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Family Health Magazine - CHILDBIRTH

Questions about Pregnancy
Answers to common queries

When you become pregnant, you suddenly worry about the safety of things you’ve never thought twice about doing. Can I paint the baby’s bedroom? What about nail polish and hair dye? Can I travel by airplane? Is it okay to exercise? Maternity doctors and midwives hear questions like these every day.

Q. Can I paint the nursery?

Latex paints are safe to use in pregnancy. Oil-based paints should be avoided because they contain more organic solvents, which can cause birth defects in excessive concentrations. Don’t worry about brief exposure. Current research suggests that the risk of birth defects only rises with abusive sniffing or prolonged occupational exposure to oil-based paints. Even so, it is always a good idea to wear protective clothing and gloves while painting. Nausea may be made worse by paint fumes, so adequate ventilation is important.

Removing paint can be more harmful than applying it, especially if you live in a house built in the 1970s or earlier. In those days, indoor paints were lead-based. Peeling off this paint can release lead dust, which can be harmful to an unborn baby if inhaled in high concentrations by the mother. To reduce your risk, spend some extra cash and hire a professional to do the job.

Q. Is airline travel safe during pregnancy?

Air travel is safe for most pregnant women. There is no risk at any time in the pregnancy from altitude or cabin pressure. They will not cause labour to start. Nevertheless, airlines will not allow any pregnant woman to fly after 36 weeks (8 months) because she may go into labour naturally. Airline staff do not want to deliver a baby at 35,000 feet! If you are planning to travel by air, ask your doctor for a note to avoid problems at check-in. Once on board, walk the aisle every one to two hours to reduce the risk of developing blood clots in your legs.

Q. Can I use hair dye and nail polish?

Hair dye is safe in pregnancy. As with any chemical substance, use it in a well-ventilated space. Hair dye does not penetrate the scalp; it simply colours the hair shaft, so there is no risk to the baby. Other cosmetics and hair products, such as straighteners, nail polish, and perfume, are also considered safe.

Q. Can I go to a tanning salon?

Tanning beds are not recommended during pregnancy (nor should they be used by anyone, pregnant or not). There are other risks apart from the possibility of skin cancer which is not eliminated in tanning salons. Overheating may harm the baby. Also, as the baby grows, a woman should avoid lying directly on her back. The weight of the baby may cut down on the blood supply to both the placenta and baby. (Oxygen and nutrients pass from the mother to the baby through the placenta.) Tanning creams sit on the skin but do not penetrate it, and are safe to use in pregnancy. Sunscreens are also safe and should be used during pregnancy because hormonal changes make your skin more sensitive to the burning (UV-B) rays of the sun.

Q. Can I lift weights?

Exercise, including weightlifting, is encouraged throughout pregnancy, as long as you remember a few key points. Avoid holding your breath as you lift. If you find yourself holding your breath, decrease the weight. To ensure a good workout, increase the number of repetitions in each set if you do decrease the weight. Stay cool and well-hydrated through the workout. If you are thirsty, then you are already mildly dehydrated. Exercise in moderation. Never push yourself to exhaustion. Finally, avoid doing exercises while lying flat on your back after the first three months (first trimester). You may wish to avoid doing straight abdominal exercises, like crunches, late in pregnancy, as they may cause the muscles of the abdomen to separate. Some women have special health considerations that can possibly make exercise harmful. Check with your doctor if you plan to start an exercise program during your pregnancy.

Q. Are household cleaning agents harmful to the baby?

When used alone, all household cleaning agents are considered safe for use by pregnant women. Since fumes may cause nausea, make sure the area is well ventilated. If nausea is an issue, consider using natural cleansing agents such as baking powder or vinegar.

Q. Is it okay to have an x-ray during pregnancy?

Although x-rays are generally avoided in pregnancy, they are safe if needed for health reasons. For instance, a dental x-ray contains 0.01 millirads of radiation. You would need 50,000 dental x-rays to reach five rads of radiation, which is the currently accepted maximum limit in pregnancy. The American College of Radiology says that no single procedure for diagnosis results in a radiation dose that threatens the well-being of the developing baby. Nevertheless, the x-ray technician should always provide you with a protective lead apron during pregnancy.

Q. Is it okay to be near someone who has had radiation therapy for cancer?

Yes. There is no evidence that a cancer patient undergoing radiation therapy will give off enough radiation to harm a developing fetus. Those with radiation implant therapy are told to avoid prolonged close contact with pregnant women and newborns for the first four months after their procedure. (Close contact is within 1.5 metres for more than a few minutes.) These are very conservative recommendations, as the amount of radioactivity given off by these patients cannot be detected once the detector is one metre from the patient.

Q. Can I use insect repellent during pregnancy?

Natural insect repellents such as citronella oil are safe. Unfortunately, the best insect repellent available, DEET, is absorbed across the skin and is not recommended for use during pregnancy.

Q. Should I worry about the numb area at my upper abdomen?

Near the end of pregnancy, some women have a patch of numbness at the top of the abdomen. By this time, the uterus (where the baby is growing) may be sitting just under the ribcage. Stretching of superficial nerves wrapping around the body from the spinal cord is the likely cause of the numbness. It should go away once the baby is born.

Q. Can I have a flu shot while I’m pregnant?

There is no evidence to suggest any negative effects on the fetus in women who have had a flu shot at any stage in pregnancy. Health Canada recommends that pregnant women have the influenza vaccination after the third month of pregnancy.

Q. Is eating sushi harmful to the baby?

The issue here is that raw fish may contain tapeworm, which can affect your ability to digest food for your growing baby. Freezing raw fish kills tapeworms, as does cooking it. Most sushi restaurants use frozen fish these days. If you are ordering cooked fish, ask for it to be ‘well done.’

Q. Can I change the cat litter while I’m pregnant?

No. Pregnant women should not be changing the cat litter. Cat droppings may contain the single-celled parasite toxoplasma gondii. This parasite can cause an illness called toxoplasmosis. Cats get this parasite by eating infected birds or mice. In the fetus, toxoplasmosis is a serious illness. It can cause blindness, brain damage leading to mental retardation, and even death. An acute infection in children and adults usually has a mild course, with few or no symptoms. Fortunately, 25 to 35 per cent of women have already had the infection before pregnancy. There is no threat to the developing baby in these women.

Humans mostly get toxoplasmosis from contaminated food or water. The most common source of toxoplasmosis is raw or undercooked meat. It may also be found in unpasteurized dairy products. Precautions can be taken to ensure that you don’t become infected. Cook meat properly, wash your hands well after touching raw meat, and carefully wash utensils used in meat preparation. Avoid unpasteurized dairy products. Wear gloves in the garden, and wash your hands after gardening. Always wash or cook vegetables before eating. Have someone else change the cat’s litter box daily, and wash their hands well afterwards.

Q. Why am I so tired?

This is a common question at all stages of pregnancy. In the first three months, hormone changes, mood swings, nausea, and the need to pass urine frequently all contribute to fatigue. Most women need more sleep in the first trimester – 10 to 12 hours – and don’t always allow themselves the extra time. The second trimester (four to six months) is usually the best time in pregnancy. Women have more energy and some women feel better than ever. In the third trimester (seven to nine months), the baby is pushing not only on the bladder, but also on the stomach, ribs, ligaments of the pelvis, and lungs. Getting comfortable in bed can be a major challenge. There are many other reasons for fatigue. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned.

Q. Why am I so swollen?

Also common near the end of pregnancy, swelling is usually harmless and results from an increase in blood volume. Your body contains almost 50 per cent more fluid at the end of pregnancy. In some women, this extra fluids seeps into surrounding tissues, swelling the hands, feet, and face. Some parts of the body, like the carpal tunnel in the wrist, cannot accept too much extra fluid. Symptoms here include hand numbness, tingling, and sometimes pain. Fluid levels drop during the first few weeks after delivery and most symptoms related to swelling resolve on their own. Although swelling is usually harmless, it is sometimes associated with high blood pressure in pregnancy. Check with your doctor or midwife.

Q. Can I eat tuna when I’m pregnant?

The concern with tuna and other types of fish is high mercury levels. At high levels, mercury is a neurotoxin. It can harm the baby's developing brain leading to cerebral palsy. Not all fish contain dangerous levels of mercury. Canned tuna, for example, contains only a trace of mercury, and is safe in any amount. In addition, there are no restrictions on salmon, cod, pollock, sole, shrimp, mussels, and scallops. Limit the amount of shark, swordfish, and fresh and frozen tuna you eat to one meal per month.

Q. I’m so moody. Is this normal?

It can be. Hormone changes in the first trimester, along with nausea and fatigue, can make you feel like you’re riding an emotional roller coaster. It usually improves in the second trimester. Your body is experiencing more changes than at any other time in your life, and many women don’t have time to listen to the signals to slow down. Get extra help, hire a babysitter, run yourself a warm bath, and try to schedule some time every day just for you. Other factors, including whether or not the pregnancy was planned, financial stress, and planning for a major life change, can also play a role. Low mood can affect appetite, sleep, concentration, and energy. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned.

Q. It feels like my baby has hiccups. Is this okay?

You’re probably right. Hiccups are very common in the fetus and are harmless. They can go on for hours, and just as when you get hiccups, there is no good way to make them stop.

Q. If I lift my arms over my head will that cause the cord to wrap around the baby’s neck?

No. This is a great example of an ‘old wives’ tale.’ There is no evidence that putting your body in any position will lead to the cord becoming tangled around the baby’s neck, arms, body, or legs.

Q. Is it okay to sit in front of a computer screen during pregnancy?

Yes. There is no evidence that radiation from a computer screen is harmful to a pregnant woman or her developing baby. Similarly, there is no risk from microwave ovens.

Q. Can I have intercourse during pregnancy?

Yes. As long as you don’t have a placenta that is low down in the uterus (called placenta previa), or threatened pre-term (too early) labour, sexual intercourse is safe in pregnancy. Since the cervix has more blood vessels in it during pregnancy, some women experience mild spotting after intercourse. Always report any bleeding in pregnancy to your doctor or midwife.

Q. When should I begin my maternity leave?

This decision is different for every woman. It depends on the physical demands of your work, and whether you have any problems or concerns with your pregnancy. Jobs requiring heavy physical exertion may require an earlier maternity leave than a desk job. High blood pressure or pre-term labour may also require women to stop working earlier than planned. Maintain open communication with your employer throughout pregnancy to help prevent surprises. Keep in mind that pregnancy is not predictable and your plans may change suddenly depending on the circumstances.

These are just a few of the many questions women ask during pregnancy. Every pregnancy is different. If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor or midwife. They may not always be able to tell you why something happens, but can reassure you when it is nothing to be concerned about.

FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
Alberta College of Family Physicians
FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
Alberta College of Family Physicians
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2019, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 0S1    [CB_FHc03]
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