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Things to Avoid

You may wonder what is safe during pregnancy and what is not. Below are some things to avoid. If you think you have been exposed to a harmful substance, talk to your provider or contact the Teratogen Information Service.

Addictive drugs

Women using addictive drugs are more likely to miscarry or have other problems. Babies whose mothers often use narcotic pain medicine are likely to go through withdrawal during the first few weeks of life. In many ways, your baby will be in danger if you use addictive drugs.


Do not drink any alcohol at all while you are pregnant. Babies whose mothers drink beer, wine or hard liquor each day are likely to have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This causes slow mental and physical growth and other severe problems. Do not drink if you breastfeed your baby. Alcohol can pass through breast milk. If you are concerned about your use of alcohol, talk to your doctor or nurse midwife.

Careless food handling

Follow these rules to reduce your risk of food-borne illness:

  • Wash hands, counters and cutting boards often.
  • Keep raw and cooked foods apart.
  • Cook foods to their proper temperature. Use a food thermometer.
  • Refrigerate or freeze food promptly. Make sure the refrigerator is at or below 40°F.

Eating food tainted with harmful bacteria such as listeria can cause what feels like the flu. To prevent listeriosis:

  • Heat hot dogs, lunch meat or deli meat until they steam before you eat them.
  • Avoid eating soft cheeses (feta, brie, camembert, blue-veined cheese or soft Mexican cheese).
  • Do not eat refrigerated pate or meat spreads. Canned pate or meat spreads are okay.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood unless it is mixed into a cooked dish.
  • Do not drink raw or unpasteurized milk.

Fifth disease

Fifth disease is a very mild viral infection for a mother that can make her fetus much sicker. It is caused by a parvovirus. Most adult women have antibodies to protect themselves and their babies. If you have been exposed to fifth disease, a blood test can show if you are infected. Even if your baby catches the disease from you, chances are very good that no harm will occur. Your baby can be safely treated in your womb. Call the clinic and have your blood tested if think you have this infection.

Hand, foot and mouth disease

Most adults are immune to hand, foot and mouth disease (Coxsackie viral infection). Even when exposed to an active case, these mothers and their babies are safe. If a mother becomes very ill with this disease, her baby can get sick, too, with bad results.

Hot tubs, saunas and whirlpools

You should not let your body temperature rise to or higher than 102° F during your first 3 months. There is a small chance of your baby having a serious spinal defect. Avoid being in hot tubs, saunas and whirlpools for more than 20 minutes during your first trimester. It is okay to use a hot tub again after that.

Lead poisoning

Lead poisoning is caused by breathing or swallowing lead. Lead can pass from a mother to her unborn baby. Too much lead in your body can:

  • Put you at risk of miscarriage
  • Cause your baby to born too early or too small
  • Hurt your baby’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system
  • Cause your child to have learning or behavior problems

Watch out for lead in your home. If you live in an older home, have your home inspected by a licensed lead inspector. Pregnant women should not be in the house during cleaning, painting or remodeling a home with lead paint. Lead can also be found in some glazed pots, folk or "natural" medicines from other countries, candy, makeup, soil, tap water and places that do auto refinishing, plumbing and construction.

  • Most lead comes from paint in older homes. Old paint cracks and peels and makes dangerous dust.
  • You can breathe in lead dust and not even know it.
  • Home repairs like sanding or scraping paint can make dangerous lead dust.


Being pregnant is one more good reason to quit smoking. If you quit, you are more likely to have a healthy baby. Smoking is linked with increased risk of:

  • Premature birth
  • Low birth weight
  • Miscarriage and other severe problems

There are other risks after your baby is born:

  • Nicotine can pass through your milk to your baby.
  • There is a higher rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) among children of smoking mothers.
  • Breathing problems such as bronchitis or pneumonia will be more likely for your child.
  • Your child may grow at a slower rate.

There is no "safe" number of cigarettes. The less you smoke, the better it is for you and your baby. Stop by your fourth month. You will be less likely to have a low birth weight baby.

Gundersen is smoke-free. Smoking is not allowed in or around any of our buildings. Ask about our programs to help you cut down or quit smoking. If you cannot quit, make plans with your provider to go without smoking while you are in the hospital.


You should not engage in contact sports, marathons, scuba diving or water skiing while you are pregnant. You can learn more with our guidelines on excising.


A parasite found in cat feces and some meat causes toxoplasmosis. (This problem is rare among cats who stay indoors.) If you have this disease, you may miscarry. In rare cases, it can cause infant blindness or death. To protect yourself and your baby:

  • Eat only well-cooked meat.
  • Wash your hands after you handle raw meat or unwashed produce.
  • Never handle litter boxes, garden soil or other things dirtied by cat feces.
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Every day, Gundersen Health System delivers great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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