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Fact Checked


31st July 2019



Whilst pregnancy can be a wonderful experience, it can also be a time of worry when you find yourself receiving conflicting advice from health professionals, family members and friends.

So what can you and can’t you do during this important nine months?

Here are a few pointers.

1. Food during pregnancy

It is important to maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy as this is a time when your body requires additional nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

During the second and third trimester, your body also needs an additional 350-500 calories daily.

Poor nutrition can severely impact foetal development and obesity puts both mother and baby at high risk of other pregnancy-related conditions, for example, gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.

A healthy balanced diet is good for you and for baby, and also makes it easier to lose weight once you have given birth.

Dairy products are a good choice of food during pregnancy as they contain adequate levels of protein, vitamins and minerals.

Greek yoghurt is a great source of calcium, and probiotic yoghurts can support digestive health.

Fresh fruit and vegetables, again, are a great source of the vitamins and minerals needed during this important time.

In particular, dark leafy vegetables such as spinach provide an excellent source of iron during a period when women are more prone to suffering from iron deficiency anaemia; avoiding low iron levels also reduces the risk of low birth weight.

Lean cooked meats are also a great source of high-quality protein, for example, beef, pork and chicken provide the increased levels of protein, vitamins and minerals, including iron, needed during gestation.

 There are obvious points to make here: Raw meat and undercooked eggs come with the risk of carrying certain illnesses.

Listeriosis and toxoplasmosis are just two to mention as these can carry high risk of serious, life-threatening illness to your unborn child and increased risk, should you contract such illnesses, of miscarriage.

Additionally, unpasteurised milk and some soft cheeses can also pose a risk to your unborn child. Less obvious are products such as mayonnaise, that you may unwittingly eat not realising that it contains raw egg.

Similarly, consuming fish and other seafood can be beneficial due to the vitamins and minerals they contain, but it can also come with a few risks.

Whilst many types of fish are loaded with the healthy, beneficial vitamins and minerals that your body needs during pregnancy, certain types of fish such as shark, swordfish, marlin and king mackerel to name just a few, contain high levels of mercury that are harmful to the unborn child.

2. Caffeine & alcohol during pregnancy

caffeine and alcoholCurrently, whilst there is no evidence that would suggest that caffeine consumption during pregnancy causes birth defects, it has been suggested that caffeine can cause an increased risk of miscarriage and low birth weight. There are also some who believe that excessive amounts of caffeine can make it difficult to conceive.

By contrast, there is much research to suggest that consuming even small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy can be harmful to your baby, compromising their oxygen and nutrient supply. In turn, this can affect growth, leading to low birth weight, development and learning problems in the long term.

Occasionally, this can develop into Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. Children with FAS can be recognised by quite distinct facial features and will experience developmental delay and behaviour problems.

Heavy drinking and binge drinking has also been linked to stillbirth. The best advice is to not drink alcohol at all during pregnancy. However, if you need support with drinking during pregnancy, there are a number of helplines available.

National Organisation on Foetal Alcohol Syndrome:  020 8458 5951

Drinkline: 0300 123 1110

3. Smoking during pregnancy

 smoking pregnancyWhen you smoke a cigarette during pregnancy, you are inhaling a cocktail of some 4,000 different chemicals into your body. Each one of these toxins can get into your bloodstream.

The two most harmful are carbon monoxide and nicotine, and these are responsible for almost all complications of pregnancy that are related to smoking.  These complications include stillbirth, premature birth and also low birth weight.

Nicotine and carbon dioxide can quite literally starve your baby of oxygen by narrowing blood vessels. Certainly not a risk worth taking.

On a positive note, there is a great deal of support available to pregnant mothers wanting to quit smoking. Quitting this habit is one of the best things that you and your partner can do for your baby.

Contact the NHS to find out how.

4. Exercise during pregnancy

In general, providing you are generally fit and in good health, you can continue to exercise during pregnancy.

There is no reason to suggest that exercise is dangerous for your baby. However, pregnancy hormones and the effects they have on ligaments and other soft tissues can wreak havoc later on.

Listen to your body; if it is uncomfortable or painful, don’t do it. Or, find a lower impact exercise, for example, swimming or yoga, both of which are beneficial to both mum and baby.

There are many aqua-natal swimming classes and antenatal yoga classes held at sports centres across the country, and in some cases, these might in fact be led by midwives.

5. Pregnancy massage

Whilst pregnancy can be a time of discovery, it also comes with its own stresses and strains!

Whether pregnant or not, pregnancy massage can be a wonderfully relaxing experience and a great way to keep calm and de-stressed. It is known to relieve muscle tension and reduce stress.

But is it safe during pregnancy?

Massage during pregnancy is safe, but always ensure that your massage therapist is aware that you are expecting and that they are trained in prenatal massage.

Over the years, prenatal massage has been adapted to meet the needs of the mother, with special attention being paid to the position that you are treated in so as to avoid any risks.

During the first trimester, massage should avoid the abdomen area.

During the second and third trimester, consideration should be given to the way you lie, so as to not compress the vena cava, the large vein that carries deoxygenated blood back to the heart.

Throughout the entire pregnancy massage should be relaxing and gentle, with deep tissue massage being avoided altogether.

During childbirth itself, massage helps with pain relief, particularly when specifically targeting the lower back region, and between contractions gentle massage provides reassurance and relaxation to mum, helping her to stay calm and in control.

The last thing you want during this time is to feel stressed and tense, as this often works against what nature is getting your body to do.

Undertaken correctly and safely, prenatal massage can not only improve physical health, but it also has benefits on mental health, reducing anxiety and regulating mood and subsequently improving cardiovascular health.

The use of aromatherapy oils in massage has become increasingly popular over the decade. The oils are thought to have beneficial properties.

Again, during pregnancy, some of these could prove too harmful so it is important that any massage practitioner is trained in their use during pregnancy.

There are a number of various massage therapies available, but Swedish massage is thought to be the most beneficial massage during pregnancy, as no only does it improve muscle tension.

But it has been shown to improve lymphatic and blood circulation as well as addressing the many musculoskeletal issues brought about by hormonal changes during pregnancy.

6. Drugs & Medication

 Always speak with your doctor if you are planning a pregnancy, or as soon you discover you are pregnant.

In many cases, it is safe to continue using (under medical guidance) your regular medications such as asthma inhalers etc.

Nevertheless, this should always be discussed with your medical care provider, who can help you to decide whether the risks of taking medication for an ongoing, pre-existing medical condition, outweigh the health benefits.

In any case, you should carefully read the instructions and ingredients of any medication you take as even over the counter cough and cold treatments can contain substances that are harmful during pregnancy.

It might seem obvious at this point to say that illegal drugs are extremely harmful, not only to those who take them but to the unborn child.

Taking illegal drugs during pregnancy has the potential to cause a great deal of harm to your unborn child. There is a great deal of advice and support available for those individuals who might need support with drug addiction during pregnancy.

Once again, you can access the help and support you need from the NHS.

7. Risk of infectious diseases during pregnancy

Whilst most infections are unlikely to cause problems in pregnancy, there are a few infectious diseases that can pose a risk.

It is rare for pregnant women to contract chickenpox during pregnancy.

However, it’s not impossible and whilst risks of complications for mother and baby are relatively low, if you think you have been in contact with chickenpox, or you develop the illness, you should see your doctor or midwife straight away.

Parvovirus B19 is a common infection in children, often called ‘Slap Cheek’ due to the red rash it causes on the face.

Whilst most women are immune to this virus, it can be harmful to unborn babies.

It is highly infectious, and although in most cases it doesn’t affect unborn babies, if you know you have come into contact with someone with this virus, then you should contact your doctor, as a blood test can determine whether or not you have been infected.

Cytomegalovirus (or CMV) is a relatively common addition to the Herpes virus group. Contracting this illness during pregnancy can pose risks for unborn babies, which can lead to deafness, blindness or other vision problems, epilepsy and learning disabilities.

Although it’s not always easy to prevent this illness, you can reduce the risk of catching it by washing your hands regularly with soap, not kissing young children on the face, not sharing food, cutlery or drinking from the same glass as young children.

It is particularly important that you following this advice if you regularly come into contact with young children.

There are a number of other illnesses that can be problematic during pregnancy, so if in doubt, you should always contact your doctor or midwife.

Similarly, certain diseases can be passed from animal to human can also cause problems during pregnancy.

The most commonly known of these is toxoplasmosis. This is an organism that is found in cat faeces.

Pregnancy gives you the ideal excuse to leave cleaning out the litter tray for someone else. But, if it’s unavoidable make sure you use disposable rubber gloves and clean and disinfect the trays daily.

If you’re gardening, wear rubber gloves at all times, as there is always the risk that you have had a visitor in your garden. Again, always ensure you wash your hands thoroughly with soap afterwards.

Sheep and lambs can carry Chlamydia Psitaci as well as toxoplasma, which is known to cause ewes to miscarry.

Should you find yourself in a farming environment, you should avoid lambing or milking sheep. You should also avoid contact with new-born lambs.

If you begin to develop flu-like symptoms after being in contact with sheep, then you should contact your doctor immediately.

8. Risk of X-Ray during pregnancy

So, you’re at the dentist, and you need an x-ray. But is it safe? Actually yes it is. The level of radiation used to produce x-rays are generally extremely low and there is virtually no risk to either yourself or your baby.

X-rays are not thought to increase the risk of miscarriage or birth defects. Radiologists will usually ask if there is a chance that you could be pregnant. If there is, a lead apron will be used to cover the abdomen, protecting that area from radiation.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of things you should avoid during pregnancy. You should always consult your doctor or midwife for the latest advice and guidance on these topics.

You can find more detailed information on the NHS website.

About the author of this article


Written By Lubna Sheikh on 31st July 2019