Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and staying away from bad habits is important for everyone. But when you’re pregnant, it’s not just about your health, it’s also about your baby’s health, and your bad habits can put your baby’s health at risk.
Many women continue to make unhealthy lifestyle choices during pregnancy, despite guidelines that recommend healthy behaviors, according to a 2015 study published in the British Journal of Midwifery.
It is a challenge for health professionals to encourage healthy behavior modification in women who are planning to conceive or who are pregnant, particularly young women and those with an unplanned pregnancy (1).
Bad habits, no matter how small they may seem, can harm the baby inside your womb. Your behavior and choices influence your baby’s development over the next nine months. A mother’s bad habits can result in disease, growth issues, and brain damage in babies.
Surely, you do not want to risk your baby’s health. Making good lifestyle choices will directly impact the health of the growing fetus, and you will be more likely to give birth to a healthy and beautiful baby.
Plus, following a healthy lifestyle helps reduce the discomforts and complications associated with pregnancy.
It is better to be safe than sorry, so it is time to quit your bad habits.
Here are some bad habits that pregnant women should avoid.
1. Drinking Alcohol
As soon as you find out you’re pregnant, stop drinking any kind of alcoholic beverages.
Any amount of alcohol you drink reaches your baby in the womb through your bloodstream and the placenta.
Alcohol can affect your baby’s development and growth in the womb as well as your baby’s health at birth.
Drinking wine during pregnancy also increases the risk of miscarriage and premature birth.
According to a 2017 study published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, researchers report that any amount of alcohol exposure during pregnancy can cause extreme lasting effects on a child. It can produce significant amounts of anxiety in offspring, lasting through adolescence and into adulthood (2).
In addition, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. Among the many problems alcohol can cause, the most severe is fetal alcohol syndrome (3).
Smoking is a big “NO” for pregnant women.
Nicotine, carbon monoxide and other chemicals in cigarette smoke can affect the development of your baby’s lungs and cause various health complications during birth, and physically and mentally later in their life.
A study published in the Journal of Human Capital in 2011 reports that smoking has large adverse effects on neurodevelopment, with larger effects in the low socioeconomic status sample. The study highlights the importance of early interventions before and during pregnancy for enhancing child development (4).
A 2013 study published in PLOS ONE reports that maternal smoking is associated with reduced growth of the fetus’ brain, lungs, and kidneys. This effect persists even when the volumes are corrected for maternal education, gestational age and fetal gender. Also, the fetuses exposed to maternal smoking are smaller in size. Similarly, placental volumes are smaller in smoking versus nonsmoking pregnant women (5).
Smoking is also linked to a wide variety of pregnancy complications, including vaginal bleeding, ectopic pregnancy, premature placental detachment, and premature labor and delivery.
You should not smoke before, during, or after your pregnancy. Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke as well.
3. Eating Junk Food
While you may have weird food cravings during pregnancy, it is important to stick to a healthy diet. The food you eat has a direct influence on your unborn baby’s health.
A healthy and well-balanced diet supports normal birth weight, improves fetal brain development, and lowers the risk of many birth defects.
If you eat junk food that has high levels of fats and sugar, it has a negative impact on your baby’s health. Also, it can cause you to have blood pressure issues, elevated cholesterol levels, and high sugar levels.
A study published in the FASEB Journal in 2013 suggests that pregnant mothers who consume junk food actually cause changes in the development of the opioid signaling pathway in the brains of their unborn children.
This change results in the babies being less sensitive to opioids, which are released upon consumption of food that is high in fat and sugar. In turn, these children are born with a higher “tolerance” to junk food and need to eat more of it to achieve a “feel-good” response (6).
Another 2013 study published in Birth reports that eating a junk food diet high in calories but low in nutrition during pregnancy, as well as being overweight or obese before pregnancy, were independent predictors of high infant birth weight. Early childhood obesity interventions should consider addressing these factors (7).
Do your best to resist cravings for unhealthy food and focus on eating healthy. While you’re pregnant, your diet should include plenty of nuts, vegetables, fruits and fresh fish to help your body get protein, vitamin C, calcium, iron, and adequate fat.
4. Consuming Excess Caffeine
As a general rule, consuming 1 to 2 cups of coffee a day is not expected to be a concern for pregnant women (8). But if you drink a lot of coffee, you need to cut back.
Consuming too much caffeine during pregnancy can be harmful for your health as well as your baby’s.
Caffeine works as a stimulant and a diuretic. The stimulant effects include increasing your blood pressure and heart rate, both of which are harmful during pregnancy.
It can also affect your sleep. Being diuretic in nature, caffeine increases the frequency of urination. This can lead to low fluid levels and dehydration.
A 2008 study published in the BMJ reports that high caffeine consumption during pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of fetal growth restriction throughout the pregnancy. Sensible advice would be to reduce caffeine intake before conception and throughout the pregnancy (9).
When it comes to caffeine, remember that it is found in more than just coffee. It can also be in tea, soda, chocolate, and even some over-the-counter medications.
5. Taking Medicine on Your Own
Be it a headache or a little cold, many people rely on over-the-counter medicines for fast relief. But during pregnancy, use of any medicine should be carefully monitored.
Anything you ingest, including medication, can reach the fetus and potentially harm your unborn baby.
Pregnant women should be careful when using types of medicine that belong to group C, D and X. If you are already taking some prescribed medicine, you should bring it to your doctor’s attention immediately.
A 2009 study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Science shed light on the fact that it is the responsibility of all clinicians, including pharmacists, to counsel patients with complete, accurate and current information on the risks and benefits of using medications during pregnancy (10).
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Pregnancy analyzed the use of over-the-counter (OTC) medication among pregnant women in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.
In the survey, 40 percent of respondents reported that they took OTC drugs during pregnancy, and the majority (94.2 percent) agreed with the survey statement that “not all OTC medications are safe to be taken during pregnancy.”
There is a need to educate, counsel and increase awareness among pregnant women regarding safe use of OTC drugs and herbal medicines while pregnant (11).
While you’re pregnant, always consult your doctor before taking any medicine, including aspirin and other over-the-counter medications.
- Healthy lifestyle behaviours in pregnancy: A prospective cohort study in Ireland, British Journal of Midwifery, http://www.magonlinelibrary.com/doi/abs/10.12968/bjom.2015.23.12.874. lExposure on Gestational Day 12 Impacts Anxiety-Like Behavior in Offspring. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00183/full. Published September 14, 2017.
- Tobacco, Alcohol, Drugs, and Pregnancy – ACOG. Women’s Health Care Physicians. https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Tobacco-Alcohol-Drugs-and-Pregnancy.
- The Impact of Maternal Smoking during Pregnancy on Early Child Neurodevelopment. Journal of human capital. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3262676/. Published 2011.
- Maternal Smoking during Pregnancy and Fetal Organ Growth: A Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study. PLOS ONE. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0067223.
- A maternal “junk-food” diet reduces sensitivity to the opioid antagonist naloxone in offspring postweaning. The FASEB Journal. http://www.fasebj.org/doi/10.1096/fj.12-217653.
- Maternal “junk food” diet during pregnancy as a predictor of high birthweight: findings from the healthy beginnings. Birth (Berkeley, California). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24635424. Published March 2013.
- Is caffeine consumption safe during pregnancy? Canadian Family Physician. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3625078/. Published April 2013.
- Maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy and risk of fetal growth restriction: a large prospective observational study. The BMJ. http://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a2332. Published November 03, 2008.
- Drug Use in Pregnancy; a Point to Ponder! Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2810038/. Published 2009. Accessed March 12, 2018.
- Use of Over-the-Counter Medication among Pregnant Women in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Journal of Pregnancy. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jp/2017/4503793/. Published July 19, 2017.