Most pregnant people can continue their everyday activities and only make minor lifestyle changes. A person typically needs to avoid alcohol, smoking, and certain foods and activities that may potentially harm the developing fetus.

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This article discusses 13 things a person should avoid while pregnant and explains why these can be problematic:

When a pregnant person drinks alcohol, the alcohol crosses the placenta and can affect the fetus. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may cause fetal alcohol syndrome, which is a spectrum of conditions that may lead to the following health issues:

  • physical abnormalities
  • intellectual disabilities
  • behavioral problems
  • seizures
  • poor growth
  • developmental delays
  • reduced coordination and fine motor skills

Researchers are unsure how much alcohol, if any, is safe to consume during pregnancy, so most doctors recommend that pregnant people avoid alcohol completely.

It is common for pregnant people to avoid certain foods during pregnancy, either due to a change in their sense of smell or because the food makes them feel ill.

However, there are some foods that all pregnant people should avoid eating. These include:

  • Lunch meat, deli salads: Deli meats and foods, such as premade chicken salad may contain listeria. Listeria is a bacteria that can cross the placenta and may be deadly for the fetus.
  • Unwashed produce: Unwashed fruit or vegetables can also infect a person with listeria. It can also contain a parasite called toxoplasma, which is dangerous for a pregnant person and their fetus.
  • Unpasteurized juice and dairy: As with deli meats, unpasteurized dairy products and juices can contain listeria and other bacteria that may cause food poisoning.
  • Some soft cheeses: Certain soft cheeses may contain unpasteurized dairy, particularly imported soft cheeses such as brie, feta, and queso blanco.
  • Fish high in mercury: Swordfish, shark, and mackerel are among the fish that contain high levels of mercury. Research shows that exposing the fetus to mercury may cause brain damage or hearing and vision problems.
  • Raw meat and fish: Raw meat and fish, including sushi and raw oysters, can contain both salmonella and toxoplasmosis. Expectant people have an increased risk of getting a foodborne illness from these pathogens. A foodborne illness may cause dehydration, fever, and intrauterine sepsis, which is a blood infection that can be deadly to the fetus.
  • Raw eggs: Raw eggs can also contain salmonella. Pregnant people should avoid any foods that may contain raw eggs, such as unbaked cookie dough or homemade caesar salad dressing.

In the same way as alcohol, caffeine can cross the placenta and affect the fetus.

While much of the data regarding pregnancy and caffeine consumption is inconclusive, research suggests that it is best to limit the intake of caffeine to 300 milligrams (mg) per day.

Some experts believe that quantities greater than this can be harmful to the fetus and may increase the risk of pregnancy loss and low birth weight.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant people consume no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day. This amounts to about 1.5 cups of coffee per day.

While relaxing in hot water may sound like an effective way to ease pregnancy discomfort, experts recommend avoiding hot tubs and saunas.

ACOG explains that hot tubs can cause hyperthermia, or abnormally high body temperature, which may lead to congenital abnormalities. This is predominantly a risk in the first trimester but may cause problems later in pregnancy as well.

Additional activities that may cause the body temperature to rise too high include:

  • hot yoga or pilates
  • sunbathing for too long
  • exposure to extreme heat
  • strenuous exercise
  • dehydration

ACOG also recommends that pregnant people avoid contact sports such as football or boxing.

Contact sports increase the risk of placental abruption, which is the premature separation of the placenta from the uterine wall. Placental abruption is a severe condition that can cause preterm birth, pregnancy loss, or stillbirth.

Pregnant people are also more prone to injury as hormonal changes in the body cause the ligaments to become looser.

After the first trimester, pregnant people should avoid any activity that carries the risk of falling. This includes skiing, ice-skating, and rock climbing.

During pregnancy, the center of gravity shifts as the belly expands, so even a minor fall may result in injuries.

Many amusement parks also do not allow pregnant people on some rides, including roller coasters or any rides that may start or stop suddenly.

The jarring motion of these rides can also cause placental abruption. It can also make morning sickness worse by causing motion sickness.

Pregnant people should avoid changing their litter box. Cleaning dirty litter boxes can put a person at risk of toxoplasmosis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if a pregnant person passes toxoplasmosis to the fetus, the baby may develop severe symptoms, including:

  • blindness
  • intellectual disabilities
  • brain damage
  • eye damage

Pregnant people should avoid heavy lifting. For some pregnant people, lifting heavy objects can increase the risk of:

  • pulled muscles
  • hernias
  • low birth weight
  • preterm labor

Smoking cigarettes during pregnancy can cause harm to both the pregnant person and the fetus. Aside from an increased risk of heart disease and lung cancer, smoking when pregnant can also cause the following problems during and after pregnancy:

  • premature birth
  • congenital abnormalities, such as cleft lip or cleft palate
  • sudden infant death syndrome
  • issues with the placenta
  • Increased risk for developing blood clots

Pregnant people should stop smoking as soon as they know they are pregnant and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. A person who is struggling to quit smoking can talk with a doctor about the help and additional resources that are available.

While illegal substance use is always dangerous, it can be even more harmful during pregnancy.

Using illegal substances or certain prescription drugs can cause a newborn to go through neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). A baby with NAS will go through substance withdrawal at birth.

Additionally, substance use can increase the risk of stillbirth, pregnancy loss, and congenital abnormalities.

Pregnant people should avoid some over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications, as these can harm the fetus.

Doctors recommend avoiding the following medications:

  • ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • most herbal remedies
  • ACE inhibitors
  • some cold medications during the first trimester
  • cold and flu medications that contain specific ingredients
  • some acne medications

A doctor or pharmacist can provide advice on which medications are safe to use and can often recommend alternatives if a person can no longer take their regular medications.

Doctors recommend that most pregnant people exercise. A pregnant person should first consult with a doctor to ensure there is no other health issue that might require them to limit exercise.

If a doctor gives the green light, a pregnant person should aim to engage in moderate exercise for at least 20-30 minutes a day on most days of the week.

There may be certain exercises not suitable during pregnancy, but this may vary from person to person. A doctor can provide the best guidance on what kind of exercise is best for each individual.

Generally, however, people should avoid lying on their backs after the first trimester and take care around exercises that can cause them to lose their balance, trip, or fall.

Pregnant people can carry on with most of their typical activities as long as they take some necessary precautions. When in doubt, it is best to check with a doctor about activity restrictions during pregnancy.

Some pregnant people, particularly those with a higher risk of preterm labor or other complications, may need to restrict additional activities that this article does not list.

What fruit or vegetables should I avoid during pregnancy?

A pregnant person should avoid any unwashed fruit or vegetables. In addition, a person should avoid eating any raw sprouts like alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean, as well as avoid drinking any fresh-squeezed, unpasteurized juices.

What cosmetic products should I avoid during pregnancy?

A person should avoid anything that contains phthalates, which may cause developmental problems in a fetus. These are chemicals commonly found in plastic but also in many skin care products. A pregnant person should try to avoid contact with plastic packaging or containers, as well as any fragranced cosmetics, which are likely to contain a higher amount. Choosing natural cosmetics is a safe choice during pregnancy.

What herbs should I avoid during pregnancy?

There are a number of herbs that a pregnant person should avoid ingesting due to potential adverse effects on the fetus. Examples include juniper berry, devil’s claw, ginseng, and aloe vera. In addition, a pregnant person should avoid aromatherapy with essential oils derived from certain herbs. This includes sage, wormwood, mugwort, and others.