What's Safe to Do During Pregnancy (And What's Not)

From gel manicures to sugar substitutes, we answer the questions you ask about everything.

Pregnancy is full of excitement—and questions. From pregnancy safe foods to activities you should avoid for the next 40 weeks, we have your guide to what's safe and what's not. 

Shoveling Snow

Is It Safe to Shovel Snow in Pregnancy? Tom McWilliam/Corbis Images

You can scoop the powdery stuff solo during your first trimester, but leave excavation to your partner or a neighbor as you get further along. “In your first three months, shoveling is a great opportunity for physical activity, and you won’t risk harming the baby,” says Rebecca Starck, M.D., chair of the regional obstetrics and gynecology department at the Cleveland Clinic. As your belly expands, though, your center of gravity moves forward and your risk of falling spikes. If you clear the walk during your second trimester, wear snow boots with great traction and take mini scoops so you don’t get thrown off balance. And call for reinforcements in your final stretch of pregnancy. “By the third trimester, thanks to the hormone relaxin that your body secretes as it prepares for labor, you’re at risk for straining your ligaments and lower back as you lift the shovel, so I’d caution against it,” Starck says. Chalk it up to a pregnancy perk!
Verdict:   Proceed with caution

Gel Manicure

hot pink nail polish Getty Images: Comstock

It’s tempting to hit the salon for a pretty, long-lasting pick-me-up, but hold it, sister: The compounds in gel formulas are potentially toxic to you and Baby, says Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. Gel polishes won’t seep through the nail itself, but could be absorbed through your nail bed. “And the deal breaker, whether you’re pregnant or not, is the ultraviolet lamp used to set the gel,” Alexiades-Armenakas says—the ultraviolet rays could lead to hyperpigmentation and wrinkles, not to mention cancerous cells, on your hands. To keep yourself and your peanut safe, opt for a regular mani and choose your polish carefully. “Steer clear of colors containing dibutyl phthalate, or DBP, toluene and formaldehyde,” says New York City dermatologist Anne Chapas, M.D. (Chanel, Essie and OPI are free of all three.) When it’s time to dry your digits, opt for a fan with the UV light turned off.
Verdict:   Just don't

Sugar Substitutes

sugar substitutes Getty Images: Tetra Images

So sweet: Not only do Splenda (sucralose), Equal (aspartame) and Truvía (stevia leaf extract) get the go-ahead, but they can actually help you indulge your cravings while avoiding excess sugar and calories, according to Liz Applegate, Ph.D., director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis. Keep in mind: Some scientists suspect that nonnutritive sweeteners actually promote weight gain because of how we metabolize them. The key is to use the sweet stuff in moderation—and that includes good ol’ fashioned sugar itself. However, stay away from herbs or spices that don’t have two thumbs up from the FDA, such as whole-leaf stevia. “Plant products have a lot of bioactive compounds—they’re where we get many of our prescription medications,” Applegate says. “If you consume an excessive amount of certain compounds, it could damage the liver or cause birth defects.”
Verdict:   Proceed with caution

Activity Trackers

pedometer Getty Images: Craig Veltri

Old-school pedometers are fine, but the jury’s still out on gadgets that use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. The newer trackers use totally safe mechanical accelerometers to monitor your movement, but research on the wireless tech that mobile devices use to transfer data is extremely scant. If you want to wear a wireless tracker while expecting, take precautions, says Yael Varnado, M.D., founder of AskDoctorV.com. “Get a wristband, rather than one that clips to your pants, to keep it farther from your bump,” she says. And just to be careful, you might want to give yourself a break by taking it off when sleeping or relaxing (hey, you’re not taking steps then anyway!). Disable auto-sync and use the USB to upload your log to your computer. Have concerns about a particular model? Try the company’s customer service line or ask your OB.
Verdict:   Proceed with caution

Amusement Park Rides

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Nix Six Flags trips until after D-day. You may think hopping on a thrill ride is no big deal when your babe is only the size of a fig— and it’s true he’s well-cushioned by your amniotic fluid—but there’s still a risk to your placenta. “As with car accidents, roller coaster rides' sudden movements are associated with a condition called placental abruption,” says Sean Daneshmand, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the San Diego Perinatal Center. “This can happen when the placenta prematurely separates from the uterine wall, potentially having major negative effects on your pregnancy outcome.” You also shouldn’t stand in line for too long, since it may up your chances of developing deep vein thrombosis in your legs. Instead, hang on a shady bench, and join in on gentle larks like It's a Small World.
Verdict:   Just don’t

Bikini Waxes

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You're all clear for down-there maintenance, but because you have more blood flowing to your skin during pregnancy—especially in your pubic area—you’ll probably be more sensitive to tugging. To avoid making an already painful experience more so, apply witch hazel, a natural antiseptic that can help soothe irritated skin, before and after waxing. “It might also prevent infection and reduce irritation and redness,” says David Bank, M.D., director at The Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, N.Y. Prefer going totally hairless and wonder if a Brazilian gets the go-ahead? Don’t worry. “For a pregnant woman, a Brazilian bikini wax is as safe as a conventional one,” Bank says, “but I do recommend that patients who are expecting consult with their OB beforehand.”
Verdict:   Perfectly safe

Canned Tuna

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Tuna does contain some mercury, but you can safely eat one 6-ounce serving (a typical can) of chunk light tuna up to six times per month or white albacore up to three times per month, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Fish is key to a pregnancy diet—it’s full of omega-3 fatty acids, which help with Baby's neurological development. Just watch your intake: “Mercury can damage the fetus’s developing nervous system,” says Miriam Erick, R.D., a high-risk obstetric dietitian at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and author of Take Two Crackers and Call Me in the Morning! A Real-Life Guide for Surviving Morning Sickness. To keep track of your mercury consumption, check the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Mercury Calculator.
Verdict:   Proceed cautiously

Lobster

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If you’re hankering for the surf and turf on date night, have at it. “The concern is lobster’s mercury content, which ranks in the ‘moderate’ category,” explains Bridget Swinney, R.D., author of Eating Expectantly: Practical Advice for Healthy Eating Before, During and After Pregnancy. Studies show that high levels of the metal can not only cause problems for your nervous system and kidneys, but can also damage a baby’s developing brain, hearing and vision in the womb. An average fully cooked lobster tail yields about four to six ounces of meat—totally within the American Pregnancy Association’s recommended limit of six six-ounce servings per month of fish with moderate levels of mercury. To dial down the risk, Swinney recommends seeking out warm-water varieties, such as spiny or rock, which contain about half as much mercury as their cold-water cousins from Maine. Now the question becomes: How do you use those stupid crackers again?
Verdict:   Proceed cautiously

Teeth Whitening Products

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We totally understand wanting chompers as bright as your maternal glow, but it’s best to hold off on bleaching treatments—professional and over-the-counter—until your little one arrives. “The chemicals created during the procedure can corrode tissue cells, and we don’t know what damage they may do to a developing baby if you swallow them accidentally,” explains Elisa Mello, D.D.S., a cosmetic and reconstructive dentist based in New York City. To safely remove stains, combine equal parts strawberries and baking soda in a blender, then dab the resulting mixture onto teeth. Let it sit for five minutes before rinsing. The malic acid in the fruit and the mild abrasive of the sodium bicarbonate work together to break down stains naturally, Mello explains. If you’d rather not DIY, you’ll be glad to know that mainstream whitening toothpastes made with baking soda are totally safe for preggos. Smile!
Verdict:   Just don't

Asthma Meds

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Breathe, mama: You’re in the clear for these. In fact, it’s quitting them that could get you in trouble. “Severe or poorly controlled asthma increases the risk for several complications, including poor fetal growth and preterm birth,” explains Andrew Satin, M.D., director of the department of gynecology and obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. Make an appointment with your OB early in your first trimester to assess your condition and whether you should adjust your medications to prevent flare-ups. Satin also notes that identifying and eliminating triggers goes a long way toward reducing the frequency of asthma attacks, so do your best to avoid tobacco smoke and allergens, such as pet dander and mildew.
Verdict:   Perfectly safe

Loud Concerts

hands in the air clapping at a concert Getty Images: Nikada

If you're on the fence about that Lady Gaga show, grab those tickets before they sell out—you’re A-OK to get your groove on. The current recommendation (for everyone, not just preggos) is to avoid prolonged exposure to sounds greater than 65 decibels. Although most live gigs clock in around 100 decibels, your little bean has a built-in buffer: “A fetus begins to develop hearing around weeks 17 and 18 of gestation, but since it’s floating in a bag of fluid and surrounded by the mom’s tissue, any noise will be decreased by 30 decibels, meaning music is highly unlikely to cause hearing damage to your baby,” says Allison Hill, M.D., an OB-GYN in Los Angeles. Stay hydrated and, if it's a general-admission show, steer clear of the thick of the crowd (not to mention the mosh pit!).
Verdict:   Safe enough

Insect Repellent

insect repellent Shuterstock.com

No one likes to feel like a bug buffet, but before you heap on the anti-mosquito spray, look at the ingredients list. Non-chemical components such as citronella get two thumbs up, according to Lori Wolfe, M.S., director of the Texas Teratogen Information Service at the University of North Texas in Denton. What doesn't? DEET. “More effective brands contain DEET, scientifically known as N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, which may have toxic potential,” Wolfe says. While Wolfe isn't aware of any research on humans, animal studies have linked DEET to cardiac birth defects. “But it’s only toxic at high levels, with constant exposure,” she adds. So don’t panic about the spritz from last week's cookout, just use a nonchemical spray like Burt’s Bees All Natural Herbal Insect Repellent ($8, burtsbees.com) from here on out.
Verdict:   Proceed with caution

Professionally Deep-Clean Carpets

professional carpet cleaner Getty Images: George Manga

You can indulge your nesting urge with certain provisions. “Most of the time, the compounds used to clean carpets are organic solvents, which can be harmful to anyone if ingested or if the fumes are overwhelming,” explains Alyssa Dweck, M.D., an attending OB-GYN at Mt. Kisco Medical Group in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. (Don’t be fooled by the word ‘organic,’ which in this case just means that the substance contains carbon—not that it’s natural or harmless.) Keep yourself and your growing family out of danger by ventilating the room extraordinarily well by opening doors and windows and blasting a fan. You may also want to vacate for a few hours until the area dries completely. Want to go one step further? Seek out a green cleaning company that abstains from using potentially harmful substances. Carpet and upholstery specialist ChemDry (chemdry.com) gets the job done with carbonated cleaning bubbles.
Verdict:   Proceed with caution

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