Modern pregnant women are very concerned about what is “BAD” for their baby. They question everything, but tend to ask strangers rather than their doctor. There are so many posts online about every aspect of pregnancy with reams of misinformed or fear mongering answers from well meaning women. Let me just start by saying: CALM DOWN! Almost nothing is off limits. And there’s not a heck of a lot you can do to change the fated course of your pregnancy.
I continually get asked and see posts online by pregnant women about what they “can’t do” during pregnancy.
Real Examples: I’ve been eating a lot of strawberries but I heard strawberries are bad. Should I stop eating them for the rest of my pregnancy?
I have bad facial and body hair. I heard using hair colour during pregnancy is not allowed. Can I bleach my mustache just once for a special even in my second trimester?
Can I eat fish during pregnancy? I am having a BBQ this weekend and was going to cook salmon, is that okay? I heard fish is bad.
The Real Answer: Use common sense! There is a huge difference between can’t and shouldn’t do too much. HUGE!
So the “can’t” list is very small and is comprised of many items that you shouldn’t do when you’re NOT pregnant.
Don’t consume alcohol (though some studies are questioning even this, in Moderation) or DRUGS! (DUH.) Don’t expose your self to extreme heat, cigarette smoke, x-rays, or undue stress (don’t travel to a war zone, or continue to be in an abuse relationship, kind of stress). Don’t exercise to extremes and DO eat a balanced diet- no dieting!
But here is where common sense really comes into play, because if you end up doing something on this list it does not mean that your baby will immediately be harmed because of that action. Let’s say you find out you’re unexpectedly pregnant, and you think back to what you’ve been up to during the previous two weeks (drinking a lot, smoked pot, went in a hot tub, ate crappy food), don’t immediately freak out about all the “don’t”s you did. The baby hasn’t miscarried so that already says that things are likely fine. Just don’t keep doing these things and let your doctor know so they can order test is they think it’s necessary…. which they likely will not.
Then there are the “shouldn’t do too much” activities, like in the examples above. Don’t put bleach on your skin every day, or eat strawberries with pesticides on them every day, or eat high mercury fish every day. There are so few harmful things that cross the placenta to your baby, that exposure on a handful of occasions is not going to cause damage. Your body is very efficient at both filtering out harmful toxins from reaching your baby and also draining you of nutrients/vitamins/minerals to give to your child.
Lastly I will say this, find out why “someone” is telling you “something” is “bad”. Common sense! Do you normally believe every vague statement that every person tells you? I doubt it, so why is it when you’re pregnant that someone can say, “Wow, you’re eating a lot of strawberries. You know that’s bad for you while you’re pregnant, right?” and you don’t question what the hell that means?! What do you mean strawberries are bad for me? Instead we immediately go into high-alert mode like we’ve been directly injecting toxins into our womb. If the issues was questioned, what the real context is, is that strawberries are on the Dirty Dozen list, and so are one of the foods that is considering to have a high pesticide content. The recommendation is that we all buy the organic version of the dirty dozen (there’s also the clean 15, which are foods that are very low in pesticide absorption.) Knowing this, you may then be able to really evaluate your situation- perhaps you always buy organic so you can tell that person to take their advice and shove it or try shoving it down someone else’s throat. Okay, that’s maybe a bit much, but honestly there is too much advice out there being directed at pregnant women, and it seems to only serve two functions to scare them or make them question every action.
Then there are the inquiries that question every symptom, check if every twinge they feel is normal, and generally want to run to their doctor, ultrasound clinic or ER every time anything happens.
I get a sharp pain when I sneeze. Is this normal?
I’ve had cramping and dark brown spotting. Are these symptoms of a miscarriage? Should I go to the ER? I haven’t had an ultrasound yet. I’m 6w3d.
I’m 4w 6d and I’m having really bad cramp- like really bad period cramps. No bleeding, but i’m really worried. Should I be in pain like this?
I woke up with a headache. Is it normal to have a headache or should I go see my doctor? I’m 16 weeks.
I bought a doppler but can’t find my baby’s heartbeat. I heard it at my US. Now I’m worried that everything is okay. I’m thinking of going to the ER if I can’t find the HB in the next hour.
The Real Answer: I completely understand wanting to feel your baby is safe and that others are sharing in what you feel, but most of these kinds of questions actually go beyond that. What it really is about is that, unlike most things in life, pregnancy is beyond our control. It is a natural process that takes it’s own course and as much as we all want to control it, we cannot. These questions usually have their root in a fear of miscarriage. The rates of miscarriage are high and getting higher as people are finding out their are pregnant earlier than ever before. So at 4 weeks a woman may be able to get a pregnancy test to tell her she is pregnant, but then her period comes 2 days later. Previously this woman would never have known she had even conceived. (And let’s keep in mind that 4 weeks is only 2 weeks since conception.) Our only element of control in pregnancy is trying to conceive and living a healthy lifestyle. That is it.
I have never been to the ER with a pregnancy, or a miscarriage, or birth, or even with my child up to this point. That is from a combination of both luck and my accepting of the natural process. My second miscarriage bleeding got quite heavy, and so I monitored it. Had it continued at that volume with such large clots for another hour I might have gone in to the hospital (it was 3AM). Aches, cramping, and the odd twinge of pain are as innocuous as they sound. And if they are an indication of miscarriage then there is nothing anyone can do to force that pregnancy continue. But beyond that you don’t want to prevent a miscarriage. It is the body’s way of processing a malformed zygote. Something is not right, and your body knows long before you do.
Pregnant women have to peel their fingers off of the steering wheel and loosen their grip because they are not the driver in this journey. No amount of visits to the US clinic to see your baby, or listening to their HB on the doppler, or running to the ER is going to make pregnancy feel perfect and safe. Life is risk. And the less you question the little things the better you actually feel on a day to day basis. And to be perfectly frank, I wish more pregnant women would use other health resources before going to the ER. (Health phone lines, calling after hours clinics, calling their doctor’s office, visiting a walk-in clinic or your doctor.) The ER has to see and treat pregnant women before other people for obvious reasons and if you are 8 weeks along with cramps that is not emergency criterium. If you purchase a medical device and can’t get it to do what you want (ie. get a doppler to check the HB at home every day/hour) because you’ve never used one before then that is also not ER worthy. It’s your baby so everything feels like an emergency but you need to evaluate the situation properly and then decide if you could make another choice about care options.
Summary: I don’t want this post to come across as too harsh, but I really can’t stress enough that pregnant women need to talk to their primary care provider about the Do’s, Don’ts, When should I worrys, and the What’s normals. It may sound like I’m saying stop complaining and questioning your symptoms, but I’m not. I’m saying be aware, take note, and know (from what you’ve discussed with your doctor/midwife) when it is time to seek help or begin to worry. Waking up with a headache shouldn’t send you into a tailspin… it’s a headache! Waking up with a headache that is unusually extremely painful, doesn’t abate after a normal amount of time or with the use of medication is something you should probably phone your doctor about. When someone gives you pregnancy advice that sounds wrong, stupid or nonsensical then question it. If they don’t know why eating fish is bad for you while pregnant then they probably have no idea what the hell they are talking about. (Fish is fine, FYI!) Commiserate with your fellow gestators but stop questioning it all. Enjoy it, revel in this time, and use your common sense 🙂