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Pregnancy

Frequently Asked Questions About Pregnancy

  1. Is it safe to dye my hair while pregnant?
  2. Can I continue to drink coffee or tea?
  3. Is it okay to use my computer?
  4. Which foods should I avoid when I'm expecting?
  5. Should I continue to exercise?
  6. Is smoking or drinking alcohol during pregnancy really that bad?
  7. I eat healthy, so should I still take prenatal vitamins?
  8. Can having sex hurt the baby?
  9. Can I travel on a plane while I am pregnant?
  10. Would going through a metal detector injure my baby?

Is it safe to dye my hair while pregnant?

There are conflicting reports about the safety of hair dye during pregnancy: Several studies found no ill effects on pregnant rodents given 100 times the typical human dose of these products, whereas British researchers reported chromosome damage among women who dyed their hair. Although this study was not conducted on pregnant women, this finding suggests that there may be some risk to coloring your hair while pregnant.

As a precaution, some physicians advise you to avoid hair color until after your first trimester (the period when your baby's vital organs, head, body and limbs form). Colorants made from vegetable dyes such as henna are preferable to the chemical dyes used in permanent and semi-permanent formulas. Recent studies indicate that hair dyes contain relatively high levels of bio-available lead acetate that can be harmful to the fetus, particularly the nervous system and brain. Check the product label and avoid lead based hair products.

Can I continue to drink coffee or tea?

There is no evidence that regular amounts of caffeinated beverages, such as tea, coffee or colas, cause birth defects, but some studies indicate that heavy use of these beverages may be associated with a slight increase in your risk of miscarriage in the first and second trimesters. In a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development the researchers found no harm in drinking up to three cups of coffee a day, but most experts advise limiting consumption to no more than two caffeinated beverages a day, or switching to decaf. Tea and colas have less caffeine than coffee does, and are also available in decaffeinated formulas.

Is it okay to use my computer?

Several recent large recent studies have found no link between the electromagnetic radiation from a video display terminal (VDT) and an increased risk of miscarriage. To be on the safe side, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises sitting at least 18 inches away from your computer to minimize potential exposure.

Which foods should I avoid when I'm expecting?

To protect your baby (and yourself) from potentially harmful bacteria and parasites, many doctors advise women to abstain from undercooked or raw meat, eggs and fish (including sushi and steak tartar), and unpasteurized goat or cow's milk. Rare or raw meat can harbor the microorganisms that cause toxoplasmosis--an illness that can cause birth defects, illness or death of the baby.

Fish is an important part of a healthy diet. However, women who are pregnant, may become pregnant, or are nursing should not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish. These fish contain high amounts of a form of mercury that may harm an unborn child's or baby's brain or nervous system. Women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant can safely eat 12 ounces of other types of cooked fish each week. It is important to eat a variety of other fish, such as shellfish, canned fish, smaller ocean fish, or farm-raised fish. Pregnant women also should limit the amount of freshwater fish caught by family and friends to one serving each week. A serving size of fish is about 3–6 ounces.

Should I continue to exercise?

It is safe to exercise in moderation, unless you are advised not to by your obstetrician. For more complete guidelines, see our section on Exercise and Pregnancy.

Is smoking or drinking alcohol during pregnancy really that bad?

Not only can smoking put you and your baby at increased risk of complications such as placenta previa, premature birth or low birth weight, but even second-hand smoking (inhaling fumes from someone else's cigarette) can be risky. The developing fetus needs oxygen to develop. Many of the compounds found in cigarette smoke binds more strongly to red blood cells than oxygen and therefore deprive the fetus of needed oxygen. This is a good reason to make a "No Smoking" rule in your home and to avoid the smoking sections of restaurants or other public places. It has also been shown that babies exposed to smoke or raised in homes of smokers have an increased incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (“crib death”)

There is no scientific research that establishes a safe level of drinking during pregnancy. The Surgeon General recommends that pregnant women abstain from alcohol, which is known to increase the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and fetal alcohol syndrome (a pattern of serious birth defects, including mental impairment, learning disabilities and other deformities).

I eat healthy, so should I still take prenatal vitamins?

If you eat a balanced diet, you may not need a vitamin supplement during pregnancy. The most important elements are iron and folic acid. Iron is needed because during pregnancy, the mother’s blood volume is expanding to deliver adequate blood flow to the fetus. In addition to increasing the blood volume, the numbers of red blood cells also increase. Iron is needed for creating red blood cells. A lack of iron could lead to anemia.

Folic acid is used in the development of the spinal column. A lack of folic acid increases the incidence of spinal cord defects like spina bifida. Supplementation of folic acid decreases the incidence of spinal cord defects by at least 60%. The effects are best if folic acid is taken even before pregnancy occurs.

Can having sex hurt the baby?

Unless your pregnancy is classified as high risk, or your obstetrician cautions against intercourse, you and your partner can enjoy each other physically without fear of harming your baby, who is well cushioned inside the uterus. For most women, there is no medical reason not to have sex as often as you wish.

Can I travel on a plane while I am pregnant?

Airline regulations do not permit women who are more than 36 weeks pregnant to travel by plane without a doctor's note, but there is usually no reason you cannot fly earlier in your pregnancy. The biggest risk when traveling is the development of a blood clot in the legs. Two things in pregnancy pooling of blood in the legs and increased clotting factors in the blood- increase the risk of forming a blood clot in the leg. When you are sitting in a confined space for long periods of time, like in an airplane or long car ride, you further slow the blood flow thereby further increasing the risk of a blood clot. To reduce your chances, get up several times during the ride to stretch your legs. You can also stretch the calf muscles by doing isometric calf exercises in your seat. With your toes on the ground, lift your heels up and down in repetition. Because you may need medical assistance in the town you are traveling to, ask your OB/GYN to help you locate an obstetrician in the city you will be visiting. You may also want to take your medical records with you.

Would going through a metal detector injure my baby?

Airport or other metal detectors do not emit any harmful radiation and will not hurt you or your baby. If you are still concerned about going through these machines, one possibility is to request that you be hand searched by a female security officer instead.

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Last Reviewed: Mar 19, 2006

Thomas  A deHoop, MD Thomas A deHoop, MD
Formerly Associate Professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology
Director, Medical Student Education
No longer associated

Arthur T Ollendorff, MD Arthur T Ollendorff, MD
Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati