impact on life - healthcare publishing

Health & Lifestyle


If you are a smoker, you would be wise to consider giving up completely. When you inhale cigarette smoke, 4,000 chemicals - including carbon monoxide and nicotine - pass directly into your bloodstream. The result of this is that your baby receives less oxygen and does not grow as well as it should, which can lead to a low birth weight. In addition, the nicotine has the effect of making your baby's heart beat faster. For every cigarette you smoke, your baby's blood flow will be disrupted for 15 seconds.

If you give up smoking, and avoid passive smoking by other people, your baby is less likely to be born underweight and contract infections in the first year. Further, the child will more easily avoid chest illnesses and asthma at a later stage. You will benefit from quitting too - mothers who quit smoking face fewer complications during pregnancy and labour, a lower risk of miscarriage, bleeding and sickness, and less chance of a premature or still birth. The most damaging effects of smoking take place between the fourth to ninth months of pregnancy but remember that it is never too late to cut down or preferably stop smoking altogether and your baby will feel the benefits immediately. Ask your GP for advice before using nicotine substitutes (such as patches or capsules) during pregnancy. You can contact the NHS Pregnancy Smoking Helpline: 0800 169 9 169.


Drugs other than those prescribed by your GP should be avoided during pregnancy. These include proprietary drugs, over the counter medicines and 'natural' remedies. Speak to your GP about any prescribed drugs, medicines or vitamin supplements you may already be taking. Of course, if you suffer from epilepsy or diabetes (or some other long-term illness), your doctor will need to monitor and advise on your prescription. Never change or stop using prescribed medicines without first consulting your GP.

If you are a user of hard or street drugs, such as heroin, cocaine or amphetamines, you must inform your GP or midwife immediately once you have confirmed your pregnancy. Hard drugs can and will harm your baby. With prior notice, your GP will be in the position to refer you to a maintenance reduction programme - the most sensible course of action. You can also call the National Drugs Helpline on 0800 77 66 00.


Research shows that heavy drinking can cause serious harm to your baby and women who drink over six units of alcohol a day are at risk of having babies with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which can cause problems with physical and mental development, behavioural problems, facial and heart defects. Light or occasional drinking may be relatively safe, although expert opinions on this subject are divided. Light drinking is assessed as being no more than two units of alcohol a week. A unit is a small glass of wine or half a pint of beer. If you have a problem reducing to this level, you should speak to your GP or midwife. If possible, you should avoid alcohol completely during your whole pregnancy, but it is most important during the first 12 weeks (the first trimester); you should have only spritzers later in your pregnancy.

It's important to stress that many women have a drink before they know they are pregnant and their babies are perfectly fit and healthy.

Sex During Pregnancy

There is no physical reason why you should not continue to have sex throughout a normal pregnancy. Sex during pregnancy is not harmful since the muscles at the neck of your womb, and a plug of specially formed mucus, completely seal the womb. The baby is also cushioned by the amniotic fluid that surrounds it.

However, if you have experienced a previous miscarriage, you should talk to your doctor or midwife about the advisability of continuing with sex, especially during the first three months of your pregnancy. This may also apply if you have a problem such as placenta praevia or bleeding. It is a fact that some couples would rather not have sex during the pregnancy period. For others, pregnancy brings a freedom from contraceptives, periods and PMS and can be very arousing for both partners. Whatever the case, it is important for partners to speak candidly about their feelings in this respect.

Sex will not start labour unless the woman's body is ready, but intercourse can be a natural way to induce labour if your baby is overdue. This is because semen is rich in prostaglandins - hormones that are known to soften the cervix. Some women will experience slight bleeding after sexual intercourse during pregnancy due to the thinning of their cervix. Although this is usually nothing to worry about, it is advisable to alert your midwife to any bleeding in case it is as a result of something more serious.


Keeping fit during pregnancy can be most beneficial and, with your GP's permission, you can continue your existing exercise regime. However, avoid highly competitive sports and over-exertion as your ligaments tend to loosen during pregnancy to allow your pelvis to accommodate the baby, which means that you may sprain your muscles more easily. Generally speaking, walking, swimming and yoga will help you to keep fit; but always bear in mind that regular, gentle exercise is much better than sport. If you attend exercise classes or go to a gym, tell your instructor that you are pregnant so that they can offer you appropriate advice.

Folic Acid

A regular intake of folic acid, which is one of the B Vitamins, may help prevent spina bifida, which is a serious birth defect. It is recommended that you start taking folic acid once you begin trying to conceive and you should take one folic acid tablet (400 micrograms) every day until the end of the twelfth week of your pregnancy. It is also a good idea to eat foods that are rich in folic acid, including green vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts, yoghurt, milk and yeast products such as Marmite. Your GP or midwife will have more information about Folic Acid


The quality of your food, not the quantity, is the key to a healthy diet. Prepare a balanced diet that includes bread, cereals, fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy foods, meat, poultry, oily fish and peas, beans and lentils.

In order to prevent excessive weight gain, it is advisable to strictly limit your intake of highly processed foods such as sweet, fatty and fast food. Also to be avoided is liver and any foods fortified with Vitamin A. Liver contains high levels of Vitamin A, which can be toxic. Organisations such as the British Nutrition Foundation can give you more advice about following a healthy diet. You can phone them on 020 7404 6504 or visit the website at for more information.

Food Preparation And Hygiene

Good hygiene in food preparation will help prevent infections from bacteria such as salmonella and listeria, and it is easy to achieve. All you have to do is follow a few basic rules.

  1. If you work on a farm where there are sheep, you must take extra care because sheep faeces also carry harmful organisms. You should be particularly careful at lambing time.
  2. Always wash your hands after visiting the lavatory or disposing of cat or dog faeces. Wear gloves when gardening.
  3. Wash hands, cooking utensils and surfaces after preparing raw meat.
  4. Make sure that eggs and meat are well cooked before consumption; likewise, ready-to-eat meals and TV dinners.
  5. Thoroughly wash vegetables, fruit and salads before eating.
  6. Avoid pate, ripened soft and blue veined cheeses.
  7. Don't drink unpasteurised milk (cow, sheep or goat).
  8. Avoid raw shellfish such as oysters, prawns, mussels and crabs.

Peanut Allergy

For most people, peanuts are a useful and nutritious food. However, peanuts can cause a dangerous allergic reaction in a few children.

Some experts feel that if a child is at risk of peanut allergy, this problem may start to develop during pregnancy. Your baby may be at risk of peanut allergy if you, your baby's father or your baby's siblings suffer from asthma, eczema, hay fever or other allergies. If you fit into any of these groups, it is recommended that you avoid peanuts, or peanut products, during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. There is no need to avoid peanuts if your baby is not at risk of peanut allergy. Ask your GP or midwife if you have any concerns about this.


Caffeine is a stimulant, which speeds up the working of your body. However, during pregnancy and for about a month after the birth, your body metabolises (uses) caffeine more slowly. Some research suggests a high intake of caffeine may be harmful to your baby but these risks are largely unproven. However, experts recommend that pregnant women (and women planning a pregnancy) should avoid too much caffeine, limiting their intake to 200mg a day - this is roughly equivalent to two mugs of instant coffee, four cups of tea or four cans of cola.

Travel During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, travelling can be especially tiring and it is a good idea to plan your journey carefully to avoid unnecessary stress.

  • Break car journeys every two hours and take a short walk.
  • Make sure your seat belt fits properly, under rather than across your bump.
  • You may need a cushion for the small of your back to give you extra support while driving.
  • Place your seat as far back as you comfortably can to drive.
  • If sitting in the passenger seat, move the seat as far back as possible.
  • Wear loose comfortable clothes and flat shoes to drive in.
  • Pack healthy snacks, so that you can eat little and often to keep your blood sugar level.
  • Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration and reduce swelling.

Airlines usually accept pregnant women as passengers up to 28 weeks but then ask for a note from your doctor stating that you are fit to fly. After 36 weeks, you will not usually be allowed to fly. If you are planning a holiday while you are pregnant, remember to check if any vaccinations are needed for the country you want to visit.

Many vaccinations are not recommended during pregnancy, so double check before you book. Check out water supplies and hygiene levels in your destination country and remember to pack a first aid kit. For more information, talk with your midwife, practice nurse or contact a specialist travel centre.

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