There are several things which can be hazardous for the expectant mother and which she should avoid during her pregnancy.
There is no doubt that smoking can harm the unborn baby. Tests have shown that when the child of a cigarette smoker is born, he will have cyanide compound in his urine. Babies born to smokers are usually 150-250 g (5-9 oz) smaller than average and they may be premature.
Addictive drugs can be especially dangerous to the expectant mother. They can enter the baby’s bloodstream and make him addicted; he will then need to be weaned off them when he is born. The baby of an addicted mother may have a low birth weight and/or serious malformations. Any woman who is hooked on heroin, cannabis, glue sniffing or any similar habit should get help before a pregnancy is started, and should consult her doctor as soon as she knows she is pregnant.
In large quantities alcohol will damage the fetus. causing congenital abnormalities, and an alcoholic mother’s baby will (as with drugs) be born addicted. Even small quantities might damage the fetus. There are also the obvious physical dangers which can threaten a woman in a drunken state.
The rapidly developing cells of the fetus are especially at risk from X-rays and all forms of radiation. Doctors will not take X-rays during pregnancy unless absolutely necessary, as it may be after an accident or illness, and then the pelvic region will be protected.
Vaccinations and immunisation
The fetus’ most vulnerable time during pregnancy is the first 14 weeks, so no risks should be taken at this stage by the pregnant woman having vaccinations or immunisation. If it is urgent that the expectant mother travel abroad and she therefore needs typhoid or cholera protection she must get advice from her doctor. Polio protection should have been obtained before pregnancy as the disease can be very severe if caught during pregnancy.
Research is being carried out into the possibility of lead damaging the developing fetus, and especially into the risk during the formation of the baby’s brain cells. Lead from petrol fumes pollutes the atmosphere and can be inhaled; it can also be absorbed into the body from paints which contain lead, and drinking water which has passed through lead pipes.
The expectant mother should therefore avoid dense traffic as far as possible and get plenty of fresh air, and if her home has any paint containing lead, it should be stripped off by someone else and replaced. If her home has lead water pipes, she must draw off several pints before she actually drinks any, because the lead dissolves into the water when it has been standing overnight or for long periods. She should also eat plenty of calcium rich foods, because the calcium helps to reduce the amount of lead absorbed into the body.
This is a stimulant found in tea, coffee, cola and some medicines. Too much caffeine is not good for the expectant mother and she should therefore drink her tea and coffee fairly weak and reduce the quantity of cola-type soft drinks she takes. Plenty of water and fruit drinks are best.
There are still a lot of old wives’ tales which the expectant mother may hear from a well-meaning friend or relation. Some may be frightening and silly, such as ‘Don’t eat strawberries during pregnancy, the baby will be born with a strawberry mark. They should all be ignored.