What should I avoid during pregnancy?

Throughout pregnancy, you should avoid certain substances to keep your baby as healthy as possible, before and after birth. They include:

  • Alcohol - There is no known safe level of alcohol that you can consume during your pregnancy. Heavy alcohol consumption can cause severe defects in the brain and body development of your baby, known as fetal alcohol syndrome. Even moderate drinking is associated with delayed growth of the baby and causing spontaneous abortion or low birth-weight babies. The Surgeon General warns pregnant women to avoid alcohol completely.
  • Prescription or over-the-counter medication - You may need to stop taking some medications during your pregnancy or stop them for a while early in pregnancy and then take them again later in pregnancy. Your healthcare professional will discuss your options with you.
  • Drugs - Babies of mothers who use some illegal drugs, such as heroin, are born addicted to these drugs. Other drugs that flow through the mother's bloodstream pass through the placenta into the baby's bloodstream, affecting the baby as well.
  • Tobacco - If you smoke, ask your healthcare professional for help quitting. Tobacco deprives your baby of oxygen during pregnancy and causes low birth weight and increased respiratory and ear infections in infants and young children.
  • Caffeine - It is generally recommended that you avoid caffeine or limit your intake during pregnancy and breastfeeding. If you do consume caffeinated drinks (such as coffee, tea and soda), limit them to one to two cups or no more than 200 milligrams a day (the amount in one 12-ounce cup of coffee) or try decaffeinated beverages. If you are a heavy caffeine user, remember that you may have withdrawal headaches if you abruptly stop using caffeine. Discuss with your healthcare provider how you can most comfortably and safely decrease your caffeine intake.

The following should be avoided during pregnancy:

  • Don't smoke tobacco. Quitting is hard, but you can do it! Ask your doctor for help. Smoking during pregnancy passes nicotine and cancer-causing drugs to your baby. Smoking also keeps your baby from getting needed nourishment and raises the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, and infant death.
  • Avoid exposure to toxic substances and chemicals, such as cleaning solvents, lead and mercury, some insecticides, and paint. Pregnant women should avoid exposure to paint fumes.
  • Protect yourself and your baby from food-borne illness, which can cause serious health problems and even death. Handle, clean, cook, eat, and store food properly.
  • Don't drink alcohol. There is no known safe amount of alcohol a woman can drink while pregnant. Both drinking every day and drinking a lot of alcohol once in a while during pregnancy can harm the baby.
  • Don't use illegal drugs. Tell your doctor if you are using drugs. Marijuana, cocaine, heroin, speed (amphetamines), barbiturates, and LSD are very dangerous for you and your baby.
  • Don't clean or change a cat's litter box. This could put you at risk for toxoplasmosis, an infection that can be very harmful to the fetus.
  • Don't eat fish with lots of mercury, including swordfish, king mackerel, shark, and tilefish.
  • Avoid contact with rodents and with their urine, droppings, or nesting material. This includes household pests and pet rodents, such as guinea pigs and hamsters. Rodents can carry a virus that can be harmful or even deadly to your unborn baby.
  • Don't take very hot baths or use hot tubs or saunas. High temperatures can be harmful to the fetus, or cause you to faint.
  • Don't use scented feminine hygiene products. Pregnant women should avoid scented sprays, sanitary napkins, and bubble bath. These products might irritate your vaginal area, and increase your risk of a urinary tract infection or yeast infection.
  • Don't douche. Douching can irritate the vagina, force air into the birth canal and increase the increase the risk of infection.
  • Avoid x-rays. If you must have dental work or diagnostic tests, tell your dentist or physician that you are pregnant so that extra care can be taken.

This answer is based on source information from The National Women's Health Information Center.

Dr. Evelyn Minaya, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)
To have a healthy baby, there are a number of things a pregnant woman should avoid, including certain foods and medications. Get the list from obstetrician and gynecologist Evelyn Minaya, M.D., by watching this video.

Some things to avoid during pregnancy include work requiring heavy lifting or overexertion; radiation, including X-rays; poisons or toxic fumes from aerosols, insecticides and paint; hot tubs or saunas hotter than 101 degrees; and eating raw meat, eggs or poultry. Because parasites in cat feces can cause toxoplasmosis in pregnant women, this is the time to have someone else clean the litter box.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.