When pregnant you face a long list
of what's safe and unsafe. So how do you separate fact from fiction?
safe to eat during pregnancy? Can hair dye hurt the fetus? And what's this
about not changing the litterbox?
The national nannies
and the old wives have formed an alliance to pepper the pregnant woman
with directives on everything from alfalfa sprouts to Zithromycin. So
what's the skinny? (Remember, however -- what your doctor says goes.)
The CDC says listeriosis, a food-borne illness with mild flu-like
symptoms that can be overlooked, can result in premature delivery,
miscarriage, severe illness, or death of the baby. Heidi Murkoff, author
of What to Expect When You're Expecting, concurs with the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, which cautions that you not eat unpasteurized
soft cheeses (and other unpasteurized dairy products), hotdogs, or lunch
meat unless cooked.
Cheeses made in the
U.S. must be made from pasteurized milk (this process kills the listeria
organism), so they are fairly safe. Imported soft cheeses are potentially
problematic. These may include Brie, Camembert, feta, goat, Montrachet,
Neufchatel, and queso fresco. Listeria may also be found in unpasteurized
semi-soft cheeses (slightly more solid cheeses that do not grate easily
and are often coated with wax to preserve moisture and extend shelf life).
Semi-soft cheeses include Asiago, blue, brick, Gorgonzola, Havarti,
Muenster, and Roquefort.
cream cheese, and cottage cheese are fine. "Stay away from those
yummy roadside ciders, too," Murkoff advises. "They're not
Minimal harmful effects have been shown from the use of the artificial
sweetener aspartame in pregnancy, according to Siobhan M. Dolan, MD,
assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Albert Einstein
College of Medicine in the Bronx. "Like everything else, moderation
is best." A daily diet pop or aspartame-sweetened yogurt is probably
Most studies show no adverse effects from three or four cups of
coffee. Still, some doctors and midwives are cautious and point to studies
linking java to attention deficit disorder and migraines. There are some
data that suggest that large amounts of caffeine lead to low-birth-weight
However, if you choose
to drink coffee, moderation is key. "Sometimes it's harder on you to
quit entirely," Dolan admits. "Pregnancy is hard enough on
Herbal teas can be safe
during pregnancy, but you should be cautious. Be sure to steer clear of
teas that have unfamiliar ingredients; instead, look for those teas that
are made from ingredients that are a part of your normal diet (like orange
extract). Remember that "natural" doesn't always mean
"safe." If you are unsure, talk to your doctor.
tuna, and swordfish
According to Murkoff, raw fish, which can contain parasites, is
probably not advisable when cravings strike. An FDA advisory panel also
has advised pregnant women not to consume more than two six-ounce cans of
tuna a week (less if eating other fish) because of fish's mercury content.
Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and golden or white snapper (tilefish)
have been on the FDA "don't eat" list for some time.
Despite all the dirty looks from relatives, some pregnant women still
have a glass of wine now and then. No safe level of alcohol consumption
has been established -- but since there is no safe level, you and your
doctor need to decide. Dolan recommends eighty-sixing alcohol totally at
least during the first trimester when so much of the baby's nervous system
is being formed.
Of course, that
familiar cigarette is out altogether! In addition to nicotine, cigarettes
contain thousands of additives that leap across the placenta into your
baby's system. At the very least, prematurity and low birth weight can
result from smoking, Dolan says.
Gobble it up, Dolan says. Folic acid is one substance you want when
you're pregnant, especially before conceiving and during the first
trimester. Four hundred micrograms a day is recommended. "Folic acid
reduces the incidence of neural tube defects by 70%," she says.
"It's one thing that really has a good effect."
In addition, spinach
is loaded with iron, a mineral essential for health.
Before you begin to pack it in like a stevedore, Murkoff says,
"remember that one of the two of you is about the size of a grain of
rice at first. You only need about 300 extra calories a day when you're
Your nails grow faster when you're pregnant, so you can probably make
do with "home-growns," Murkoff says. Those salons smell strongly
of chemicals, and if it smells strong, it probably isn't good for you or
your baby, she says. However, there is no hard data on this. Use your best
Aren't you the glam mom! Pregnant women sometimes do find hair in the
most unwanted places, not just bikini country. Wax is preferable to
dye and perms
There are no data supporting harmful effects of hair dye, either,
according to Dolan. "Very little dye reaches your scalp,
anyway." The smells, however, can gross out a pregnant woman's overly
side for sleeping
Murkoff says propping everything into a comfy position on your left
side after the fourth month minimizes pressure on your uterus and
intestines and speeds up nutrients to the baby. If you wake up in a
different position, such as your back, flop over and start again. Lying on
your back puts too much pressure on the vena cava, cautions Dolan.
and hot tubs
It's probably best not to overheat when pregnant (although the studies
were done on women with fevers, who probably had other things wrong with
them). "If you never exercised," Dolan cautions, "you
should not start when pregnant. If you do exercise, this is not the time
to increase your workout."
the litter box
Cats can carry a disease called toxoplasmosis.
Your vet can test for it, or dad can change the box. Gloves
are a good idea in any event.
No big deal, Dolan says.
Some people advise a dose of the old-time remedy to kick-start labor,
but this stuff tastes terrible, and a violent diarrhea might spoil the
It passes the time and is OK if your doctor advises it. But there is
no evidence it will bring on labor.
Prostaglandins, substances in semen, plus the contractions of sex, can
hasten labor in some cases. Some doctors even prescribe it.
Feel like a nice case of gastritis?
Predicting the sex
The old wives have been aced by
ultrasound these days, but a slew of myths persist: carry low and it's a
boy, carry wide and it's a girl, nose getting bigger and it's a girl,
Drano in the toilet, you've heard them all. Each of these, Murkoff says,
has a 50% chance of being true