Unraveling the don’ts of pregnancy
Pregnancy can be a beautiful time in a woman’s life, but some women may struggle with knowing what is best for their baby. There are many resources for moms-to-be, but they can be confusing and even conflict from one source to another. Certified Nurse Midwife Robin Page, Ph.D, director of nursing education at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing in Round Rock, offers clarity on the don’ts of pregnancy.
Don’t literally eat for two. A common misconception is the idea of “eating for two.” Some women may take this too literally, but really you only need to increase your caloric intake by about 300 calories per day. “Many people think that pregnancy means the mom-to-be can eat whatever she wants, but expectant mothers shouldn’t take a break from healthy eating; if anything, they should be more focused on what they put into their bodies,” Page said.
Misperceptions about prenatal diet and exercise can cause women to gain extra, unnecessary pounds during pregnancy, which can be difficult to shed after having the baby and can even lead to complications, such as gestational diabetes.
The best approach to nutrition – whether pregnant or not – is to eat a balanced, healthy diet to appropriately fuel your body for each day.
Don’t forget folic acid. Page emphasized the importance of folic acid in a pregnant woman’s diet. This vitamin helps to form red blood cells and other new cells, and is essential in developing the baby’s neural tube, which later develops into the spine and brain. Pregnant women and women that plan on becoming pregnant, are encouraged to add up to 400 micrograms of folic acid to their diets.
Foods high in folic acid:
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Turnip greens
- Certain beans
Don’t skip fish altogether. There has been a lot of controversy over whether fish is safe for pregnant women to eat. The main concern with fish is the amount of mercury it may contain. The fish that are said to contain the most mercury are some types of tuna, king mackerel, orange roughy, shark, and swordfish. However, fish are also a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids and should not be avoided altogether. Page suggests that appropriate selection and moderation are key. Consult your physician for more information.
Don’t eat foods at high-risk for Listeria. The bacteria listeria – which has been linked to a number of notable food recalls recently – highlights another food-borne risk of which pregnant women should be aware of as Listeria can be transmitted in utero. Exposure to listeria can lead to meningitis, a dangerous and potentially deadly disease. While the risk for being exposed to listeria is rare, it is serious, doctors, to be safe, recommend avoiding the following foods and drinks:
- Unpasteurized dairy products
- Soft cheeses, such as Brie
- Unheated deli meat (be sure to heat the meat in the microwave until it is steaming)
Don’t drink too much caffeine. While the potential effects of caffeine on the developing baby are still unclear, doctors suggest that pregnant women avoid it, especially during the first trimester. Caffeine is said to be okay in moderation, 150-300 milligrams per day, during the rest of the pregnancy. Remember that caffeine is not just in coffee but also tea, soda, chocolate and even some over-the-counter medications for headaches.
Don’t neglect exercise, but be aware of the changes in your body. Pregnancy is often viewed as a delicate time for both mother and baby, which usually translates to taking extra care in all that the mom-to-be does. But are you being too careful? While it’s important not to overdo it, studies have shown that as long as there are no complications with the pregnancy, continuing normal exercise routines while pregnant is very beneficial. According to Page, being fit and flexible can even help to ease labor pains. However, if the woman was not active before becoming pregnant, she should start out slow when embarking on an exercise routine. Exercises that are safe during all stages of pregnancy include:
- Light weight training
- Low-impact aerobics
To avoid injury during prenatal exercise, be aware of any changes taking place during this time and know your limitations. Injuries are more likely during pregnancy as your joints soften in preparation for childbirth and the center of balance changes as your baby bump grows. Body temperature should not rise above 101 degrees Fahrenheit, as this can cause complications with the development of the fetus.
Don’t smoke or drink alcohol. Doctors agree that it is best for women to quit drinking as soon as they decide to become pregnant. It is important to quit as soon as the mother-to-be finds out she is pregnant as any amount of alcohol can be very dangerous for the baby’s health and can cause fetal alcohol syndrome.
Doctors also agree that women who plan to become pregnant try to quit smoking. The toxins that are in cigarettes can be very harmful for the baby and cause low birth weight of the baby.
Don’t indulge in hot tubs, baths, or sitting in the sauna. Body temperature should not rise above 101 degrees Fahrenheit, or complications with the development of the fetus could occur. “Even if the woman doesn’t feel overheated, she may be, which is why it’s important to monitor your temperature. Generally, pregnant women should skip the sauna, hot baths and hot tubs,” Page said.
“There is no universal statement on which medications are safe during pregnancy,” Page said. It is best to consult with your doctor about the medications you are currently taking to determine whether they are safe to continue while pregnant. If a medication the woman is currently taking is considered in a higher risk category, which is determined by the FDA, during pregnancy, there may be a safer alternative specifically for pregnant women.
Don’t take Aspirin. For pain medications, doctors recommend staying away from Aspirin and medications labeled “extra strength,” “maximum strength” and “long-acting.” A safe alternative is acetaminophen (Tylenol).
For more information Page recommends visiting the American College of Nurses-Midwives: Share With Women site.