Don’t wait to see a positive pregnancy test to start making baby-friendly adjustments to your diet and lifestyle. Some substances we put in and on our bodies can affect our fertility and pose harm to a fetus in those early days before pregnancy. If you’re trying to get pregnant, take a look at your cupboards and consider clearing out products that could be problematic.
1. Coffee When you’re pregnant, you should drink no more than 300 milligrams of caffeine (or about two eight-ounce cups of coffee) a day because caffeine has been shown to cross the placenta and its effects on a fetus aren’t fully understood. While it’s not clear whether coffee has a direct effect on fertility, you might as well start cutting back now. Plus, the first few weeks (when many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant yet) are critical for a developing fetus, so it’s best to develop good prenatal habits from the get-go. After you’ve reached your allotted intake, opt for decaf coffee and black tea. Avoid herbal teas because their effects on the developing fetus haven’t been well researched.
2. Certain prescriptions When you’re ready to start trying to get pregnant, book an appointment with your doctor to discuss any medications you’re taking. “There are a number that you need to be mindful of, from blood pressure medications to prescriptions for arthritis and anxiety,” says Natasha Deshwal, a family physician in Bedford, Nova Scotia. They could increase your risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery and birth defects. “You and your doctor will look at the risks versus the benefits in each case and adjust or change your medications accordingly,” she says.
While you’re at it, review your over-the-counter meds, too. Many decongestants, cough syrups and antidiarrheal medications are also unsafe in pregnancy. Everyday pain relievers that contain ibuprofen or naproxen (also known as Advil and Aleve) are also no-nos, especially during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, when the risk to your baby is highest—and when you’re least likely to know you’re expecting.
3. Deli meats “I recommend avoiding all deli meats because they pose a risk of listeria,” says Maeve O’Beirne, an associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. Listeria is a nasty food-borne bacteria that can live in processed and undercooked meats, soft cheeses and raw seafood. In early pregnancy, a bout of listeriosis can cause miscarriage.
4. Alcohol “Ideally, we want women to completely abstain from alcohol during pregnancy,” says Deshwal. She recommends that women eliminate booze as soon as they start trying to get pregnant, just to be safe. “I’ve had patients say ‘I didn’t realize I was pregnant yet. If I’d known, I never would have had so much to drink at that party or on holiday.’” Alcohol consumption can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which can include physical malformations, learning disabilities and delayed social skills. Even moderate drinking is linked to premature birth, low birth weight in babies and pre-eclampsia (a dangerous condition where a woman develops high blood pressure in pregnancy). Since it’s not clear exactly how much alcohol it takes to cause problems, medical professionals recommend erring on the side of caution.
Got a different vice? It goes without saying, but smoking should be avoided before and during pregnancy because it’s associated with a higher risk of preterm babies and lower birth weights. “Marijuana is another substance we’re seeing problems with right now because everyone thinks it’s ‘natural,’” says O’Beirne. Prenatal pot use is linked to babies with neurocognitive impairments that start to appear as early as 18 months and can grow into lifelong issues with hyperactivity, impulsivity, anxiety and depression.
5. Certain beauty products Prescription acne creams should be one of the first things to go, says O’Beirne. “Retinoid creams, which contain vitamin A, and some antibiotic creams can’t be used in pregnancy because they pose a risk of birth defects,” she says.
“Then there are all the personal care products that contain phthalate, formaldehyde, toluene and ammonia,” she says. “These are not good in pregnancy because they also pose a risk of malformations.” To be safe, check the ingredient lists on all hair, face and body products that you use regularly. When you’re shopping, opt for brands with claims like “five-free” or “EWG Verified” so you know they’re safe.
6. Toxic cleaners Take a good look at your cleaning cupboard. Check the labels on all products carefully, look for any toxicity warnings and avoid them completely. Skip oven cleaners because they can contain glycol ethers, which have been shown to increase the risk of miscarriage.
“I encourage women to just use vinegar and water—that’s your safest bet,” says O’Beirne. If you have a cat, assign kitty litter cleaning duty to your partner. Outdoor felines, in particular, are at risk of contracting a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which can pass through the placenta and cause the fetus to develop toxoplasmosis, an illness that can cause miscarriage or stillbirth or lead to hearing loss, blindness and intellectual disabilities.
7. Sodas New research from the Boston University School of Public Health, published in Epidemiology, shows that women who drink one soda pop a day have a 25 percent lower chance of conception and men who drink the same amount have a 33 percent lower chance of conception. This study didn’t find the same effect with diet soda, but O’Beirne says that it’s also harmful. “We don’t know what effect the artificial sweetener aspartame, which is a neurotransmitter, has on a growing baby’s brain,” she says. “As with most things, it’s better to play it safe.”
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