6 things you should avoid when you’re pregnant

Learn about activities that can be harmful to you and your fetus.

Heavily pregnant woman holding her bare belly

Updated on May 22, 2024.

Being pregnant comes with a lot of new rules. You may not know what activities are okay and which may be harmful.

There’s good news. In most cases, you can keep doing most of the things you did before pregnancy.

But there are certain things you should skip. You may know about some of them, like drinking alcohol and smoking. You may not be aware of others.

Here are other activities to avoid, to keep you and your fetus as healthy as possible.

Vaping, using pot, and taking CBD
E-cigarettes are not the same as regular cigarettes. They use a battery to heat up liquid. This liquid turns it into a mist. Users then inhale the mist. Sometimes this is called vaping.

Experts are still learning how vaping affects pregnancy. But they recommend that pregnant people do not vape. It could be dangerous.

Vaping has been linked to: 

  • Inflammation, which can lead to serious health problems
  • Low birth weight
  • Preterm birth, or delivering before week 37 of pregnancy

Vapes contain a lot of nicotine. Nicotine is a chemical that causes health problems. It is very easy to become addicted to it.

Nicotine has been linked to problems with the fetus. These include:

  • Damage to the immune system
  • Brain growth issues
  • Problems with the lungs and heart

Pregnant people should also not use marijuana. Yes, it is legal in many places. But marijuana is harmful to the fetus. It is linked to:

  • Stillbirth
  • Low birth weight
  • Attention and behavior problems in children

What about cannabidiol (CBD)? Cannabidiol is a substance found in marijuana. It does not cause a high. Some people find it helps with pain and stress.

Not much is known about CBD and pregnancy. But there are many questions about its safety. Because of this, experts strongly advise that pregnant people avoid using CBD.

Sitting in a hot tub or sauna

Does your back ache? Avoid relaxing in a hot tub or sauna. Sitting in hot water can be dangerous for pregnant people. It is very risky during the first half of your pregnancy.

That’s because it can raise your body temperature to above 101 degrees. This has been linked to some birth defects, including spine problems.

Instead:

  • Soak in a warm tub.
  • Use heating pads and cold packs.
  • Consider taking acetaminophen. It is a drug that relieves pain. Talk to a healthcare provider (HCP) to make sure it’s okay.

Cleaning the cat’s litter box

It’s fine to cuddle with your cat during pregnancy. But someone else should clean the litter box. The risk is toxoplasmosis.

Toxoplasmosis is an infection that can be passed to your fetus. It is caused by a parasite found in cat poop. This parasite can cause health issues for the fetus, including:

  • Problems with brain development
  • Blindness
  • Epilepsy, a disorder that causes seizures

The parasite risk is higher if your cat goes outdoors or eats raw meat. So, you should avoid gardening or touching soil without gloves. This is very important if cats roam in your yard.

The parasite can also be found in raw or undercooked meat. This includes:

  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Poultry
  • Mutton (sheep meat)
  • Wild game, like deer
  • Shellfish

Cook all meat to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees. It should be 165 degrees for poultry. Don’t handle meat with your bare hands when cooking.

Remember to keep your kitchen clean. Wash your hands and all equipment after handling:

  • Raw meat
  • Seafood
  • Unwashed fruits and veggies

Using hair dye or certain skin medications

You may have heard a rumor that using hair dye is unsafe during pregnancy. But that is mostly not true. Using hair dye is safe unless:

  • Your scalp is irritated
  • You have cuts or scrapes on your scalp

Talk to an HCP if you’re worried. You may also want to consider getting highlights instead of a full color treatment.

You may have heard another rumor about retinol. Retinol is a vitamin used in beauty products. It helps tame acne and keep skin smooth.

The rumor about retinol is true. Pregnant people should avoid products with retinol. This includes oral isotretinoin. It is also known as Accutane.

Accutane is an acne drug prescribed by HCPs. It can cause serious health problems if you are pregnant. These include:

  • Miscarriage
  • Preterm birth
  • Birth defects like heart defects and eye problems
  • Disabilities later in life

Always talk to an HCP about any drug you take when you are pregnant. There may be a safer option.

Playing risky sports
Exercise can help you have a smooth and safe delivery. It can also help you maintain a healthy weight and lower the risk of:

  • Blood clots
  • Preeclampsia, a condition that can harm the parent and fetus
  • Gestational diabetes, or high blood sugar levels during pregnancy

Pregnant people should aim for 2.5 hours of exercise each week. This should be moderately intense exercise, like

  • Brisk walking
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Aerobics
  • Yoga

There are a few activities to avoid when you are pregnant.

  • Do not play any sport where you might get hit by a stick, bat, ball, or fist. This includes hockey, softball, and soccer.
  • Skip any sport where you could fall, like horseback riding.
  • After the first 12 weeks, avoid sit-ups and other moves where you lay on your back. These can reduce blood flow to the fetus.

Talk to your HCP about what activities are right for you. Also discuss when you may need to reduce the amount you exercise.

Traveling late in pregnancy
It is usually okay to travel up to 36 weeks in your pregnancy. The cutoff may be 28 weeks if you are traveling by plane to a different country.

You may not be able to travel if you have certain medical issues. One is preeclampsia. Another is if you are pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets, etc.).

Experts say the best time to travel is the second trimester. This is because:

  • Morning sickness will likely be over.
  • You will probably have more energy.
  • There are still a few months until your due date.

Talk to your HCP about your travel plans. Make sure your vaccinations are up to date. Also beware of places with outbreaks of dangerous diseases, like malaria.

When you are traveling:

  • Walk around often on long plane rides. Take stretch breaks if you are driving. This lowers the risk of harmful blood clots.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Fasten your seatbelt.

Find out where the nearest hospital is located when you get to your destination. It could help in an emergency.

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.
Nathan Fox. Dos and Don’ts in Pregnancy. Obstetrics & Gynecology. April 2018. Volume 131 - Issue 4 - p 713-721.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Committee on the Review of the Health Effects of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems; Eaton DL, Kwan LY, Stratton K, editors.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Toxoplasma from Food Safety for Moms to Be. September 27, 2018. Accessed July 20, 2022.
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.
Wanner, N.M., Colwell, M., Drown, C. et al. Developmental cannabidiol exposure increases anxiety and modifies genome-wide brain DNA methylation in adult female mice. Clinical Epigenetics. 13: 4. 2021.
Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2018 Jan 23.
Whittington JR, Simmons PM, Phillips AM, et al. The Use of Electronic Cigarettes in Pregnancy: A Review of the Literature. Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey. 2018;73(9):544-549.
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