Perhaps the most common questions asked by new moms-to-be is “is this safe?” Most women entering this time in their lives are more aware then anyone of how the things they put into their body will affect their baby and fertility. In general, the same rules apply when first trying to conceive and going through infertility treatment as in pregnancy.
You probably know that pregnant women should avoid alcohol. By learning to decline a glass of wine with your dinner during the preconception phase, you will be mentally preparing yourself for this lifestyle change when you are actually pregnant. Add an extra glass of water to your diet in place of alcohol, and try sparkling waters or juices to add some variety.
What this means is that you need to think long and hard about each glass of alcohol you drink. Where are you in your cycle? Could you already be pregnant and not know it yet? How would you feel about this glass of alcohol if the pregnancy test turned positive in a week? Would it worry you? If the answer is yes, don't drink it.
Alcohol is dangerous to your growing baby in many ways. It can cause brain damage, mental retardation, growth deformities, and other problems depending on how much you drank and the point you were in your cycle when you drank it. The first three to eight weeks of pregnancy, before you usually know you're pregnant, are the most critical in terms of not drinking.
Don't think that because you aren't pregnant yet that you are off the hook. It's not unheard of for a woman to become pregnant at certain points throughout your infertility cycle (i.e., before your pregnancy test) or even naturally in between cycles. Besides, you'll want your health and fertility to be optimal before cycling.
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a serious disorder caused by drinking during pregnancy, and it is unknown how much it takes to cause a child to suffer from this serious disease. Research shows that having seven or more drinks a week, or even a single occasion of binge drinking (five or more drinks at once), during your pregnancy puts your baby at risk. Another related problem that has shown up recently is called fetal alcohol effects (FAE), and it is believed that this is caused by lesser amounts of alcohol. It is best not to drink at all, since researchers and doctors don't know conclusively how much is too much.
If you have a serious problem with alcohol, there are many places you can get help. Some programs are designed specifically to help women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant quit drinking. It's never too early to start.
Nicotine and Smoking
Smoking and other forms of tobacco are harmful to your baby-to-be as well. The sooner you stop smoking, the greater your chances are for a healthy pregnancy. Smoking during pregnancy can increase the risks of:
Premature birth: Being born premature is the leading cause of neonatal death. It also increases the potential for problems with learning disabilities, mental retardation, and other problems.
Placenta previa: When the placenta covers parts or your entire cervix, you and your baby are at a greater risk of death from hemorrhage. This condition also necessitates a Cesarean delivery for the birth.
Placental abruption: An abruption of the placenta occurs when the placenta tears off the wall of the uterus. If not delivered immediately, the baby will die and you may hemorrhage as well.
Breathing problems: Both immediately after birth and throughout life, breathing problems like asthma are greater in children whose parents smoked during pregnancy or in children who are exposed to second-hand smoke soon after they are born.
General illness: Babies of smokers are more likely to have ear infections and upper respiratory infections, and are at a greater risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
It's estimated that about 426,000 women smoke during pregnancy every year — that's about 13 percent of all pregnant women, according to the American Legacy Foundation. This organization has created a program to help pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant to stop smoking. You can call them at 1-866-66 START or visit
Smoking during pregnancy and exposing your child to secondhand smoke are very serious matters. It is in your best interest, and that of your baby-to-be, that you quit smoking in the planning phases. It's also helpful if your partner quits with you. Soon, you'll find even your health is better!
Caffeine's Common Effects
Caffeine is one of those chemicals that most people do not consider to be a drug even though it is a powerful stimulant. It can be found in many drinks like coffee and soft drinks, and now you can even buy bottled water laced with caffeine. Caffeine increases your blood flow and can make you feel wide-awake and alert.
Since there is no recommended daily allowance (RDA) of caffeine, it's hard to set a limit. Most practitioners will tell you that it's okay to have 100mg of caffeine each day, which is roughly equivalent to one 8-ounce cup a day of your favorite caffeinated product. Decaffeinated coffees or teas are a great alternative as well.
Over-the-Counter Medications and Supplements
You should never assume that just because something is available over-the-counter that it is safe for you to take. This rule holds especially true when you're pregnant and when you're going through infertility treatment. Even something as seemingly benign as ibuprofen can affect your uterine lining and may be unsafe in early pregnancy.
Although you should definitely speak with your doctor, acetaminophen is generally accepted to be safe during both infertility treatment and early pregnancy, and is helpful for most aches and pains. Acetaminophen is also usually preferable to other drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen.
Medications are rated in pregnancy categories on a scale from A to X. Drugs that are labeled as A or B are safe to take when pregnant. Drugs labeled with a C are acceptable based on whether the benefits of taking the drug outweigh the risk of not taking it. According to the FDA, class C drugs indicate that “adequate, well-controlled human studies are lacking, and animal studies have shown a risk to the fetus or are lacking as well.” Drugs in category D or X should never be taken during pregnancy, as studies have proven a definite risk to the fetus. If you have concerns about a particular drug or medication, ask your pharmacist about its pregnancy category. Make sure to let your physician know about any regular medications that you take so he can advise you about whether it is safe to continue.
Drugs that we think of as “street drugs” are off-limits. Even occasionally using drugs like cocaine and marijuana are harmful to the conception process. Using these drugs places your baby-to-be at great risk for problems like growth retardation, mental problems, and addiction. If you have a problem with any type of drug, seek help in getting clean before attempting a pregnancy. Simply being pregnant won't make you stop using drugs.