Q: Is it OK if I cut down on smoking, rather than quit?
A: Although you may be tempted just to cut down, quitting smoking is best. The fewer cigarettes you smoke, the better. The carbon monoxide, nicotine, and other substances that you inhale pass out of your lungs, into your bloodstream, and cross the placenta with any cigarette you smoke. Nicotine makes your baby's heart beat faster as he struggles to get oxygen, which can affect his growth rate. Smoking increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and low birth weight, and exposure to tobacco chemicals makes your baby more likely to suffer from conditions such as asthma and chest infections after the birth, which may be bad enough to warrant a hospital stay. There is also a higher risk of SIDS if you or your partner smokes.
Q: Can passive smoking affect my unborn baby?
A: In a word, yes. If you live with a smoker, you will be inhaling thousands of toxic carcinogenic chemicals that are released into the air around you from the burning end of the cigarette and the exhaled smoke. Several studies have confirmed that passive smoking can result in health problems and increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth. There has also been a link between passive smoking in pregnancy and an increased risk of central nervous system problems in children and a reduced IQ.
Q: I've been told that tanning beds and hot tubs can harm my baby. Is this true?
A: Although there is no evidence that tanning bed or hot tub use cause harm to the unborn baby, it has been reported that a rise in the mother's temperature, which can happen in a tanning bed, hot tub, or sauna may in turn increase the temperature of the fetus. A temperature above 102° F (39° C) has been associated with spinal malformations in developing babies, and if a rise in temperature is maintained for long enough, it has been suggested that it can cause brain damage. The temperature of the amniotic fluid around the baby can also increase and it is thought that an extreme rise in your body temperature can cause problems with the flow of blood to the baby, particularly in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Generally, the advice is to limit tanning bed use and sunbathing because of the risk of skin damage leading to skin cancer. In pregnancy, it would be best to stop or limit tanning bed and hot tub sessions, and take extra precautions when sunbathing.
Q: Is it safe to use a microwave?
A: Microwaves use electromagnetic radiation, which causes water molecules in food to vibrate to produce heat. The radiation levels in modern microwave ovens are low and not thought to pose a risk to the health of either a woman or her unborn baby, although there hasn't been extensive research. It is best not to use a microwave if it is very old or is not working properly, since there is a slight risk of radiation leakage. Always follow the instructions.
Q: My friend says it's dangerous to dye my hair while I'm pregnant. Is she right?
A: A concern is that chemicals in hair dye could be carried via your bloodstream to the baby. However, hair dyes are not thought to be highly toxic, and women who color their hair are exposed only to low amounts of chemicals. Any risks, if there are any, are lowered after the first 12 weeks, when the main organs and systems of the baby's body have formed. If you are dyeing your own hair, wear gloves, don't leave the dye on longer than needed, rinse your scalp thoroughly with fresh water afterward, and use the dye in a ventilated room. You could try alternatives such as henna, or opt for highlights where the dye doesn't come into contact with skin.
Q: Is it safe to take over-the-counter pain medication while I'm pregnant?
A: Many women are concerned about the safety of medications in pregnancy. Any medicine taken by a pregnant woman can cross the placenta and enter the baby's bloodstream; the effects on the baby depend on what the medicine is, the dosage, and at what stage of pregnancy it is taken. Since the first 12 weeks is a critical time for the fetus when its limbs, organs, and systems are forming, many women choose to avoid all but the most essential medication at this time. Most experts believe that acetaminophen is safe on an occasional basis, but that aspirin and ibuprofen should be avoided. Codeine-based pain medicines are thought to be safe in small amounts but should be approved by your health-care provider. Any persistent pain should be brought to the attention of your doctor or midwife.
Q: Since I've been pregnant, I've had terrible headaches. Could computer work be the cause?
A: Tension headaches and migraines are common in pregnancy, probably due to fluctuating hormones. Also, it is not uncommon to have severe headaches with prolonged computer use. This could be due to eye strain and the fact that you are immobile, which can cause tension. Minimizing computer use and taking breaks may reduce the risk of headaches. If this doesn't help, talk to your manager about moving to a different area of work at least until later in pregnancy (headaches are often worse in the first trimester). This is your right as a pregnant woman.
Q: I've been told I should wear gloves when gardening. Why?
A: The main concern for a pregnant gardener is toxoplasmosis. The parasite Toxoplasma gondii can be found in soil, usually from cat feces, and can be passed from hands to mouth or eyes. Although toxoplasmosis doesn't affect healthy adults with good immune systems, if contracted in pregnancy it can have serious consequences. There is a 40 percent chance that the infection will be passed to the baby, causing miscarriage or stillbirth, blindness, brain damage, or other health problems later. However, contracting toxoplasmosis in pregnancy is rare.

There are simple precautions to make gardening safe in pregnancy, such as wearing gloves when touching soil or plants, washing your hands with soap and water after gardening, even if you wore gloves, and not touching your face or eyes while gardening or until you have washed your hands. Wear gloves too if you have to handle raw meat or change cat litter.

Q: I work for a dry cleaner. Could the chemicals harm my baby?
A: Concerns about dry cleaning chemicals stem from research showing that women who operated dry cleaning machines had a higher risk of miscarriage. If touched or inhaled, some organic solvents used in dry cleaning machines can pass through the placenta and some are thought to increase the risk of miscarriage or birth defects. In pregnancy, try to limit your contact with organic solvents and industrial chemicals. Your employer should carry out a detailed risk assessment and it may be necessary to change your duties for the duration of your pregnancy.
Q: Should I worry about pollution?
A: There have been studies on the effects of pollution on unborn babies. The WHO (World Health Organization) reviewed the evidence in 2004 and concluded that pollution can negatively affect lung growth in unborn babies, leading to respiratory problems. One study found a link between pregnant women being exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide and ozone in the second pregnancy month and an increased risk of heart defects in the baby. Another study found a link between nitrogen dioxide pollution and an increased risk of premature birth. All studies stated that further research is needed in order to provide conclusive evidence.

Simple measures can reduce your exposure to pollution during pregnancy, such as avoiding busy streets, trying not to exercise near traffic, and standing back from the curb when crossing a street. Pay close attention to air quality advisories and heed them by limiting outdoor exercise during these times.

Q: I'm asthmatic. Can I use my inhalers during pregnancy?
A: Always inform your midwife or doctor of any medical condition, as well as any medications you use. It is essential that you keep asthma under control in pregnancy, which means continuing to use your inhalers, since the risks from uncontrolled asthma are greater than any risk from taking asthma medication. If asthma is uncontrolled, it can mean that not enough oxygen gets to the baby, leading to a low birth weight. One of the best ways to control asthma, in addition to taking medication, is to avoid “triggers,” such as pet fur and dust mites. Use air filters, vacuum and damp dust, and use duvet and pillow protectors. Sometimes, pregnancy reduces the severity of asthma. However, if you feel wheezier than usual, talk to your health-care provider about reviewing your medication.
Q: Is it safe to sleep on my back?
A: This is more of a problem in late pregnancy when lying on your back can cause the baby to press on the large blood vessels that carry blood to and from the heart, making you dizzy. However, in a healthy pregnancy, you are unlikely to harm yourself or the baby by sleeping on your back. If you stayed on your back for long, you may wake up feeling uncomfortable and change position anyway.

Often, the best sleeping position is on your side, preferably on the left to make it easier for the heart to pump blood around. A pillow under your belly and one between your knees can increase comfort . If you want to sleep on your back, put a pillow under one side to tilt your body and take the pressure off the large veins and lower back.

Q: We're renovating an old house. Could dust from old lead paint harm my baby?
A: You are right to be concerned about exposure to lead. Lead was a common ingredient in paint before the mid-1970s. It's unclear exactly what the risks are, partly because it's difficult to measure how much the body absorbs substances, and partly because of the lack of research on the effects of lead in pregnancy. However, lead has been linked to a higher risk of miscarriage, prematurity, low birth weight, and early infant death. You're exposed to lead if you scrape or sand lead paint, causing you to inhale lead dust. Get professionals to remove lead-based paint while you are out, and air rooms thoroughly afterward.
Q: My partner works with pesticides—is this a problem?
A: A pesticide is a substance or organism used to control or destroy a pest and is generally toxic to the human body. It is possible that exposure to harmful substances could affect a man's fertility, but there is no evidence that substances in the semen interfere with the normal development of a baby, or that substances on a father's clothes or shoes can affect the mother prior to or during pregnancy. If your partner's workplace is properly regulated, he should be wearing protective clothing and practicing good hygiene to reduce his exposure to toxins.
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