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Seven Things To Avoid During Pregnancy

Nancy Price


Cigarette Smoke
Whether firsthand or secondhand smoke, pregnant women serve their babies well by keeping away from it. This isn't some conspiracy against smokers: countless medical studies have reported on the dangers of cigarette smoke. Risks include increased risk of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, and stillbirth, and can also alter your baby's brain development (resulting in a lower IQ or mental retardation), and turn a potentially healthy baby into a low-birthweight baby or one who might succumb to SIDS.

Soft Cheese
Listeria monocytogenes (commonly known as Listeria) is a type of bacteria found in some types of cheese. Soft, white, Mexican-style (such as Queso Blanco and Queso Fresco) cheeses are those at greatest risk of being infected, although the FDA reports that past studies also have implicated feta, Brie, Camembert, and blue-veined cheeses such as Roquefort. They also state that no problems have been found with hard cheeses (cheddar, Swiss), processed slices, cottage cheese, or yogurt. During pregnancy, you and your baby are both vulnerable to infection, so avoid risk and skip the soft cheese.

Raw or undercooked meat
According to FDA Consumer, toxoplasmosis is acquired by eating raw or undercooked meat contaminated with the parasite (or by exposure to contaminated cat feces). Toxoplasmosis can also be transmitted to a fetus through the placenta, but the fetus is presumed to be at risk only if the mother has a primary, active infection during the pregnancy. CDC estimates there are between one and three congenital Toxoplasma infections per 1,000 live births in the United States each year. Only 10 percent of those infants develop symptoms, but of them, 85 percent develop severe neurologic and developmental problems, and approximately 12 percent die. Of those who have no symptoms at birth, up to 85 percent may develop chronic recurring eye disease and learning disabilities. Toxoplasmosis can also cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and pre-term birth.

In 1990, FDA issued an advisory to state and local regulatory agencies recommending that fish served raw, marinated, or
partially cooked be blast-frozen. However, pregnant women should not eat raw fin fish or shellfish because, although freezing kills most parasites, it does not kill bacteria.

Deli Meats and Under-cooked meats
Can anyone forget the massive luncheon meat recalls from early 1999? Be wary of items you might find behind a deli counter -- especially those which may have come into contact with infected cheeses. Also risky: undercooked poultry and hot dogs (and similar meats) that have not been thoroughly reheated. According to the FDA, pregnant women may contract flu-like symptoms of listeriosis; complications can result in miscarriage, stillbirth, or septicemia or meningitis in the newborn. It takes from one to six weeks for a serious case of listeriosis to develop, although flu-like symptoms may occur 12 hours after eating contaminated food.

If you drink alcohol, it can hurt your baby's growth, and your baby may have physical and behavioral problems that can last for the rest of his or her life. Children born with the most serious problems caused by alcohol have fetal alcohol syndrome. Learn more here.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when a pregnant woman uses drugs, she and her unborn child face serious health problems. During pregnancy, the drugs used by the mother can enter the baby's bloodstream. The most serious effects on the baby can be HIV infection, AIDS, prematurity, low birth weight, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, small head size, stunted growth, poor motor skills, and behavior problems. Several herbs (just because it's "natural" doesn't mean it's safe) and "everyday" medications are also of concern, and aspirin and other drugs containing salicylate are not recommended throughout pregnancy, especially during the last three months, except under the supervision of a qualified medical professional.

Caffeine -- a stimulant found in colas, coffee, tea, soft candies, chocolate, cocoa, and over-the-counter and prescription drugs -- has been a controversial topic in pregnancy nutrition for more than a decade. A 1980 study by FDA found that caffeine, when fed to pregnant rats, caused birth defects and delayed skeletal development in their offspring. At that time, although the human implications were unknown, FDA advised pregnant women to eliminate caffeine from their diets. Find out more here

My name is Nancy Price, and I'm a mom as well as the co-owner/Editor of three sites: Myria, the magazine for mothers (; ePregnancy, a site for expectant parents ( and, a web directory for women. Already a freelance writer - my work has appeared in Parents, Parents Expecting, Baby, the San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere - I taught myself web design several years ago because it was a creative way to bring my ideas to a larger audience. Of course, web work has now eclipsed much of my writing work, but I still look forward to writing the occasional article for our sites and to share with others. :-)

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