During pregnancy, the growing baby is vulnerable to a number of things that can affect its growth and development. A healthy lifestyle helps protect your baby.
Alcohol is the most commonly used drug in the world. Alcohol is readily absorbed in the mouth and in the stomach and reaches the blood stream quickly. Alcohol depresses brain activity, causes the kidneys to make more urine and interferes with the absorption of key vitamins B6 and folic acid that are essential for a healthy pregnancy. Pregnant women who regularly drink alcohol may be more likely to have a baby of low birth weight, preterm birth, miscarriage and a baby with withdrawal symptoms (shaky, irritable, no appetite, poor sleep, diarrhea, vomiting, breathing problems, seizure, and problems with sucking during breastfeeding).
The placenta does not filter out the alcohol, so the unborn baby has the same blood alcohol level as his mother. No one knows what level of alcohol is safe for an unborn baby. Risks to unborn babies include being born too small or with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) a serious condition. Children with FASD suffer from a range of problems including disrupted brain development. trouble understanding the consequences of their actions, and learning. There is no cure for this.
Eliminating alcohol intake at any stage of your pregnancy may decrease the risk of problems.
If you are concerned about your alcohol intake, talk to your caregiver or contact a self-help group such as Alcoholics Anonymous at www.area78.org. For more information or support, call the Alberta Health Services Addiction Helpline at 1-866-332-2322.
Over-the-counter medication: Over-the-counter drugs that you can buy without a prescription, like pain relievers and antacids could contain ingredients that may be unsafe for you and your unborn baby during pregnancy.
Before considering taking an over-the-counter medication:
- Tell all of your healthcare providers that you are pregnant, including your dentist, dental hygienist and pharmacist.
- Don’t take over-the-counter drugs unless approved by your healthcare provider or pharmacist.
- As your healthcare provider or pharmacist regarding any side effects for any of the drugs you take and for any new drugs that you may be prescribed.
- Read all packaging and look for warning labels.
- If you don’t know if something is safe, or have questions about an over-the-counter medication ask a pharmacist, your doctor, phone the Poison and Drug Information Service in Alberta at 1-800-332-1414.
Try other remedies such as:
- Colds – rest, extra fluids, humidifier
- Constipation – fibre, extra fluids, fruit, exercise
- Headache – rest, cold compress, relaxation exercise, warm bath
Note: If you have persistent symptoms such as headaches or fever contact your doctor or midwife.
Prescription drugs: In some cases prescription drugs such as antibiotics may be necessary during pregnancy. If your doctor or dentist prescribes a medication remind him/her that you are pregnant. Always follow the directions carefully. Some women may need to continue to take certain medications for a chronic health condition such as asthma or diabetes. Be sure to discuss the risks and benefits of each medication with your doctor or midwife. Information on prescription drugs can be found at the Poison and Drug Information Service in Alberta at 1-800-332-1414.
Street drugs: Street drugs such as heroin, ecstasy, crystal meth, and cocaine are illegal and may harm your baby and should never be used during pregnancy.
If you use drugs, talk to your caregiver or call the Alberta Health Services Addiction Helpline 1-866-332-2322 or Narcotics Anonymous 1-877-463-3537 and ask for their Treatment Centre.
If you smoke, one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby is to quit or reduce the amount you smoke.
The harmful chemicals in smoking tobacco, cannabis, and vaping products, including second-hand and third-hand smoke, pass through the placenta and can affect your baby’s growth and development in the womb. Smoking tobacco reduces the oxygen your baby receives and exposes it to carbon monoxide and nicotine. The placenta does not act like a filter.
Smoking during pregnancy gives you a greater risk of miscarriage, a preterm baby, a low birth weight baby or a baby who is more likely to have long-term health problems. It has also been shown to stop fetal breathing motions. Studies suggest that babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are at greater risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS or crib death).
Inhaling secondhand smoke can be just as harmful to your baby. If your partner or someone you live with smokes, you may want to discuss making your home smoke free.
Quitting smoking early in pregnancy is best, but quitting at any time has benefits for you and your baby. It’s never too late to quit smoking during your pregnancy. Alberta Health Services has a free program for smokers who want help to reduce or quit smoking. Call 1-866-710-7848 (QUIT) or go online to albertaquits.ca.
Using herbs and natural remedies
Herbs and “natural remedies” (including consuming cannabis) are taken for a variety of reasons, but some may have negative side effects on the pregnancy or unborn baby. Before taking herbs or natural remedies (herbal teas) while pregnant:
- Ask a pharmacist or your healthcare provider if what you want to take is safe for pregnancy.
- Always let your caregivers know all the herbs/natural remedies you are taking, to ensure there is no negative interaction between any medications.
There are very few studies published on the safety of herbs/natural remedies during pregnancy. Just because something is natural does not mean it is safe. For more information contact the Poison and Drug Information Service in Alberta at 1-800-332-1414.
For more information, call Medication and Herbal Advice Line 1-888-944-1012.
Taking care of your teeth
During pregnancy, your gums may become more sensitive and bleed more easily due to increases in hormone levels. It is important to continue to brush and floss daily to keep your teeth and gums healthy. Gum disease and other dental infections in pregnant women have been linked to an increase in premature birth and poor dental health for their children. Continue to see your dentist for regular checkup and cleanings. A softer toothbrush may help.
Avoid x-rays during your pregnancy unless absolutely necessary. If x-rays are required, make sure you are given a lead apron to protect the unborn baby. Talk to your doctor or midwife before having general anesthesia for dental treatment.
Dental care during pregnancy is safe. Your oral healthcare provider will work with you to develop a dental care plan to help you prevent tooth decay, pregnancy gingivitis and to address any other dental concerns.