Every pregnant woman only wants to know: will it harm my baby? It seems everything you put on your body or in your mouth could be bad for your baby – but it’s not entirely true.
We debunk the rumours and give you the answers on what you can and can’t eat (sorry, still no salmon sushi), what exercise to avoid, which beauty products to throw away and why eating chocolate mousse is a no-go.
1. Can I diet during pregnancy?
No! Pregnancy is not the time to diet. Starve yourself and you starve your baby. You could miss out on giving your baby all the nutrients he/she needs to develop properly. Don’t be afraid of weight gain – it is completely normal; but also don’t see this as a time to eat whatever you want (put down the third Twinkie). An increase of approximately 9 to 12kg or even a little more (or less if you are overweight) is normal. It all depends on your body, build and height and the weight you were when you became pregnant.
2. I'm asthmatic. Can I use my inhaler?
Definitely. Speak to your GP as soon as you can. If you leave asthma uncontrolled it can mean that your baby doesn’t get enough oxygen, which can result in a low birth weight and possible premature labour. Avoid triggers like dust, mould, smoke and dust mites.
- Also read: I'm pregnant: what medicine may I take?
3. Can I use any shampoo?
Not exactly. A small amount of chemicals can be absorbed through the scalp and there are chemicals in shampoos that are best avoided. Also make sure to check dandruff shampoos, as many of these chemicals are not safe. Opt for natural, organic products.
4. Are air bags safe during pregnancy?
Of course! You are probably worried about a large air bag crashing into your precious pregnant belly, but don’t be. If you are in an accident, you are safer with an airbag than without one. Sitting in the driver’s seat? Try to sit at least 25cm away from the steering wheel, to be safe.
5. Is it safe to get a piercing?
Rather not! This is not advised as you are at a higher risk of infection, but also remember that your skin will stretch so if you do get a piercing be aware where you get it – it might look weird in a while.
6. I have a headache; can I take painkillers?
Generally you should avoid all painkillers during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. Paracetamol can be taken on a short-term basis but other painkillers, for instance aspirin, are not suitable for pregnant women. Try eating regular snacks, taking a warm bath, going for a massage, taking Rescue Remedy and watching your posture for natural fixes.
7. Can I really not eat sushi while I'm pregnant?
You wish this wasn’t true, but it is! Raw or seared fish can contain parasites and bacteria that can hurt your baby, so sushi is off limits. But there’s hope. There are still plenty of sushi items on the menu that you can eat. Order a salmon skin roll or vegetable hand roll for the sushi effect.
8. I love curries but will spicy foods upset my baby?
Definitely not! You can continue to eat curries, salsa and chillies, as there is no risk for your pregnancy. Just be aware that hot foods can make your indigestion and heartburn worse.
9. I heard I shouldn't eat chocolate mousse – why?
No, you can’t. You’ve already said goodbye to sushi and now you need to say goodbye to chocolate mousse (sigh). Eggs often carry salmonella bacteria, which can cause meningitis in newborns. You can eat well-cooked eggs, but chocolate mousse contains raw egg. You also shouldn’t eat raw cookie dough or homemade ice cream.
10. Are artificial sweeteners safe during pregnancy?
Probably not. Though some sweeteners may be safe, some research is still inconclusive. Make sure to read the labels before buying, or rather stick to sugar or xylitol to be safe.
- Also read: Best and worst foods to eat during pregnancy
11. Can I still cook food in the microwave?
Will the radiation that seeps out during cooking affect your unborn child? Relax– it’s very unlikely. Although there have been no studies that prove either way, the best suggestion is not to spend your days hovering over the appliance – but then again why would you? Just remember to use microwave-suitable containers, stand at least one metre away from the microwave when it is in use and don’t let cling wrap touch foods while they are in the microwave.
12. Are there kinds of make-up I should avoid during pregnancy?
Unfortunately, yes! But before you hit panic mode, we don’t mean you can’t wear make-up for the duration of your pregnancy – you just need to check through your products. Avoid make-up with parabens or fragrances. Also make sure to throw away any expired make-up products. Other than that, make-up is a good friend during pregnancy and works wonders to cover up discolourations and spots.
13. Can I carry my toddler while I'm pregnant?
Yes, just don’t overexert yourself. Holding your toddler on your hip below the bump usually works best. Practise safe bending and lifting at all times.
14. I want to whiten my teeth – is this okay?
We’re not sure. This is one of the many uncertain situations where there is no clear proof either way. There are many natural whitening options you can use. Form a paste with strawberries (which naturally remove plaque) and leave it on your teeth for five minutes. Remember to visit the oral hygienist at least once in your pregnancy.
15. I always donate blood. Is there any reason I can't do this anymore?
Definitely don’t donate blood. While you may still want to serve the greater good, pregnancy is a time when your health and wellbeing is top of the list. A lot of women experience anaemia during pregnancy and have a low iron count – you don’t want to worsen this by giving blood.
16. Have I hurt my baby if I have a small fall?
If you have a small fall do not panic. Call your doctor and go for a quick check-in, especially if something feels different or wrong. Prevent falls by wearing low shoes with good soles and always hold onto railings when taking the stairs. If your baby movements change – call the doctor!
17. Can I really not sleep on my back?
Not in the second or third trimester because of the weight of the growing uterus and baby, which presses on the main vein that carries blood back to the heart from your lower body region. If compressed, it can interfere with optimum circulation to you and your baby. Your best bedtime bet is to lie on your side, suggests childbirth educator, author and midwife Tina Otte. “Put a thin pillow under your right side and tilt your body to the left – this will ease compression on those blood vessels,” she says.
Yes! No one needs (or deserves) a day of pampering more than a pregnant woman. In fact, it will help you relax and feel rejuvenated. Always ask your doctor first if he is happy for you to go and make sure you go to a masseuse who is certified in prenatal massage. Also, don’t lie on your back after 18 weeks. Most places will let you lie face down on a table with a cut out (as it’s probably the first time you will get to do this, enjoy it!). Avoid aromatherapy oils in the first three months of pregnancy.
19. Is a facial safe during pregnancy?
A resounding yes. Just stay clear of chemical peels and opt for basic cleansing or rejuvenating facials. Again avoid aromatherapy oils in the first three months and ensure that your beautician understand that you're pregnant – steaming can raise your body temperature.
20. I'm battling to sleep. Can I use sleeping pills?
No! Doctors don’t recommend these for pregnant women as they may be harmful to the baby. Tina Otte suggests avoiding stimulants such as caffeine four to six hours before bed. Warm milk with honey works wonders and is good for heartburn. Or try a cup of hot chai; this is one of the most beneficial (and delicious) comfort drinks around. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and cool and make sure there is enough air. Sometimes taking a bath with candles helps.
21. Is botox safe during pregnancy?
Probably not. Sorry, but Botox is on many doctors’ no-go list. There is a lack of evidence whether this toxin can pass to your baby or your breastmilk so you are much better off without it. You’ll just have to rely on your natural pregnancy glow.
22. Is swimming in a chlorine pool safe during pregnancy?
Yes. Large amounts of chlorine could be dangerous (so don’t swim straight after chlorine has been added), but swimming in a pool with chlorine will not harm you or your baby. In fact swimming is one of the best exercises you can do. Go for it.
23. I have pimples, can I start using acne medication?
Even though you may have more pimples than your high school days, marching to the medicine cabinet is not the answer. Common ingredients used in acne medications have been shown to cause birth defects. Accutane is off limits! Speak to your doctor or dermatologist to find out which medicines are safe. Tea tree oil is a fabulous natural alternative.
24. Can I put a hot pad on my stomach?
Too much heat isn’t a hot idea when you’re pregnant. It can raise your body temperature too quickly (anything above 38.9°C is potentially harmful), and can be dangerous for your growing baby. You can still use a heating pad as long as you put a towel around it first.
25. Is homeopathy safe while pregnant?
Yes and no. Homeopathic medicines are often not scientifically tested so there is little evidence to back up the safety of them for pregnant women. Chat to your pharmacist or a registered practitioner to make sure they are safe.
26. Can I eat honey?
Yes. While not safe for a baby until they are over the one-year mark (the bacteria clostridium botulinum can cause food poisoning in young babies), the sweet stuff is fine for you – as long as it has been pasteurised.
27. Can I change the litter box?
Preferably not – but we don’t all have an extra hand around the house who can change the cat’s litter box, so if you really have to, then make sure you wear gloves and that you don’t touch the kitty poop. Cat faeces are dangerous because they carry toxoplasmosis, which can cause brain damage or blindness in the foetus.
28. Is gardening safe?
Yes – as long as you are wearing gloves, that is. Sounds crazy, right? The reason you need to be careful is because neighbourhood cats could have contaminated the soil in your garden. Put on some gardening gloves and you’re ready to prune the roses.
29. Is it safe to eat leftover food?
Yes, if you are careful. The rule is to serve hot foods hot, and cold foods cold. Leftovers need to be refrigerated quickly and then reheated until hot throughout. Food that’s been left out for more than two hours is no longer safe. Never thaw then refreeze frozen foods.
30. Is it safe to go to the eye doctor during pregnancy?
Absolutely. While it is not the time to undergo corrective laser surgery, visiting the optometrist is perfectly safe. Vision changes are common in pregnancy due to hormone changes and swelling of the retina or optic nerve. While some problems resolve after birth, you should visit an optometrist if you are concerned.
31. Can I sit by a fire?
Yes. We wouldn’t dare tell you that you can’t put your feet up and sit around a hearty, warm fire. If you are worried about breathing in the smoke or carbon monoxide just make sure to not inhale too much. If you feel nauseated from the fumes, or feel yourself getting too warm, simply move away. Like all things, moderation is key.
32. Is it safe to take anti-diarrhoea medicine?
Sometimes, yes. However many of them are not safe so ask your doctor first and visit him if you are experiencing any serious symptoms like bleeding. Diarrhoea means you will lose vital fluids so stock up on electro-based rehydrating drinks or rehydrating solutions. Natural ways to curb diarrhoea include increasing your water intake and stopping drinking fruit juice, sugary drinks or milk.
33. Pests are everywhere. Can I call an exterminator?
No! Pregnant women should try avoid pesticides whenever possible. If your house is overrun with pests and you absolutely have to call in an exterminator, make sure to follow their guidelines strictly. Also make sure that all plates, cutlery and other crockery are out of sight, and carefully wash surface areas especially in the kitchen.
34. Is it safe to use body scrub, wash and lotion during pregnancy?
Yes, but be careful. We are not about to tell you that you can’t use any body lotions, but your skin is just more sensitive while you are pregnant, so be aware of what you are putting on your skin. Fragrances and exfoliants can irritate your skin.
35. Can I continue going to my favourite kickboxing class?
A big, punch-filled no! There is a risk of getting kicked in the abdomen and that is just not worth the risk. But exercise is great for you and your newborn, so maybe switch to less accident-prone exercises like swimming or join an exercise class designed for pregnant women. If you really enjoy kickboxing and can’t bear the thought of stopping, chat to your instructor on how you can personalise the exercise to suit your changing body. In your third trimester you can also experiment with doing your moves in water.
36. Is it safe to wear high heels during pregnancy?
Yes, in the early stages. Moms-to-be have every right to look stylish and wear high heels but in the third trimester when you feel a bit off balance, then wearing heels may cause backache or put you at a greater risk of falling.
37. Is peanut butter safe during pregnancy?
Worried about giving your baby an allergy? There is no need to avoid eating peanuts unless you or your partner suffers from allergies such as food allergies, asthma, hay fever or eczema. However there is no direct evidence that proves this will cause your baby to have get an allergy; but better safe than sorry.
38. Can I ride a horse when pregnant?
Planning a mountain retreat where you and your hubby ride horses into the wilderness? Well, don’t! Unless you are an experienced rider (and even then you shouldn’t ride after the first trimester), then horse riding is off limits.
39. Is stretch mark cream safe to use during pregnancy?
Yes. Many women rely on stretch mark cream and your everyday over-the-counter creams are not harmful to baby. Prescribed creams with Retin-A are harmful to pregnant women and should be avoided.
40. Can I take antibiotics when I'm pregnant?
Yes, if they are prescribed. Your doctor shouldn’t prescribe anything to you that will be harmful to baby, but you can always double check with your gynaecologist. Penicillin is usually the safest option. Antibiotics to avoid include tetracylines, Streptomycin and sulphonamides. Take antibiotics alongside a good probiotic, which will ensure that the good bacteria that the antibiotic killed, are restored.
41. Is using sunscreen safe?
It’s more than safe, its vital! Pregnancy can make you more sensitive to the sun, so you need to be extra careful. Wear a high factor sun block and drink lots of water.
42. Are light cigarettes safer while pregnant?
No! Smoking is smoking. They still contain harmful toxins and will be harmful to your baby. Stopping altogether is the best option. Cigarette smoke interferes with the supply of oxygen to your baby, which can lead to alow birth weight, a cleft palate and heart defects (scary, right?)
43. We have a hot tub at home. Can I use it?
Unfortunately not. This can raise your body temperature, which is potentially harmful to the developing embryo, especially in the early months.
44. Is acupuncture safe during pregnancy?
Yes. The Chinese have known for a long time that acupuncture can relieve pregnancy symptoms – and now you can reap the benefits too. Acupuncture works by inserting needles into certain points on the body associated with energy channels. Just make sure to use a registered practitioner who is experienced in treating pregnant women.
45. I don't smoke, but is it dangerous to be around smokers?
Yes. Once again, smoke is smoke. Secondhand smoke is just as dangerous, so stay away from smoking areas as much as possible.
46. Can I colour my hair while pregnant?
There is no evidence to suggest that the small amount of chemicals in hair dye is harmful but many experts still advise against it – especially in the first trimester. Highlights are a safer option as the dye is kept off your skin.
47. Is it okay to visit a chiropractor while pregnant?
A resounding yes! Chiropractors can help relieve nausea, back, neck, or joint pain. Be sure to visit a specialist who is familiar and comfortable with pregnant women.
48. What about the dentist?
Yes. Pregnant women are more prone to tooth decay and bleeding gums. Poor dental health can affect you and your baby and needs to be treated. Routine dental care is safe during pregnancy but avoid X-rays unless necessary, and fillings until after the birth.
49. Is it safe to do pilates?
Yes! Pilates is a form of body and mind conditioning that develops the body in a uniform way – addressing posture, strength, flexibility, mobility and endurance. Unlike other forms of exercise, Pilates requires that each movement is performed with control and precision which means that is very safe to do during pregnancy. Choose a prenatal class or make sure to tell your instructor that you are pregnant so the exercises can be adapted for you.
50. Is it safe to fly before week 12?
Hop on! There is no evidence that flying before week 12 can be dangerous to your baby – provided you have no complications. However the best time to travel is usually in your second trimester when nausea has subsided and you are not yet overly uncomfortable.
51. Is doing yoga in the first trimester dangerous?
No – it’s great for you. Prenatal yoga is the “fix” you need to get you through the 40 weeks of common pregnancy niggles. It can help relieve bloating, swollen feet and backache. It is generally safe but avoid Bikram yoga or yoga in high temperatures. If you have had any pregnancy complications, make sure to check with your doctor first.
52. Is caffeine okay during pregnancy?
Yes – in moderation, that is. Caffeine is a stimulant that can cross the placenta and affect your baby’s heart rate and breathing. The general recommendation is no more than two cups of coffee per day but remember that there is caffeine in other products such as iced tea and soft drinks. If you don’t want to kick the habit, go decaf or limit your intake.
53. Can I fly in the third trimester?
Most airlines won't allow pregnant women to fly after 36 weeks. If you need to fly in the second or early in the third trimester make sure you drink lots of water and get up to walk every hour. If you have had any complications at all with your pregnancy, then flying is not recommended. Chat to your doctor before planning any trips.
54. Is it okay to eat a rare steak during pregnancy?
No, it’s best not to risk it. Undercooked meats can carry the parasite toxoplasmosis. It has the ability to cross the placenta and affect the foetus. You can still eat steak; just make sure it’s cooked through.
55. Can I eat biltong?
No, it’s the same as a raw steak. This is definitely something you are going to miss but try replace biltong snacks with raw nuts.
56. Is it okay to go to a rock concert?
As long as you don’t do this on a regular basis, it won’t cause any harm to your baby. By 27-30 weeks your baby’s ear is mature enough to respond to sounds that filter through, so to be safe don’t sit right in the front or too close to the speakers.
57. Can I get a tattoo while pregnant?
Probably not. The main risk you face with getting a tattoo is the risk of infection, and your tattoo stretching out of shape. Henna is a natural option for moms-to-be. Just make sure it is natural henna, which stains the skin orange or brown. Black henna is not safe for anyone.
58. Is it safe to go bowling while I'm pregnant?
It’s probably fine but double-check with your doctor if you are worried. Like with anything, don’t overexert yourself and choose a light bowling ball. Be extra careful in your third trimester that you don’t strain your back or abdominal muscles when picking up the ball.
59. I heard I shouldn't raise my arms above my head while pregnant – is this true?
No, it is perfectly safe. And it doesn’t mean that your baby’s umbilical cord will get wrapped around its neck – this is just a myth. The truth is that no matter what position or normal movement you make, it won’t affect the umbilical cord.
60. Is it safe to ride a bicycle while pregnant?
Yes, but remember that if you fall it could be dangerous for you or baby. Mountain biking should be avoided due to the rough terrain and chances of falling. A stationary exercise bike at home is a great alternative.
61. Can I get a spray tan?
It’s up to you. While many salons advocate it as safe for pregnant women, a raging debate remains. The truth is that the effects remain unknown – and a fake tan may not be worth the risk. Spray tan contains dihydroxyacetone, or DHA, which may be absorbed into your bloodstream either through your skin or by inhaling the spray.
62. Is it safe to paint the house while pregnant?
It should be. Today’s paint doesn’t contain lead or mercury and probably isn’t toxic, but since you never know what hazard could turn up in a new paint, its best not to do the painting yourself. Be sure to keep the house ventilated while the paint is drying, to get rid of the fumes.
63. Is it safe to go on a sunbed?
Absolutely not! The harmful UV rays are not good for you or for your baby and can break down folic acid – a vitamin that helps to prevent defects in the baby’s nervous system. They can also cause your body to overheat.
64. Can I get my nails painted?
Yes – go treat yourself. The only recommendation is that constant exposure to fumes is bad for the baby, so working in a nail salon can be dangerous. Choose a salon that is well ventilated, as even if the fumes aren’t dangerous they will likely make you feel nauseous.
65. Is it safe to use vapour rub while pregnant?
Yes, just follow the instructions properly.
66. Is it true pregnant women shouldn't take baths?
No. Baths are great for pregnant women. Just avoid super hot baths and be cautious when climbing out of the tub.
67. Is sex safe during pregnancy?
Yes, it is! You’ve probably heard this a hundred times, but we all need reassurance. Sex will not harm the baby, just stay away from positions that require you to lie on your back for long periods of time.
68. Can I eat lunchmeat?
No. Deli meats are often contaminated with listeria, which can cause a miscarriage. Listeria has the ability to cross the placenta and may infect the baby leading to infection or blood poisoning. Avoid altogether or reheat all deli meats including salami, ham and polony.
69. Am I allowed to eat seafood?
Not all of it. Fish is a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which can promote your baby’s brain development. But some fish contains more mercury than others and too much mercury can damage your baby’s developing nervous system. Avoid swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish and limit canned tuna. Make sure your seafood is well cooked.
70. Is it okay to lift heavy weights while preggers?
No! “But if a woman has been lifting weights regularly prior to her pregnancy she may continue provided she uses light weights and works out under the strict supervision of a qualified health professional. Switching from heavy to light weights is important to prevent injuries to ligaments that soften during pregnancy,” says Tina.
71. Can I continue regular gym classes?
Yes. Exercise can help you sleep better, improve your mood, and help your recovery after baby is born. You can also join a class designed for pregnant women, so you know you won’t push your body beyond its limits. Stay away from exercises where you lie on your back, especially from the second trimester.
72. Are soft cheeses okay to eat during pregnancy?
Not all of them. Before you bite into a gooey, delicious slice of Brie – think twice. These kinds of cheeses are often made from unpasteurised milk, which contains listeria. Read the label to make sure. Common varieties such as mozzarella and cottage cheese should be fine.
73. Is a pap smear safe for me?
Yes. It’s important to continue to get pap smears as you did before you were pregnant. The doctor will check for any changes in the cervix (irregularities can lead to cervical cancer) and for sexually transmitted diseases.
74. Is it safe to get vaccination?
Some are, and others aren’t. The flu shot is believed to be completely safe for pregnant women (and even recommended for those who will be pregnant in the wintery flu season), but other vaccinations are not so safe.
75. Is it ever safe to ride in bumper cars while pregnant?
Definitely not! While your toddler maybe begging you to jump on the joyride with them, you will have to say no. All that movement, bumping and crashing motions cannot be good for baby.
76. Can I ride a rollercoaster?
Like a bumper car, the answer is no. The jarring and fast movements could be dangerous for baby, so it’s best to obey the warning signs at the amusement park.
77. Is it safe for me to get a Brazilian wax?
It’s safe and probably necessary (your raging hormones can increase hair growth). Your skin can be more sensitive during this stage so use a soothing lotion before and after the wax. Also make sure to go to a hygienic, reputable spa – you don’t want to risk infection of any kind.
78. Is it safe to clean the house?
Of course. You may be worried that the detergent you use to clean the toilet may affect your baby. Relax – it won’t. Just wear rubber gloves when you are cleaning. Also avoid oven cleaners and dry cleaning products, which are known to be very toxic. Or opt for the natural way by using a solution of bicarbonate of soda, distilled white vinegar, lemon juice and essential oils to clean your house.
79. Is it safe to eat chocolate while pregnant?
Of course it is! Just don’t eat excessive amounts as chocolate still contains caffeine, and is obviously not great for your waistline. Opt for good quality dark chocolate, or raw chocolate, which contains high amounts of cocoa (a natural antioxidant).
80. Can I still use hair relaxer?
Probably not. Hair relaxers contain harsh chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin of your scalp. What goes into your bloodstream can be passed on to baby and there is no proof yet that it is definitely dangerous for baby but there is no doubt you are better off without it. Also, sometimes the product will not work, due to pregnancy hormones.
What are some of the things you'd like to know if you can or can't do while pregnant? Tell us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we may publish your comments with some answers.
- 6 common questions about eating carbs during pregnancy answered
- How to keep your unborn baby safe
- What you eat influences your unborn baby's development
Sign up to our weekly newsletter to receive Parent24 stories directly to your inbox.