Making Healthy Lifestyle Choices for a Heathy Pregnancy

Some risks in life are a matter of chance. Others are a matter of choice.

In your new role as an expectant mother, learning how to minimize the risks over which you have control is very, very important.

Avoiding behaviors that could affect your baby is especially critical in the first trimester (the first 3 months of pregnancy). Your baby is at a time when it's organs and tissues are beginning to form and the baby is most vulnerable.

We encourage you to discuss any special concerns you have with our doctors and nurses at your next prenatal visit.


Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) has been associated with babies born to women who have consumed unsafe amounts of alcohol during their pregnancies. Alcohol use during pregnancy is the major cause of mental retardation in the United States and a leading cause of birth defects. Babies who are affected with FAS have severe physical and mental problems, including mental retardation, slow growth and development, heart problems, and small heads and abnormal eye features.

The severity of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is dependent upon the amount of alcohol that is consumed. The more a woman drinks, the more potential danger there is to her baby. However, even moderate consumption throughout your pregnancy can be related to a number of serious problems and complications. In addition, studies have shown that pregnant women, who drink even in small amounts, have a higher incidence of miscarriage. At this time, no safe threshold of alcohol consumption during pregnancy has been identified.

Talk with your doctor/midwife for additional information on drinking alcohol during pregnancy, as well as recommendations for your personal situation.


Tobacco use is one of the leading causes of prenatal problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and public health and lung associations all strongly support the warning that smoking may complicate pregnancy. Several studies have shown that pregnant women who smoke appear to be at-risk for miscarriage, premature separation of the placenta from the uterine wall (abruptio placentae), vaginal bleeding, premature rupture of membranes, preterm birth and stillbirth. These babies may:

  • Be born with a low birth weight (5.5 pounds or less).
  • Have an increased risk of breathing and heart problems.
  • Have an increased incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and have a higher rate of death within the first year of life.

When a mother smokes, her baby is exposed to the chemicals in the smoke. He/she has the same physical response as anyone would in this situation; heartbeat speeds up and worst of all, due to insufficient oxygen, the baby can`t grow and thrive as the baby should. There is strong evidence that an expectant mother`s smoking negatively affects her baby`s development in the womb. This seems to be the result of carbon monoxide build-up and a reduction of oxygen to the baby through the placenta.

Studies also show that the effects of tobacco use, like those of alcohol use, are dose-related; tobacco use reduces the birth weight of babies in direct proportion to the number of cigarettes smoked. So even though it is safest that you stop smoking altogether, cutting down on the number of cigarettes you smoke will help. Remember too, that passive, or "second-hand" smoke from other smokers is also dangerous to mother and a developing baby. Second-hand smoke can have the same or similar side effects when exposure is constant and in large quantities.

Your doctor/midwife can provide you with information and tips to help you quit smoking. Many hospitals and community organizations provide smoking-cessation programs and support groups. Additional information can be obtained from your local American Heart Association and American Lung Association chapters. Remember, the benefits of quitting smoking will last a lifetime, for both you and your baby.

Medications and Over-the-Counter Drugs

Many medications have not been proven to be safe for use in pregnancy. Some are very harmful to your baby, especially during the first trimester, when major body systems are developing.

Prescription and non-prescription (over-the-counter -OTC) medications should be taken only if doctors and nurses ordered or approved them. Let your doctor/midwife know on your first prenatal visit about any medication you are currently taking, including those for a pre-existing medical condition, over-the-counter drugs, and vitamins. Before your next visit, make a note of what each medication is and what it is for.

It is best to ask your provider what medication you can take for problems such as headache, indigestion, etc. before they are needed.

Discuss with your doctor/midwife the following points about any and all medications you are taking:

  • The proper way (when and how) to take each of your medications.
  • Risk versus benefits of all medication prescribed (this includes over-the-counter drugs).
  • Possible risks of not taking a prescribed medication.
  • Any possible side effect of each medication prescribed.
  • Safe alternatives to taking these prescribed medications, especially during the first trimester.

Let your provider know if there is any reason you cannot take your medication as prescribed,including expense, your inability to obtain it, any negative side effects or the medication schedule itself.

Recreational and Street Drugs

Using recreational or street drugs during pregnancy can have serious harmful effects on a developing baby. Substances such as opium derivatives, barbiturates and amphetamines can cause fetal distress, low birth weight, and drug withdrawal in a newborn. Examples of specific drugs and their possible effects including the following:

  • Marijuana "pot" - fetal growth retardation.
  • Cocaine - chronic use related to possible learning difficulties and miscarriage.
  • Valium - cleft lip and palate, respiratory difficulties, decreased muscle tone, and low body temperature.
  • Other drugs to avoid include LSD, angel dust, speed (amphetamines), downers (barbiturates).

Any illicit drug use during pregnancy is a danger to an unborn baby. Talk to your provider for additional information on drug use during pregnancy, as well as recommendations for your personal situation.


X-rays - It is your responsibility to tell all your doctors and nurses (including dentists) that you are pregnant before an X-ray is taken. Exposure to X-rays or other diagnostic techniques that use X-rays, such as CAT scans or fluoroscopy can be extremely harmful to a developing baby. If X-rays are absolutely required, make sure that a lead shield is placed over your abdomen to protect your baby.

Microwave Ovens - Ordinary use of microwave ovens has not been proven to cause harm to you or your developing baby. Follow the manufacturer`s directions for use and don`t stand in front of or right next to the oven when it is in operation.

Video Display Terminals - At this time, there is no proof that video display terminals (VDTs) emit a dose of radiation that is high enough to cause any harm to a pregnant woman or her developing baby. However, turn the VDT off when it is not in use.

Other Safety Considerations

Hot Tubs, Saunas, and Steam Baths - Our doctors and nurses normally recommend that you do not use hot tubs, saunas, and steam baths during pregnancy. An abnormally high body temperature (hyperthermia) may contribute to an increased risk of neural tube defects to an unborn baby. When you are taking a tub bath, keep the temperature of the water below 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hazardous Chemicals - In addition to being sensitive to chemicals that pose a hazard at any time, you should be aware that there are certain chemicals that may create special problems for your unborn baby. These include lead or lead dust and permanent hair colorings. In addition, healthcare experts and environmental experts advise that you avoid any prolonged exposure to common household cleaning solvents, such as turpentine, that are used in arts and crafts, and indoor and outdoor pesticides.

Anesthesia - General anesthesia for surgery or dental work, when used on a woman who is pregnant, can significantly affect her unborn baby. It is important to discuss the planned use of any anesthesia, regional, local, or generals.

Reprinted from Her HealthCare.