By Ari Brown MD and Michele Hakakha MD
Adapted from their new book, Expecting 411
The baby-to-be that’s growing inside you depends on you to keep her safe and healthy. Fortunately, your baby’s placenta acts as a great barrier to the outside worldâ€”but it doesn’t block the passage of everything to your unborn baby. Germs (viruses, bacteria), drugs, and certain toxins that circulate in your bloodstream can go right to your developing baby. Some of these items have well-known adverse health effects. For others, the jury is still out.
The air you breathe, the food you eat, the house you keep, and some of the bad habits you have all affect you and your unborn baby. Scary fact: over 100 environmental chemicals are found in umbilical cord blood. That means your developing baby is exposed to the same daily toxin exposure you are.
Let’s look at some of the things you want to avoid while pregnant:
â€¢ Alcohol. The most recent studies say even small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can affect your unborn baby. If you are drinking, so is your baby. If you drank before you knew you were pregnant, don’t freak out, but do stop drinking now. The fact is, if enough damage is done due to alcohol exposure early in the pregnancy, a miscarriage usually happens.
â€¢ Sweet N Low. This artificial sweetener contains saccharin, which crosses the placenta and remains in fetal tissues for long periods of time. Other artificial sweetenersâ€”Equal, Nutrasweet, Sunett, and Splendaâ€”are all right in moderation. One packet or less per day.
â€¢ Unpasteurized soft cheeses. Avoid Brie, Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Camembert, Feta, and blue-veined cheeses unless the package says “pasteurized.” These unpasteurized cheeses contain the bacteria Listeria, which may cross the placenta and cause an infection in your fetus.
â€¢ Sushi, raw or undercooked fish or meat, and smoked fish. Raw or undercooked fish and meat and smoked fish such as lox may contain a host of bacteria, all of which can make you sick, because your immune system is not as strong when you’re pregnant, and give your baby an infection too.
â€¢ Deli meat. Don’t eat cold cuts from the deli unless you heat or cook them. They are a potential source of bacteria.
â€¢ Things made with raw eggs. This includes homemade Caesar salad dressing, homemade ice cream, Hollandaise sauce, homemade eggnog, and homemade mayonnaise.
â€¢ Tobacco products. Smoking causes fetal hypoxiaâ€”too little circulating oxygen in the unborn baby’s bodyâ€”and nicotine goes right into the fetal bloodstream. There are at least nine serious and potentially fatal conditions smoking can cause for your baby.
â€¢ Recreational drugs, including marijuana. If you’re getting high, so is your baby. Babies whose mother got high during pregnancy are at risk for many very serious health conditions, including brain damage. Also, if you are addicted to drugs, your baby will be born a drug addict.
â€¢ Hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms. Spa treatments may feel good for you, but such high heat exposures can increase your body temperature over 101-102Â°, disrupting the development of your baby’s neural tube.
â€¢ X-rays, dental X-rays, and CT scans. It’s best to avoid all X-rays, if possible. As for full-body scanners at the airport, you’d need to be screened 2,500 times in a year to get enough radiation from these low-dose X-rays to get a harmful dose. MRIs use magnetic fields, not radiation, so they are safe.
â€¢ Pesticide spraying in the area, and home exterminations. During the first trimester, in particular, it’s best to avoid agricultural pesticide exposure and home exterminating, which put your baby at a higher risk for neural tube defects and leukemia. If you live near a golf course, find out when they apply pesticides and plan to be away for that day. Women who live within a quarter mile of agricultural pesticides are most at risk. Organic pesticides and garden insecticides should be avoided as well.
â€¢ Bisphenol-A (BPA) in plastic containers. Avoid plastic containers with #7 on the bottom. Some, but not all, that have a #7 recycling number may have BPA, which has been shown to disrupt your endocrine system and may affect the brain of your unborn child. Don’t microwave plastic containers, don’t wash them in the dishwasher for reuse, and don’t consume hot foods or beverages out of them.
â€¢ Cat litter box. Cat feces can expose you to toxoplasmosis, which can cause an infection in you and your baby.
â€¢ Pet reptiles and amphibians. The feces of reptiles and amphibians can transmit salmonella, which can lead to infection of you and your baby.
Knowing what to avoid while you’re pregnant can help you grow a healthy, all-natural baby. Give up habits that you know are bad for youâ€”because they’re even worse for your baby. Drink clean water, eat whole, fresh foods that aren’t processed or filled with chemicals, and enjoy the fresh air. Your baby might just thank you later.
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Dr. Michele Hakakha is an award-winning obstetrician/gynecologist practicing in Beverly Hills, CA. Dr. Ari Brown, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician in Austin, TX, an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and health advisor for WebMD, Parents Magazine, and ABC News. She penned the best-selling Baby 411 and Toddler 411 book series before coauthoring Expecting 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Pregnancy (Windsor Peak Press, 2010, www.expecting411.com).