a sibling of the unborn child has a history of allergic disease, including asthma, hayfever, eczema and other food allergies, then peanuts are best avoided." In this case, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Caffeine drinks

The facts: Some research suggests that too much caffeine may be dangerous for your bay, so cut down on those espressos and lattes. Recent studies have found that women who have over three cups of coffee per day have a higher risk of having a stillborn baby or miscarriage. Pregnant women had a 33% increased chance of losing their baby if they had four to seven cups a day; more than eight cups increased the risk to 59%. Don't forget caffeine is in cola and cups of tea, too.

Chemicals in everyday things

Air freshener and aerosols

The facts: Many air fresheners and aerosols contain volatile organic compounds, so they're best used sparingly in pregnancy. Never use them in a confined space, ventilate the area well and throw away empty cans.

Cleaning products

The facts: There's still a lot of debate about how harmful household chemicals and cleaning products are. Always wear gloves when using products, and avoid contact with pesticides and products with strong fumes.

Computer screens and photocopiers

The facts: Many women worry about using electrical office appliances while pregnant. But according to Eril, "The radiation from both photocopiers and computer screens is thought to be minimal and of no concern. So carry on tapping away!"


The facts: "It's perfectly safe to dry-clean your clothes during pregnancy, as the amound of solvent remaining on the clothese at the end of the process is minimal," says Eril.

Hair dyes

The facts: Eril says: "Not enough is known to be sure that it's 100% safe to dye your hair during pregnancy. But it's thought that the absorption of chemicals from hair dye is minimal - particularly with methods such as highlighting - and therefore it's probably safe."


The facts Leave decorating to others as much as possible to reduce exposure to chemicals. But if you must slap on a coat or two, it's much safer to use water-based pains (such as emulsions) and to avoid oil-based and spray paints, as well as paint-removing liquids and turpentine. Wear gloves and always pain in a well-ventilated area.

For more great stories on pregnancy and motherhood go to Mother and Baby magazine.

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