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Avoiding pregnancy risks

Pregnancy Risks

Pregnancy risks you should be aware of and how to avoid them

You’ll want to do everything you can to keep your baby safe throughout pregnancy. Here we look at some of the obvious – and not so obvious – hazards that you should be aware of.

It’s easy to be alarmed by the multitude of scare stories in the news about possible risks in pregnancy. But, in reality, there is no reason why, with a bit of extra care, you can’t sail through the nine months without putting either your baby or yourself in danger.  Here are the risks that it’s important to avoid:


This increases the risk of your baby having a low-birth weight, being born prematurely and cot death. There has never been a better reason for you and your partner to give up smoking. If you need help ask your doctor for advice and details of any counselling services.


To keep risks to your baby to a minimum, the UK based Department of Health advises that pregnant women, or women who are planning a pregnancy, should not drink any alcohol. If you drank before you found out that you were pregnant, you should avoid drinking any further alcohol. If you are concerned about how much you drank in those early weeks of pregnancy talk to your doctor.

It is known that even small amounts of alcohol can affect your baby‘s behaviour in the womb. Only by avoiding alcohol completely can you avoid the risk of damage occurring in your baby‘s brain as a result of drinking. Drinking during the first three months of pregnancy also increases your risk of miscarriage and must be avoided.


Some research has linked too much caffeine consumption to miscarriage and low birth weight, so you should limit your intake to no more than 200mg a day.

Certain foods

There are a number of foods which have been found to be harmful to your unborn baby, these include: pâté, under-cooked eggs and blue-vein or mould-ripened crust cheeses.


This is a parasite that lives in unpasteurised milk and cheeses, under-cooked meat, soil grown vegetables and cat faeces. It can also be caught through contact with lambing. 

It’s only a problem if you become infected with it for the first time while you are pregnant. Depending on which stage of pregnancy you contract it, toxoplasmosis can cause miscarriage, birth defects and stillbirth.

Minimise your chances of catching it by avoiding the foods mentioned above and wear gloves to change cat litter, do the gardening and avoid lambing. Cook meat thoroughly and wash all fruit and vegetables.

Recreational drugs

There is evidence that using cannabis may increase the risk of low birth weight, resulting in the baby needing a special care baby unit. Ecstasy can cause you to dehydrate and has also been linked to birth defects.

Apart from adverse effects on your health, other illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin and crack are addictive, as the drugs cross the placenta. This means your baby could be born with an addiction and will have to go through withdrawal after she is born. 

If you need help coming off drugs, tell your doctor so she can arrange support and counselling, or contact specialist organisation that provide treatment of drug addiction such as Hope Trust India.

Prescription and over-the-counter medicines

Always tell your doctor if you are pregnant or trying to conceive. If you are taking prescribed drugs for a pre-existing medical condition such as asthma and epilepsy, don’t stop taking your medication but make an appointment to see your doctor.

Don't take any over-the-counter (OTC) remedies without checking with your doctor or chemist first.

Paracetamol and other painkillers

Paracetamol can be taken occasionally in pregnancy for pain relief and high temperature, but should be avoided during the first 12 weeks unless recommended by your doctor. It should always be taken in the correct dosage and shouldn’t be taken on a regular basis. 

If you need painkillers regularly you should always seek medical advice. Aspirin is sometimes prescribed by obstetricians in low dose for medical reasons. 

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, should always be avoided.*

Antihistamine tablets

If your pregnancy coincides with the hayfever season you may need medication to cope with your symptoms. Simply book an appointment with your doctor for advice, as some of the newer non-drowsy remedies are not suitable for pregnant women.

Heartburn remedies

Antacids are generally safe, but check with your chemist first as some are unsuitable for use in pregnancy.

Complementary remedies

The effects of many complementary therapies in pregnancy are still unknown. Unless a specific treatment, such as acupressure to help with nausea, or massage to relieve backache, has been approved by your doctor, it is safest to avoid these therapies during your pregnancy.

Insect repellents

If you’re going on holiday and are worried about mosquito bites it is sensible to use all measures to protect yourself including the use of insect repellents on exposed skin. While pregnant, travel to areas where there is a high risk of serious mosquito-spread illnesses, such as zika, is not advised. If you do travel to countries where there is a risk of zika, malaria or dengue it is important to use insect repellents containing DEET which is an effective mosquito repellent.

Abdominal x-rays

All x-rays use radiation which can harm your baby so they must only be used in situations where your condition is life-threatening. 

Although dental x-rays are considered safe, you must tell your dentist you are pregnant so he can decide whether treatment can wait until after you've had your baby.

Pre-existing medical conditions

It is very important that any pre-existing medical condition you have is well managed during pregnancy. Go and see your doctor as soon as you suspect you are pregnant so that together you can decide how your condition can best be managed. 

Never stop taking any prescribed medication without first discussing this with your doctor.


If you catch chicken pox for the first time in pregnancy there can be harmful effects for you and your baby. However, most women who develop chickenpox while pregnant recover and have normal babies. 

If you have had chicken pox as a child you will be immune (which means the illness will not affect you). If you have had contact with someone with chickenpox and you are unsure whether you've had it, seek urgent medical advice as a blood test to check your immunity will be needed. Sometimes special treatment may be required. 

Being 'in contact' means being in the same room as someone with chicken pox for 15 minutes or more or face to face contact. If you are not immune you can be vaccinated after the birth.

Slapped cheek syndrome

Also known as fifth disease; this is caused by a virus. If caught during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy it can affect your unborn baby or lead to miscarriage.

If you think you have been in contact with anyone who has slapped cheek syndrome contact your doctor as soon as possible. Do this even if you, yourself have no symptoms.

Whooping cough

Because of a sharp rise in whooping cough in babies, some doctors might offer pregnant women a vaccination at between 16–32 weeks.

This can protect your newborn from whooping cough during the first most vulnerable months of her life when he has no natural immunity from the disease.

Seasonal flu jab

Flu can lead to serious complications in pregnancy for both the mother and baby. Having a flu vaccine will protect against premature birth, stillbirth and neonatal death.

You might be advised by your doctor to have the seasonal flu jab, which offers immunity against various strains of flu and currently gives protection against the swine flu (H1N1) virus**.

Contact your doctor to arrange an appointment to have the jab; it is safe and can be given at any time during pregnancy.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE)

During pregnancy and after the birth you are more at risk from a type of blood clot which develops in a deep vein in your leg, thigh, pelvis (DVT) or lung (PE). If your leg or calf becomes sore or swollen or you develop a sudden shortness of breath or chest pain you should see a doctor urgently.

Infections in pregnancy

Sepsis is a potentially fatal blood infection which requires urgent hospital treatment. Pregnant women and women who have recently given birth are at greater risk of sepsis developing from simple infections such as a sore throat, a urine or womb infection.

If you feel ill, develop a fever or have been taking antibiotics but you are not getting any better you should seek urgent medical attention.

Risks on the farm

Some infections can be passed from sheep and possibly pigs to humans. If a pregnant woman becomes infected it could harm her and her unborn baby's health.

Avoid lambing and milking ewes and all contact with newborn lambs. Pigs are thought to be a source of a type of hepatitis so you should avoid contact with them while pregnant, although eating cooked pork is safe.

Minimise environmental risks

Evidence suggests that although we are all exposed to hundreds of chemicals at low levels every day, it is impossible to assess the risk of this exposure. So it makes sense to minimise any possible risk during pregnancy by taking precautions such as eating fresh rather than processed foods and reducing the use of foods sold in cans or cooked in plastic containers. 

It's also important to avoid fumes from paint, paint strippers, thinners, household cleaning products, solvents, varnishes and glues. Limiting the use of mobile phones is also advised.

Pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides

Prolonged exposure to any of these can affect your unborn baby. Be aware of these products and avoid contact with them as much as you can.

Wash your hands after handling eggs

Bacteria can be found on eggs shells which can then rub off onto other foods and contaminate it. Wash your hands after handling eggs to prevent the spread of any bacteria which could harm you or your baby.

Jacuzzis and saunas

These should be avoided during pregnancy because they could cause you to become overheated.

Seat belts

It’s against the law not to wear a seat belt in a car, despite how uncomfortable it may be during the later months of your pregnancy.

It is advised that you never use a lap belt, as these have been shown to cause grave injuries to unborn babies in the event of an accident. Stick to a three point seat belt and make sure the diagonal strap is in-between your breasts, resting on your shoulder, breastbone and over your bump. Place the lap part of the belt across your thighs, under your bump.

Risks at work

Once you have informed your employer in writing that you are pregnant, you can check with your HR department if there are any workplace risks affecting you. If any risks are found you should be told what measures are being put in place to protect you and your unborn baby's health.

If unavoidable risks remain, your working conditions should be changed or you should be offered an appropriate alternative job at the same pay.

Risks do not just include physical hazards such as heavy lifting. Jobs that involve a lot of travelling, extreme noise or extremes in temperature may also be considered risky.

If you have any concerns about the work you do you should talk to your employer.

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