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Playing It Safe

  • Pregnant women who smoke or are exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke have a greater risk of delivering a premature or low-birth-weight baby because the amount of oxygen available to the fetus is reduced, inhibiting its growth. And, of course, smoking puts your own health at risk as well. If you or your partner need help to stop smoking, talk with your doctor as soon as possible. Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your baby's health.

  • Any alcohol consumed during pregnancy quickly reaches the fetus. And because your baby is so tiny, he can't metabolize alcohol the way you can -- even low levels of blood alcohol may harm your child, increasing the risk of miscarriage or brain damage. If you had the odd glass of wine before you knew you were pregnant, it probably won't affect your fetus. But since experts don't know how much alcohol is safe during pregnancy, it's best to avoid it altogether.

  • Studies on the risks of caffeine intake during pregnancy continue to make the news, but so far there isn't any conclusive data. If you can't make it to work without a pit stop at Starbucks, it's probably not a big deal; talk with your doctor if you're concerned. But remember: Caffeine is a diuretic, so it's important to stay hydrated. It also inhibits the absorption of iron, which you need now.

  • They cause no known harm to babies in utero. Still, some experts caution against them. It's okay to consume saccharin, aspartame, and Splenda in moderate amounts, but avoid drinking lots of nutritionally void diet drinks instead of healthier ones like water and juice.

  • Some of the most seemingly minor remedies -- aspirin, decongestants, acne lotions, even vitamin supplements -- can pose an unnecessary threat to a developing fetus. Before taking any nonprescription drug, check with your obstetrician, and be careful that you don't exceed the recommended dosage.

  • Steer clear of certain large fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tile fish, as they may have high levels of mercury which can harm the developing brain and nervous system. (Up to 12 ounces a week of fish like wild salmon, flounder, and tilapia are okay.) Also off the menu: raw oysters, sushi, unpasteurized milk or juices, most soft cheeses such as feta or Brie, and undercooked meat or poultry. All of these foods can harbor bacteria that can be deadly to a fetus.

    See more foods to avoid

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