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What to Avoid and What to Embrace During Pregnancy

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They’re often called the “pregnancy police,” those well-meaning friends, relatives and even strangers who like to tell you just what you can and can’t do while you’re expecting.

The dos and don’ts are hard for any concerned pregnant woman to ignore, but there’s so much information out there – and some of it is questionable or downright wrong. How do you know what to believe?

Here, from organizations such as the March of Dimes, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and a specialist in obstetrics who has written a book on pregnancy dos and don’ts, is a general list of what you can do or have and what you should avoid during pregnancy:


• Alcoholic beverages, cigarettes and illegal drugs – The use of any of these during pregnancy has been linked to premature birth, low birth weight and serious birth defects. No amount has been determined as safe.

• Cat litter – This can contain a parasite called Toxoplasmois gondii, which causes Toxoplasmosis, a disease that can be fatal to your fetus. Have someone else change your cat’s litter box; if you must do it, wash your hands thoroughly and carefully after changing the box yourself.

• Deli meats and salads – Cold cuts, and tuna or egg salad from a deli can also be contaminated with Listeria bacteria. Elisabeth Aron, M.D., author of Pregnancy Dos & Don’ts (The Stonesong Press, 2008), cautions against eating deli meats and hot dogs unless they’ve been reheated and are steaming hot.

• Certain large fish – Shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel are all known to contain high levels of methyl mercury (thanks to industrial pollution in ponds, lakes and oceans). Mercury can damage the nervous system, especially in children and unborn babies. Visit the EPA’s Web site (www.epa.gov/ost/fish) for more information on risky seafood in different regions of the country.

• Over-the-counter medications – Limit these to remedies considered safe throughout pregnancy, including the pain reliever acetaminophen (Tylenol), antihistamines like Claritin, Zyrtec and Allegra, many antacids and prescribed narcotic pain relievers. Pain relievers like aspirin and those containing ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.), and the diarrhea medicine Pepto Bismol should be avoided because of their link to birth defects. Always check with your doctor before taking any medicine to be sure that it’s safe for you.

• Raw or undercooked meat, fish, eggs, and unpasteurized milk – These foods can carry bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli, which can make you sick and harm your fetus. Don’t eat any eggs with a runny yolk, and cook beef to at least 160º F.

• Saunas and hot tubs – Studies have linked elevated body temperatures (102º F) to neural tube defects and miscarriages. (Also, be cautious with electric blankets, particularly during the first trimester, because of elevated body temperature.)


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