Fighting Birth Defects: What to Avoid

Sources: NJ Department of Health; March of Dimes

Eating or handling raw, unwashed, or undercooked foods. Listeriosis is a kind of food poisoning that pregnant women are about 10 times more likely to get listeriosis (Hispanic pregnant women are about 24 times more likely) due to changes in the immune system. Don’t drink unpasteurized milk or eat anything made from it (especially soft, spreadable cheeses); uncooked hot dogs, deli meat, meat or poultry; or unwashed sprouts, fruits or vegetables.

Smoking. When women smoke during pregnancy, the unborn baby is exposed to dangerous chemicals like nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar, Dr. Katz says. These chemicals can deprive the baby of oxygen needed for healthy growth and development. Babies who survive being born prematurely and at low birthweight are at risk of lifelong disabilities such as cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and learning problems. Smoking also can make it harder to get pregnant, and increases the risk of stillbirth.

Handling litter boxes. Cats in particular can spread toxoplasmosis by eating infected rodents, birds, or other small animals, which is then passed in the cat’s feces. Ask someone else to clean your cat’s litter box; if you have to do it yourself, wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly when you’re done. Stay away from children’s sandboxes or places cats like to use as litter boxes.

Alcohol. When a woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby. There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant, nor is there a safe time to drink during pregnancy. Alcohol can cause problems for a developing baby throughout pregnancy, including before a woman knows she’s pregnant. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) are a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. These effects can include physical problems and problems with behavior and learning.

Hot tubs, saunas, and exercising in hot, humid weather. Elevated body temperatures in early pregnancy may increase the risk of neural tube defects. While 30 minutes of exercise a day is recommended, avoid activities such as volleyball, basketball, skiing, soccer, and doing situps or toe touches.
Over-the-counter and prescription medications without your physician’s approval.

Illegal drugs of any kind.

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