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    Special Precautions for Pregnant Women

    The first three months of pregnancy are the most crucial stage in your baby's development as all organs are forming. Throughout your pregnancy, but especially during the first three months, be particularly careful about using any alcohol, drugs or medication. The following information outlines substances that require special precautions during pregnancy.

    Alcohol  |  Caffeine  |  Cigarettes  |  Food Additives  |  Food Handling Concerns  |  Medications/Herbs  |  Saunas and Hot Tubs  |  Toxoplasmosis  |  Video Display Terminals (VDTs)  |  Other Precautions and Informational Hotlines


    No one knows how much alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy.

    The danger of alcohol use during pregnancy is that it may cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Babies born with FAS may:

    • Grow more slowly

    • Have learning problems

    • Have distorted facial features
    There is no cure for these problems caused by fetal alcohol syndrome.

    Alcohol is an ingredient in many medicines you buy. For example, some cough medicines are 25 percent alcohol. Always read the label before taking any medicine. If the contents are not listed, ask your health care provider if you should use the product during pregnancy.

    The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the March of Dimes caution pregnant women that because there is no known safe level, the safest course to follow includes:
    • Completely avoid alcoholic beverages while pregnant.

    • Discuss your concerns regarding alcohol and pregnancy with your healthcare provdier.

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    Caffeine is a stimulant and affects individuals differently. Caffeine can cause nervousness, irritability, anxiety, irregular heartbeats and difficulty in sleeping. How caffeine affects the fetus is still under investigation. Some scientists believe caffeine can cause premature or smaller than normal babies, or possible birth defects.


    • Cut down or eliminate food and drinks which contain caffeine such as coffee, tea, colas and other soft drinks, cocoa and chocolate.

    • Caffeine is also an ingredient in many non-prescription medicines such as headache, cold, allergy, and pills that are made to combat drowsiness.

    • If you have been consuming caffeine in large quantities, gradually decrease your intake. Severe headaches, nausea, fatigue and other symptoms may accompany an abrupt withdrawal. Check with your health care provider for more information.

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    Cigarette smoking may lead to serious health problems. Women who smoke during pregnancy usually have smaller babies than non-smoking women. Low birth weight babies are more likely to have health problems such as infections, trouble keeping warm, feeding problems, and breathing difficulties. In addition, new research has found significant health problems related to exposure to second hand smoke and a link to S.I.D.S. (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).


    • Stop smoking or cut down your smoking when pregnant. There are many community programs available to assist you. Call the American Cancer Society for information on Smoke-Stopper Programs.

    • Avoid smokers and smoking areas whenever possible.

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    Food Additives

    Whenever possible, try to minimize your use of:

    • Processed food items (such as hot dogs)

    • Foods containing sodium nitrate, such as cured meats (hams, bacon, etc.); these substances may be carcinogenic (cancer-causing).
    Be sure to wash fruit and and peel carrots to avoid ingesting pesticides.

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    Food Handling Concerns

    Since cooking food destroys bacteria or parasites, consuming raw fish, meats or poultry may increase your risk of infection or parasitic disease. Unpasteurized milk may also cause illness.


    • Avoid eating raw fish such as sushi and ceviche, meats, or eggs.

    • Avoid drinking unpasteurized milk.

    • Cook your fish, meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly.

    • Always wash cutting boards after slicing any raw fish, meats, or poultry.
    • Run plastic cutting boards through the dishwasher and microwave wooden boards for five minutes.

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    Before you decide to take any medication or medicinal herbs during your pregnancy, be sure to get answers to these questions:

    • What is this medicine/herb?

    • What does it treat?

    • What are the side effects for me and my baby?

    • What is the smallest effective dose?

    • How long will I need to take this medication?
    • Be cautious before using medicines that contain multiple ingredients, as these are more likely to contain extra substances which may be harmful.

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    Saunas and Hot Tubs

    The use of saunas and hot tubs that maintain a temperature greater than body temperature should be avoided due to their potential for causing overheating and possible effects on the developing baby.


    • Avoid possible overheating.

    • Check with your healthcare provider for recommendations.

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    Toxoplasmosis is a condition caused by a parasite which can be found in cat feces, the soil of plants, and raw or undercooked meat. The parasite can cause brain damage in a developing infant if the mother becomes infected during pregnancy.


    • Avoid contact with cat feces. Have someone else change the litter box.

    • Wash dirt from fresh produce before eating

    • Use gloves when you garden.

    • Cook all meat to at least medium, preferably well done.
    A blood test is available to determine if you have been exposed to toxoplasmosis. Ask your healthcare provider for more information.

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    Video Display Terminals (VDTs)

    At this time, there are no conclusive research findings regarding the effects of Video Display Terminals (VDTs) on developing fetuses.


    • Reduce your exposure to VDTs whenever possible.

    • Be sure to take frequent stretch breaks and look away from the screen whenever possible.

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    Other Precautions and Informational Hotlines

    Many pregnant women are concerned about possible effects on their developing baby from using products such as household cleaners, insecticides, hair dyes, permanents, nail polish, electrolysis, paint fumes, high altitudes, microwaves, and tanning beds.

    Check with your health care provider for his/her recommendations or contact the hotlines listed below. When in doubt, be cautious and avoid the substance in question during pregnancy.

    Informational Hotlines on Chemical Use and Precautions

    CTIS Pregnancy Risk Information
    Provides information about drugs, chemicals, and physical agents which may be harmful to an unborn child.

    CHEMTREC (Chemical Referral Center)

    National Lead Information Center
    1-800-LEADFYI (800-532-3394)

    National Pesticide Network Hotline

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