Just as there are things you should do to safeguard your baby’s health -- eat well, exercise, attend childbirth education classes -- there are things you should avoid throughout your pregnancy.
(wine, beer and hard liquor)
In addition to increasing the risk of miscarriage, drinking during pregnancy can cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), a pattern of physical, mental and behavioral problems in infants. The level of drinking that causes FAS is still unknown and varies with each woman, but as little as one to two drinks a day has been associated with fetal alcohol effects. Babies with FAS are shorter and weigh less than normal babies. They have smaller heads, abnormal facial and head features, heart defects, joint and limb abnormalities and poor movement control. Most also show mental retardation and behavioral problems. It’s best to assume that any alcohol during pregnancy can harm your baby. If you drank alcohol before you realized you were pregnant, don’t agonize over it -- just abstain from this point forward.
Smoking during pregnancy accounts for 5 percent of perinatal deaths and 14 percent of preterm deliveries. Babies born to women who smoke are more likely to have low birth weights and face a higher risk of serious illness or death during the first year of life. Smoking while pregnant is also associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), miscarriage, placental abnormalities, stillbirth and infant respiratory distress syndrome. Avoid other smokers: Exposure to as little as two hours a day of secondhand smoke significantly increases your risk of having a low-birth-weight baby.
Stop-smoking programs are available and work better with partner involvement.
Caffeine, found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate, readily enters the baby’s bloodstream and accumulates in the brain. The short- and long-term effects of the accumulation are unknown, but it’s prudent to limit your caffeine intake to fewer than three cups a day or give it up.
(over-the-counter, prescription and illegal)
Avoid taking any kind of drug without your healthcare provider’s consent. Over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin, cold remedies, laxatives and painkillers can harm a developing baby. Illegal drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines can cause permanent birth defects.
Violence against women takes many forms -- verbal abuse (name calling, screaming), physical abuse (pushing, slapping, hitting, kicking, throwing things, using weapons) and sexual abuse (forced intercourse or other sexual activity).
Physical abuse, often first appears or escalates during pregnancy, usually involves the abdomen and is associated with miscarriage and low birth weights. If you experience domestic abuse, seek help from your healthcare provider or a shelter for abused women. Go to an emergency room if you are injured. Or call the
National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233.