5 Things You Definitely Shouldn’t Do When You’re Pregnant

Can you take CBD or get in a hot tub when you’re expecting? Learn more about these big pregnancy no-nos.

pregnant woman doing yoga

Medically reviewed in July 2022

Updated on July 20, 2022

When you’re expecting a baby, everyone’s an expert, from the elderly lady at the grocery store who scolds you for wearing yoga pants to the Facebook friend who sends alarming messages asking why you’re still dyeing your hair.

They’re just trying to be helpful, sure. “But most activities that you could do before you’re pregnant you can keep doing while you’re pregnant,” says Adrian M. Roznowski, MD, an OBGYN at Plantation General Hospital and former medical director at Advanced Women's OB/GYN Institute of Broward in Plantation, Florida.

Of course, there are some habits you should definitely kick or put on hold when you’re pregnant and breastfeeding, like smoking and drinking alcohol. For your own health and for the sake of your child, it’s important to stay tobacco-free. That means steering clear of second- and third-hand smoke, which is tobacco residue that has settled into things like carpet, clothes, paint, and bed sheets. And when it comes to drinking, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out that there is no known safe amount of alcohol, whether you are pregnant or trying to conceive.

To make sure you and your fetus stay as healthy as possible until delivery day, here are a few other everyday activities that experts suggest you skip.

Vaping, using pot, and taking CBD
Don’t let the skyrocketing popularity of vaping—smoking electronic cigarettes—distract you from the fact that it is just a different delivery system for the same dangers of nicotine, says Dr. Roznowski.

Because e-cigarettes are a relatively new type of product, research on how they can harm the fetus is still emerging. But the fact is that e-cigs contain high amounts of nicotine—about the same amount found in traditional cigarettes. Nicotine intake during pregnancy has been linked to fetal damage of the immune system, brain development issues, and complications with the lungs and heart. 

Aside from the nicotine, there is concern about propellants and flavorings. These can be harmful to your growing fetus, contributing to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) decision to recommend you don’t use them at all during pregnancy. A 2021 analysis in Frontiers in Pediatrics found that even e-cigs without nicotine could cause problems, including reduced circulation in the placenta and inflammation and toxic stress in the pregnant person, which can be transferred to the fetus. 

Another tricky topic is marijuana. Pot usage is rising among pregnant people, according to research published in June 2019 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Looking at self-reported data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), researchers found that 7 percent of pregnant women surveyed between 2016 and 2017 said they had used marijuana in the past month. This marks an increase from 2002, when 3.4 percent of pregnant women reported using pot during the past month.

Though marijuana use is now legal in many states and is sometimes touted as a remedy for morning sickness, it is still harmful for fetuses, increasing the risk of stillbirth, low birthweight, and attention and behavioral problems in children.

Less is known about the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on pregnant people and fetuses. Found in a wide variety of products from foot lotion to hard candies, many people claim the chemical compound helps them deal with anxiety, pain, insomnia, and a long list of other medical conditions. Research is ongoing regarding CBD’s effectiveness as a treatment for a variety of health issues, however. There are also numerous questions and concerns about its safety. Because of this, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration strongly advises against CBD’s use for pregnant people.

Using hot tubs and saunas
When your back aches or you’re dealing with any of the other physical strains of pregnancy, few things sound more soothing than sitting in a hot tub. But the high temperatures of hot tubs and saunas can cause your body temperature to rise above 101 degrees, which is especially risky during the first half of your pregnancy. Elevated body temperatures have been linked to certain birth defects.

To ease your aching back, soak in a warm tub and use hot and cold compresses, suggests Roznowski. Though there has been some recent controversy around the topic of acetaminophen in pregnancy, ACOG notes that the potential benefits of acetaminophen in pregnancy outweigh the risks, if used in consultation with your healthcare provider (HCP) and in moderation.

Cleaning the cat’s litter box
Cuddling with your tabby is perfectly fine during pregnancy, but let your partner do the honors of scooping out the litter box. The risk here is toxoplasmosis, which can be transmitted to your fetus if you accidentally come into contact with the T. gondii parasite in a cat’s feces. If that parasite reaches the fetus, it can cause complications including mental retardation, blindness, and epilepsy.

The risk that your cat may carry the parasite is much greater if she goes outdoors or eats raw meat. So, you should also avoid gardening or otherwise sticking your hands in the soil without gloves. That goes double if your cat or other neighborhood felines roam in your yard.

“If you’re a cat owner and are really worried about toxoplasmosis, your doctor can test you for the antibodies in your blood,” says Roznowski. “That will tell you if you’ve previously been exposed to the parasite, in which case you will be immune to the infection now.”

Worth noting: T. gondii can also be found in raw or undercooked meat—particularly pork, mutton, and wild game, but also beef, poultry, and shellfish. So, make sure any meat you eat is fully cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees (165 for poultry) and avoid handling meat with your bare hands when cooking. Remember also to follow good kitchen cleanup practices, including carefully washing your hands, cutting boards, counters, and utensils after cooking with raw meats, seafood, and unwashed fruits and veggies.

Using certain acne medications and beauty products
You may have heard that dyeing your hair is a bad idea during pregnancy, but there have been relatively few studies done on the topic. Dyes are likely safe if you don’t have scalp irritation or breaks in your skin. If you’re concerned, talk to an HCP, or consider highlights instead of full color to minimize chemical exposure.

One type of beauty product you should shelve for now, says Roznowski, is any prescription or over-the-counter skin product with retinol in it. Oral isotretinoin, in particular—found in several acne medications and commonly known as Accutane—carries a notable risk of birth defects and must not be taken during pregnancy. For newer, topical products known as third-generation retinols, the evidence is less clear that a fetus may be harmed if exposed in utero, but most experts recommend avoiding these medications.

“Most dermatologists will ask women if they are planning on getting pregnant before they prescribe these products,” says Roznowski, “but it’s always important to review all your prescriptions when you are pregnant to see if there is a safer option.”

Playing risky sports
Maintaining a regular fitness routine is one of the keys to having a smooth and safe delivery, says Roznowski. “Exercise keeps the blood flowing, so you reduce your risk of blood clots.” Plus, he adds, staying at a healthy weight reduces the risk of preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, and hypertension. Pregnant people should aim for 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week, spread across multiple days. 

However, there are a few physical activities you should avoid. An obvious risk is any sport where there is a chance that you might get hit in the belly by a stick, bat, ball, or fist—think contact sports like ice hockey, baseball, boxing, and soccer. It’s also wise to sit out any sports where you could fall, including gymnastics, horseback riding, and downhill skiing. 

If you’re into scuba diving, hang up the wetsuit until after delivery. According to ACOG, scuba diving creates a risk because the fetus’ pulmonary circulation is unable to filter any bubbles that may be formed. In other words, the fetus could get decompression sickness—aka the bends—which can be very dangerous.

Your best bets are sticking with routines you love and already know how to do well, such as swimming, jogging, walking, dance aerobics, and yoga. After the first trimester, however, you should avoid activities where you must lay on your back. Sit ups, for example, can drop your blood pressure and reduce blood flow to the fetus. Talk to your HCP about what kinds and intensity of exercise are right for you and when you may need to scale back.

Traveling late in pregnancy
Going on a babymoon is a great way to relax and bond with your partner before you deliver. As long as you don’t have any complications that need to be closely monitored by your HCP—including pre-eclampsia or multiples—it’s usually fine to travel by plane, train, or automobile up to 36 weeks into your pregnancy. (Note that the cutoff can be earlier for international flights, sometimes around 28 weeks.) The ideal time to travel is during your second trimester, according to ACOG, since you will likely be past any morning sickness, filled with energy, and still far away from your due date.

Talk to your HCP about your travel plans, and avoid countries where there have been outbreaks of communicable diseases that could harm you or your fetus, such as Zika virus and malaria. The CDC also recommends that pregnant travelers be up-to-date on COVID vaccinations, including boosters. (Check out the latest travel advisories from the CDC.)

While en route, get up and walk around frequently on long plane rides or take periodic stretch breaks on drives to lower the risk of deep vein thrombosis. It’s also important to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, and buckle up when you’re in your seat.

Roznowski also recommends that pregnant people who travel should research where the nearest hospital is with a neonatal intensive care unit—just in case.

Article sources open article sources

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Tobacco, Alcohol, Drugs, and Pregnancy. December 2021. Accessed July 20, 2022.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Travel During Pregnancy. August 2020. Accessed July 20, 2022.
American Pregnancy Association. Hot Tubs During Pregnancy. Page accessed July 13, 2022. 
Bozzo P, Chua-Gocheco A, Einarson A. Safety of skin care products during pregnancy. Canadian Family Physician. 2011 Jun;57(6):665-7.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol. Page last reviewed February 9, 2021. Accessed July 20, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pregnant Travelers. Page last reviewed June 28, 2022. Accessed July 20, 2022.
Committee on Obstetric Practice. ACOG committee opinion. Exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Number 267, January 2002. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics. 2002 Apr;77(1):79-81.
Jones J, Lopez A, & Wilson M. Congenital Toxoplasmosis. American Family Physician. 2003: 67 (10): 2131-2138.
March of Dimes. Exercise During Pregnancy. Page last reviewed September 2020. Accessed July 20, 2022.
Mayo Clinic. Adult health: What is thirdhand smoke, and why is it a concern? August 21, 2020. Accessed July 20, 2022.
Mescolo F, Ferrante F, LaGrutta S. Effects of E-Cigarette Exposure on Prenatal Life and Childhood Respiratory Health: A Review of Current Evidence. Frontiers in Pediatrics. 2021; 2296-2360:9.
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Volkow ND, Han B, et al. Self-reported Medical and Nonmedical Cannabis Use Among Pregnant Women in the United States. JAMA. 2019;322(2):167–169.
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