Your Baby Today


Post-Conception Preconceptions

Post-Conception Preconceptions

In an ideal world, all pregnancies would be planned and women would know they were pregnant the instant egg met sperm. The real world is much more complicated, however, and many women are surprised to discover they are pregnant, even if they and their partners have been trying to conceive. Many women, when their pregnancy is detected, worry that something they did or ate or drank before realizing their condition might jeopardize their unborn child. While these concerns are quite common, experts say that most that occur before your second missed period, which would make you 8 weeks pregnant, are unfounded.

Experts estimate that while there's about a 4 percent risk of birth defects in any pregnancy, only about 6 percent of these are related to anything in the environment -- meaning anything a woman took, did, or was exposed to. The vast majority of birth defects have a genetic origin.

Here's a quick guide to some common early pregnancy exposures that shouldn't worry you... and a warning about a few that should. Pregnant women should always discuss their concerns with their obstetricians, of course. And women worried about specific exposures can contact the Organization of Teratology (birth defects) Information Services (OTIS) at 888-285-3410, for referral to a local teratology information center.

  • Alcohol While women will no doubt be advised to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy, there is little danger from occasional social drinking early in pregnancy. "Alcohol in large quantities -- binge drinking -- is more of a risk later in pregnancy," says Lynn Martinez, program manager of the Teratology and Birth Defects Program of the Utah Department of Health. "A glass of wine or even two early in pregnancy is unlikely to cause a problem."

  • Birth control pills Some women become pregnant while taking oral contraceptives, usually because of missed pills or antibiotic medication which can lower the effectiveness of the Pill. These women may continue taking the Pill daily for weeks, not realizing they are pregnant. "If a woman stops taking oral contraceptives before the eighth week of pregnancy ,there's no known increase in birth defects," says Lori Wolfe, M.S., director of the Texas Teratogen Information Service. "But between the eighth and tenth week there's a small -- 1 percent or less -- risk of external genital abnormalities if the fetus is a girl." The spermicides used with diaphragms and condoms are not considered a risk.

  • Chemicals (hair dyes, insect repellent, mothballs, nail polish remover, paint fumes) "In the absence of maternal poisoning we don't see a problem with the baby," says Martinez. In other words, if you don't get sick from the exposure, your baby won't, either. Common sense dictates avoiding fumes and other potentially hazardous chemicals while pregnant, but if you just finished painting your bedroom before finding out you were pregnant, relax.

  • Cigarettes The advice here is simply to quit as soon as you know you're pregnant. "Cigarettes are associated with low birthweight, which is a late pregnancy issue," says Martinez. "And smoking is even a bigger problem after the baby is born, since lung development goes on for eight years. Fortunately people have a high success rate quitting during early pregnancy."

  • Hot tubs and saunas While there's evidence that a high fever -- more than 101 degrees Fahrenheit -- that lasts longer than 24 hours can sometimes induce spinal birth defects, no research has linked saunas and hot tubs with a greater risk. Again, common sense advocates avoiding these things once you know you're pregnant. But there's no reason to panic over a soak in the Jacuzzi.

  • Medications Common medications such as over-the-counter pain relievers, allergy and cold medicines, cough suppressants, antacids, etc. do not pose a real threat early in pregnancy when taken occasionally. Once a pregnancy is diagnosed, obstetricians will advise women as to which drugs are known to be safe during pregnancy and which to avoid. The pain relievers aspirin and ibuprofen, for instance, should be avoided, while acetaminophen (Tylenol) is considered safe. 
  • X-Rays Diagnostic X-rays, such as dental X-rays and mammograms, are not associated with any increased risk during pregnancy. In fact, experts say that only high-dose (more than 5 rads) X-ray exposure directly to the abdomen -- as with radiation treatment for gynecological cancers -- could harm the fetus. So why are pregnant women advised to avoid all X-rays during pregnancy? "I think that's based more on legal concerns than science," says Martinez. "People are concerned about lawsuits."
Does that mean there's nothing you should worry about? Almost, but not quite. Certain prescription medications (such as the acne drug Accutane) as well as megadoses of vitamin A (more than 10,000 IU per day -- many times more than what is in a daily multivitamin supplement) do pose a birth defect risk. Consult your obstetrician or OTIS (above) to find out whether any medications or vitamins you've been taking may mean an increased risk of problems. 


About The Author

Beth Weinhouse is a frequent contributor to Your Baby Today. She specializes in women's and children's health issues and lives in Oxford, Mississippi with her husband and 6-year-old son.

The content on these pages is provided as general information only and should not be substituted for the advice of your physician.

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