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Will This Hurt My Fetus?

Katlyn Joy |13, May 2014


When you're pregnant, you might worry about everything. "Is this OK to eat?" "Am I doing this too much?" "Should I have more of that?" It can be overwhelming at times. Here are some common concerns and the lowdown on each.


Besides all the harmful effects of smoking on the mother, smoking poses risks for the unborn child, according to the March of Dimes, such as ectopic pregnancies, bleeding during pregnancy, placental abruption or placenta previa, and stillbirth. Children born to smokers are more at risk for birth defects such as cleft lip or palate, being born too early or at a low birth weight, and damage to their lungs. Babies of smokers have diminished oxygen levels as well.


According to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, there is no safe level of alcohol for pregnant women. Baby gets all the alcohol the mother drinks, and since the liver cannot process it, the baby will have the same blood alcohol level. It is more dangerous to a fetus than any street drug, and is the leading preventable cause of birth defects, learning disabilities, and developmental disabilities. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders are as common as autism and occur in higher numbers than spina bifida, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, SIDS, and cystic fibrosis combined. The type of alcohol consumed is of no difference; if you have a cocktail, a beer, or hard liquor, the risks are the same.

Environmental hazards.

While pregnant, you need to be aware of toxins and dangers in the environment. You may be exposed on the job to substances such as lead, mercury, pesticides, and other chemicals. If you know you may be exposed to such things, you can be transferred to another position, facility or duty while expecting. At home, you need to be aware of dangers such as gardening without gloves, radon, kitty litter, lead paint or other toxins.


Many drugs, both over the counter and those by prescription are off-limits to pregnant women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than 10 percent of drugs approved by the Federal Drug Administration since 1980 have enough information to determine if they may cause birth defects. To help doctors know the background of a drug in treating pregnant women, the FDA has assigned letter designations to medications. A means that the drugs in this category caused no problems in women who used the medicine in human studies.

Category B means there are no good human studies, but in animal studies no bad results occurred in the offspring.

Category C means no good human studies have been done, but in animal studies some bad effects were found in offspring or no good human or animal studies have been conducted.

Category D means in human studies, problems have been reported in babies. Drugs with this designation include Paxil, lithium and dilantin. Some people have a higher benefit versus risk.

Category X means problems have been noted and no benefit outweighs the risks. Drugs in this class include Accutane and thalimide.

Over the counter meds such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen can cause bleeding problems in the last trimester so should be avoided. Recent studies have linked Tylenol to different issues including hyperactivity in the offspring.

Pregnant women should also be aware that even natural products, such as herbs, can be harmful, even to the point of causing miscarriage or stillbirth. You shouldn't take anything at all without a doctor's approval.

Women with chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, seizures, or diabetes will have to work with their doctor to determine medication dosages and types. Often it would be dangerous to both mother and child to stop medication for serious conditions.


Caffeine is found in soft drinks, coffee, tea, energy drinks and chocolate. While a definite level has not been established, you should discuss with your health care provider what your caffeine habits you have and if you need to make any changes. Caffeine has been associated with miscarriage or other risks in some studies.

Hair dyes.

Pregnant women need not fear hair dye while pregnant, but if you'd rather not take chances, in case later studies find problems, there are natural products available.

Updated May 12, 2014


"Environmental risks and pregnancy."March of Dimes Foundation, Web, October 2011.
"Key Facts on Alcohol and Pregnancy." National Organization of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Web, n.d.
"Smoking and Pregnancy." March of Dimes Foundation, Web, April 2010
"Pregnancy and medicines fact sheet." Office on Women's Health U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Web, July 16, 2012
"Medications and Pregnancy." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Web, April 15, 2014

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Guest Jun 28, 2014 04:42:40 AM ET

Actually, dying your hair is perfectly fine depending on the product used. This should really not be a concern. This is coming from both doctors and certified hair stylist. And you should really specify the smoking to smoking tobacco.

Guest Jul 21, 2014 05:41:03 PM ET

I'm pretty sure smoking anything, not just tobacco isn't good for your lungs or the developing lungs of a baby. so no it should not just specify tobacco!

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Guest Jun 12, 2014 02:48:37 AM ET

It's cultural as well. In the USA they are terrified of alcohol when pregnant, in France it's raw vegetables. If they see you eating a salad in the restaurant you will get comments on how it can be full of bacteria etc. Ironically a glass of wine in France and a salad in USA is seen as a good thing. Basically there is always someone out there willing to scare you into thinking you are harming your baby. I don't know how my parents (boomers) survived their mothers womb back in the 50s and 60s.

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