5 Hidden Dangers to Avoid During Pregnancy

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Prudent would-be moms know there are some obvious things they need to avoid during their pregnancy. A glass of wine each day appears to be OK, but more than that is courting trouble. Cigarettes … well, they’re bad for everyone, particularly little baby. Pregnant women know to skip the death-defying roller coaster at the theme park, not just because the sign advises the ride is not suitable for “women who are pregnant,” but also because common sense tells them as much. Then there are those activities that may seem fairly innocuous, until you learn that research has linked birth defects and early childhood developmental problems to these factors. Here are five activities expectant mothers might want to think about before doing during their pregnancy.

Tanning while pregnant can increase the risk of birth defects. Credit: © Michah Camara

Tanning while pregnant can increase the risk of birth defects. Credit: © Michah Camara


5. Acetaminophen Use Possibly Linked to ADHD in Children

Odds are if you’ve ever had the flu or nagging pain, you’ve taken this pain reliever and fever reducer. Some expectant mothers may be rethinking acetaminophen use following a study that found a link between ADHD (or ADHD-like symptoms) in children and their mothers’ use of the pain reliever during pregnancy. The study, published in the April 2014 edition of JAMA Pediatrics, monitored more than 64,000 mothers and their children who were enrolled in the Danish National Birth Cohort from 1996 to 2002. University researchers found mothers who used acetaminophen had up to a 37% higher chance of having kids who were later diagnosed with ADHD. They also found that moms who used the drug more than 20 weeks into their pregnancy had a 50% greater chance of giving birth to kids later reported to have ADHD-like behaviors and movement disorders at the age of 7. While the research establishes a strong correlation, researchers caution that doesn’t definitively prove acetaminophen causes ADHD.


4. Laptop Computer Exposes Fetus to Dangerous Electromagnetic Field

It seems the more we find out about the electromagnetic fields, or EMFs, generated by these computers, the more we realize that they shouldn’t be used on our laps at all. Electromagnetic fields emanating from these devices have been linked to everything from neurological and behavioral changes to chronic fatigue and even cancer. What’s bad for you is also bad for baby. The Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health studied five different brands of laptop, and found that, when held close to the body, “the power supply induces strong intracorporal electric current densities in the fetus and in the adult subject, which are respectively 182-263% and 71-483% higher than … basic restrictions recommended to prevent adverse health effects.”

Researchers suggested the “laptop” computer be renamed so as not to, by its very name, “induce customers towards an improper use.” Men’s reproductive health doesn’t fare much better; a study in the journal Fertility and Sterility found a correlation between lower sperm counts and EMFs produced by laptops and other mobile devices.


3. Tanning and Tanning Beds Possibly Linked to Birth Defects

Although you’d have to be living under a rock (safe from UV rays) to not know tanning puts your skin at risk of premature aging and one of the most deadly cancers, melanoma, achieving the bronzed look poses additional risks to pregnant women and their babies. According to the American Pregnancy Association, studies have found a correlation between exposure to UV rays and folic acid deficiency. This condition is associated with spinal cord defects such as spina bifida, where the bones around the spinal cord don’t close properly early in development. Overheating, which could occur either in a tanning bed or at the pool or beach, is also associated with spinal deformities in the infant. For the mother, the patchy skin that often occurs in pregnancy can worsen (as does hives and heat rash), because the skin is more sensitive to the sun’s rays.

Even “tans from a can” aren’t conclusively safe; the APA notes some health care providers are concerned that an active ingredient in sunless tanners, Dihydroxyacetone, may be able to penetrate the skin. Don’t think about ingesting those tanning pills, either; these pills have been banned in the U.K. and reportedly contain large amounts of food-coloring ingredients, which are toxic to the unborn and have been linked to hepatitis and eye damage.


2. Cat Litter Boxes May Host Dangerous Parasite

Toxoplasmosis is the stuff of nightmares. One of the more unsettling aspects of the disease is its cause: a single-celled parasite that can burrow into your brain. This disease has been blamed for a whole host of problems, from schizophrenia to seizures. Surprisingly, this exotic-sounding parasite can be found in the most mundane place — your cat’s litter box. In a healthy person, toxoplasmosis causes flu- or mono-like symptoms, but in a pregnant woman (and her unborn child) it can produce pneumonia and deadly brain infections. Pregnant women and babies are susceptible to the worst of toxoplasmosis because their immune systems aren’t able to combat the parasite. While most children don’t display problems at birth, they can develop seizures, mental conditions and experience hearing loss and blindness later in life.

There’s no reason to kick kitty to the curb if you’re pregnant. If you must clean the litter box yourself, wear disposable gloves and thoroughly wash your hands afterward. Keep your cat indoors to avoid it coming in contact with animals harboring the parasite. Assure the box is changed daily because the parasite isn’t activated until one to five days after it is shed in your pet’s waste.


1. Excessive Noise Linked to Hearing Loss in Babies, Other Maladies

This one seems rather obvious. Your pregnant self goes to a death metal concert. Your baby is later born partially deaf. Yet many pregnant women go to rock concerts, auto races, and loud nightclubs without realizing the danger they’re posing to their unborn child. The American Academy of Pediatrics summarizes more than four decades of research from around the world with these warnings: Excessive or occupational noise has been linked to hearing loss in infants, low birth weight, premature birth, and even death in the womb. The APA has even recommended medical equipment manufacturers reduce noise from their equipment and that OSHA consider revising its occupational noise standards to make the workplace safer for expectant mothers.


One More: Caffeine

If you’re like the average American coffee drinker, you consume slightly more than three cups of the brew each day. But if you’re pregnant, the March of Dimes recommends you drink no more than one cup — and at that, the cup should be no bigger than 12 ounces. That’s about the size of a tall (or small) Starbucks drink. This cup is considered to be roughly equivalent to the recommend ceiling for caffeine consumption while you are “with child” — 200 milligrams. Caffeine can make anyone’s blood pressure and heart rate rise, and contributes to sleeplessness and indigestion. But pregnancy can also make women sensitive to caffeine, simply because in this state it takes longer for the stimulant to clear the body. Beware that caffeine is also insidious; it can be found in a number of teas, chocolates, ice cream toppings, and even herbal supplements. Even after the baby is born, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limiting caffeine consumption if the mother is breastfeeding. While the drug in small quantities doesn’t affect breast milk, the key word is small — with AAP noting that more than two or three cups can also contribute to worsening sleeping patterns and irritability in new mothers.

Written by

Michelle Leach's love of writing has taken her to Sydney, Australia, London, U.K. and other exotic locations like Grand Island, Neb., and Clio, Mich. She has developed pieces for TV and radio stations, PR departments, newspapers and magazines. A graduate of Northwestern University and Lake Forest College (also in Illinois) she enjoys running marathons and likes to say when not writing, she’s running — but she tries not to mix the two activities.