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Illness prevention and treatment

August 08, 2016

What’s safe in pregnancy?

Confused about constantly changing information about what’s safe in pregnancy? Here’s what health authorities are saying now.

Over the course of three pregnancies, Carol Neshevich has heard a lot of different advice. With her first son, she ate deli meats throughout her pregnancy. “They weren’t on the no-no list at that time,” she says, adding that in her second pregnancy fears of the bacteria Listeria prompted doctors to recommend that pregnant women avoid them.

It’s the same with coffee. She also used to avoid it altogether, having read reports of miscarriage risks. Now, in her third pregnancy, she drinks one cup per day and often enjoys an afternoon tea.

“To be honest, I really don’t have the spare time these days to Google every single food I’m eating to find out if it’s safe or not. That’s not to say I don’t follow all the major guidelines — I try to, in general — but I’m not going to stress out if I have an extra cup of coffee or tea once in a while, or forget to take my vitamin one day, or don’t manage to eat my daily serving of fruit or veggies on occasion,” she says.

Pregnancy advice has changed

Neshevich’s experience is certainly common among pregnant women. With new studies emerging daily, changing medical advice from health authorities and varying media reports, it’s hard to know exactly what advice to follow.

Over the past five years, the “rules” concerning a safe pregnancy have changed. Here’s what you need to know about what’s now okay — and what isn’t.

What’s now considered to be okay in pregnancy

  • Caffeinated drinks are safe in moderation. Drinking one to two small cups per day (up to 200 mg of caffeine) of coffee or tea can give pregnant women the pick-up they crave. But take it easy - drinking more than six cups a day has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage.

  • Soft cheeses are fine — if they’re pasteurized. However, eating imported, unpasteurized cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, or Epoisse can lead to listeriosis, a serious illness that may cause miscarriage, stillbirth, illness in the mother, and severe illness in the newborn. Check the label for pasteurization info.

  • Exercise is good. While pregnant women used to be cautioned against working out, moderate exercise is now considered to be fine. You can continue to work out, provided you did it before conceiving. If not, wait until the second trimester, check with your doctor and go slow, says the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (SOGC). If you’re a runner, an aerobics junkie or you like to lift weights, keep going, provided you feel fine and are having a complication-free pregnancy. If pain in the pubic area becomes a concern or you’re unable to talk while exercising, adopt a slower pace.

  • Sex is fine. Go ahead, provided you don’t have an infection, bleeding, problems with leaking amniotic fluid or an amniotic sac that has ruptured.

  • Some prescription drugs. While most drugs aren’t recommended in pregnancy, there are some, such as certain antibiotics, that are safe. Consult with your doctor to determine what’s okay to take.

  • Sleeping on your back. Though it used to be discouraged for fear it cut off oxygen to the fetus, sleeping on your back is now fine, says the SOGC.

What’s not okay in pregnancy

  • Raw fish. Skip the sushi if you’re expecting, says Natalie Wright, director of communications for the SOGC. It can harbour Listeria bacteria or parasites that can harm the fetus.

  • Undercooked meat, poultry or seafood. Food that’s undercooked, as well as foods such as paté, uncooked weiners or smoked salmon can contain Listeria.

  • Alcohol. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there is no safe limit for alcohol in pregnancy. While a few sips of Champagne are likely just fine, wait to resume drinking until after your baby has been delivered and you’ve stopped nursing.

  • Smoking. Every time you smoke, you reduce the oxygen going to your fetus. Talk to your doctor about how to kick the habit.

As always, check with your doctor or midwife if you have any questions or concerns.

And once your baby is born, there’s something else to think about: Now that there's someone else depending on you and your income, look into protecting yourself with life insurance.

  • Find more tips and tools for this exciting time of your life in our Building section.

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