CINCINNATI—Pregnancy can be both an exciting and a stressful time, because women want to make sure they are doing what’s best for their baby.
They may wonder if it’s OK to drink coffee or dye their hair, or if there are certain medications to avoid.
Thomas deHoop, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Cincinnati (UC), has been asked these questions and more by concerned women.
“Some women feel comfortable asking their OB/GYN questions about their pregnancy, and others don’t,” says deHoop.
“But no question is too trivial—if it’s something you’re concerned about or want to know, by all means ask your doctor. We’re there to help you have a healthy pregnancy.”
deHoop shares some common questions women ask during pregnancy:
- Do I need extra calories? Are there some foods I should avoid? Pregnant women only need about 300 additional calories a day. They should avoid undercooked or raw meat, eggs and fish (including sushi and steak tartar) and unpasteurized goat’s or cow’s milk. Rare or raw meat can harbor the microorganisms that cause toxoplasmosis—an illness that can cause birth defects, illness or death of the baby.
Fish is an important part of a healthy diet, but women who are pregnant or nursing should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish. “These fish contain high amounts of a form of mercury that may harm an unborn child’s brain or nervous system,” says deHoop. Women can safely eat 12 ounces of other types of cooked fish each week.
- Can I continue to drink coffee or tea? There is no evidence, says deHoop, that regular amounts of caffeinated beverages, such as tea, coffee and soda, causes birth defects. “However, some studies suggest that heavy use of these beverages may be associated with a slight increase in your risk of miscarriage in the first and second trimesters,” deHoop says. He advises no more than two caffeinated beverages a day or switching to decaf.
- Are there any over-the-counter medications to avoid? deHoop encourages women to discuss all OTC medications with their doctor. Commonly used medications that are safe include Tylenol (acetaminophen), Tums (calcium carbonate), Zantac or Pepcid (ranitidine/famotidine), Benadryl (diphenhydramine), cough medicine (without alcohol or sugar if you are diabetic), Unisom (doxalymine) and Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) as long as your blood pressure is stable. Don’t take aspirin, Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen) without the advice of your doctor.
- Is it safe to dye my hair? There are conflicting reports about the safety of hair dye during pregnancy. Several studies found no ill effects on pregnant rodents given 100 times the typical human dose of hair dye, whereas British researchers reported chromosome damage among nonpregnant women who dyed their hair. “As a precaution, you may want to avoid hair color until after your first trimester when your baby’s vital organs, head, body and limbs form,” says deHoop. He says colorants made from vegetable dyes such as henna are preferable to chemical dyes used in permanent and semipermanent formulas. Also, check labels to ensure the products don’t contain lead acetate.
- Can I use cleaning products? According to deHoop, the well-known harmful effects of cleaning agents are no different during pregnancy. “The biggest issue is how noxious the fumes are and whether they can induce nausea and vomiting. The common sense approach of ‘use in a well-ventilated area’ is probably the best advice.”
- Is it safe to change the cat litter? The issue with the litter box is the risk of exposure to a parasite found in cat feces that can cause toxoplasmosisis most common in stray or outside cats. Cats that live indoors and are not chasing and eating mice are at extremely low risk. Avoiding the litter box is a simple preventive measure, and the box should be kept away from the general living quarters to prevent airborne spread.
- May I exercise? It’s safe to exercise in moderation unless you’re advised not to by your obstetrician. It’s important to start and build slowly if you’re new to exercise and never to reach the point of complete exhaustion. Rating exertion with 10 as the maximum, try to remain at a seven or below. Hydrate well and avoid new activities that require good balance or have a high risk of falling.
- Can having sex hurt the baby? deHoop assures women that unless their pregnancy is classified as high risk or their obstetrician cautions against intercourse, there’s no medical reason not to have sex. “The baby will not be harmed during sex—it’s well-cushioned inside the uterus.”
More information on pregnancy is available at www.netwellness.org, a collaborative health-information Web site run by UC, Case Western Reserve University and Ohio State University and staffed by Ohio physicians (including deHoop), nurses and allied health professionals.