Risks during pregnancy

Every mother wants to do the best for her baby, including looking after them as best as possible before they are born. Avoiding the potential risks to your baby during your pregnancy is pretty simple and straightforward and does not have to mean you keep yourself shut away for 9 months! However, there are several important areas to consider if you want to give your baby the best healthy start. The main ones are;

Stop smoking

If you smoke, and manage to quit within the first 3 months of your pregnancy, you greatly increase the chances of giving birth to a healthy baby. Smoking in pregnancy has been linked to premature birth and low-birth weight babies and to babies developing respiratory illnesses. It also appears to increase the risk of cot death. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for help in quitting smoking if you are finding it difficult.

Quit drinking alcohol

Drinking alcohol can harm your baby, and because there is no approved safe limit here, it really is best to stop drinking altogether during your pregnancy. However, if you choose to drink alcohol during pregnancy, limit yourself to one or two standard units of alcohol once or twice a week (one standard pub measure of wine, half pint of cider, beer or lager). Never binge drink (more than five standard measures).

Try to cut down on caffeine

Try to limit your caffeine intake to no more than 200mg of caffeine a day. Try decaffeinated tea and coffee, fruit juice or water and limit the amount of energy drinks you have as they can be high in caffeine. Don’t worry if you occasionally have more than the recommended limit though, because the risks are quite small. Here is a guide to the average caffeine content of food and drink:

1mug of instant coffee: 100mg

1 mug of filter coffee: 140mg

1 mug of tea: 75mg

1 can of cola: 40mg

1 can of energy drink: up to 80mg

1 50g bar of plain chocolate: up to 50mg

1 50g bar of milk chocolate: up to 25mg

Watch what you eat

Certain foods such as pâté, peanuts, under-cooked eggs and blue-vein or mould-ripened crust cheeses can be hazardous to your baby. Pregnant women are also at risk from a parasite toxoplasmosis that lives in unpasteurised milk and cheeses and under-cooked meat so avoid these (it is also present in cat faeces so wear gloves to change cat litter). Remember to cook meat thoroughly and wash all fruit and vegetables.

Be careful when taking medicines

It is best to try to avoid all drugs during the first 3 months of pregnancy, unless they are for a pre-exisiting medical condition, such as asthma, and have been prescribed by your doctor. Don't take any over-the-counter (OTC) remedies without checking with your doctor or pharmacist first. Paracetamol can be taken occasionally in pregnancy for pain relief and high temperature, but should be avoided during the first 12 weeks unless recommended by your doctor. Aspirin should be avoided unless prescribed by your obstetrician for a particular medical condition, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, should always be avoided whenever possible. If you get hay fever and your pregnancy coincides with the hay fever season, you may need medication to cope with your symptoms - see your doctor or pharmacist for advice as some of the newer non-drowsy remedies are not suitable for pregnant women.

Heartburn is a very common symptom during pregnancy and antacid remedies are generally safe, but check with your pharmacist first as some are unsuitable for use in pregnancy.

Avoid X-rays

All x-rays use radiation, which can be harmful to an unborn baby so they should only be used in situations where there is no option but to have them such as a life-threatening condition. Dental x-rays are considered safe, but always tell your dentist you are pregnant. There is no evidence that using computer screens causes miscarriage or birth defects.

Other risks

Two less well-known, but equally important tips; avoid jacuzzis and saunas during pregnancy because they can cause overheating. Also, when wearing car seat belts don’t use a lap belt - these can cause serious injuries to an unborn baby in the event of an accident. Stick to a three point seat belt and make sure the diagonal strap is in-between your breasts, resting on your shoulder, breastbone and over your bump. Place the lap part of the belt across your thighs underneath your bump.