The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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By now your head is probably full of rules on what to do when you are pregnant. Whether they come from books, magazines, your health-care provider or your friends and family, all of those pregnancy dos and don’ts urge you to live these 9 months of your life in a very specific way - ostensibly for the good of your baby and you. But the truth is that these restrictions and recommendations may be biased, may not be based on scientific studies and may not be the right thing for you.
The following information about the most discussed pregnancy dos and don’ts - alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and prenatal vitamins - is based on solid research and a belief that you’ll treat your body well because you know what’s best for your growing baby.
Do Be Cautious with Alcohol
My pregnant patients almost always ask me if it’s okay to drink alcohol. It’s very hard to say, “Yes,” because studies have shown that there is no health benefit and there are some risks. No level of alcohol has been proven safe during pregnancy, and it does cross the placenta. Data has also shown that a fetus may be severely impacted if his mother drinks heavily (four drinks a day), and there may be noticeable effects with as little as one drink a week.
On the other hand, it has not been proven that moderate alcohol consumption during pregnancy has an adverse affect on babies. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recently found that problems are uncommon in babies whose mothers drank less than an ounce of alcohol per week when they were pregnant. Based on this information, it’s okay to have up to one drink, on occasion, after the first trimester, once most of the crucial fetal development has taken place. But take care not to drink excessively, and always eat something when you have that glass of wine. Alcohol is absorbed more slowly on a full stomach, thereby decreasing the likelihood that high levels of it will reach the baby.
Don't Drink Too Much Caffeine
If you are a purist, the same perspective about alcohol applies to caffeine. It’s a drug without health benefits and therefore not worth its potential risk to your baby. However, since most of us really enjoy our daily coffee or tea (or are actually addicted and go through withdrawal without it), and since the potential problems of caffeine in pregnancy are fewer than those of alcohol, it’s probably okay to take a slightly different approach.
Caffeine is a stimulant: It increases your blood pressure and heart rate so you feel that you have more energy. But it can also dehydrate you - and that’s important to avoid during pregnancy. Caffeine effects on the fetus are not clear, but high caffeine intake (four to five cups a day) has been associated with increased rates of miscarriage, preterm delivery and low birth weight. However, there’s no evidence that moderate amounts (one to two cups a day) have any effect on the baby.
So one or two standard-size (8 oz.) cups of coffee a day is probably fine. If you find that you’re especially sensitive to caffeine and can feel your heart pounding after two cups, you really shouldn’t drink more than one. Two reminders: Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and be aware that the size of the cup you’re served in coffee shops is often larger than the standard size.