You probably know how you’ll be voting next month when the United States hits the polls to elect a new president, but you might be finding that you’re a little more conservative or liberal than you had originally thought—and surprisingly, it’s got nothing to do with politics.
When you’re expecting, you’ll no doubt come up against the big question: Are you a liberal or conservative mom-to-be? Of course, even though the presidential election looms, the question has nothing to do with politics–it’s all about pregnancy, and what’s considered safe and what isn’t. Is it really OK to take a decongestant? Do I seriously have to give up my afternoon diet soda?
Pinning down your pregnancy policy can be tough when there are opinions that swing widely in either direction. You don’t want to take a lax attitude too far and endanger your baby, but you shouldn’t cause unnecessary worry by over-scrutinizing either. We’ve compiled expert opinions on some controversial pregnancy issues, from the most prudent to the more permissive, giving you the information you need to make your own educated decisions for a healthy pregnancy.
You’re Liberal if … you indulge in that anniversary glass of champagne.
Some healthcare providers say that it may, be just fine to partake in a little bubbly while you’re pregnant. Ellen Margles, certified nurse midwife and clinical instructor at University Hospital’s MacDonald Women’s Hospital, explains that when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted the original studies that defined the existence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), the studies didn’t determine the lower end of consumption. “We know that the abuse of alcohol—either constant consumption on a daily level or bingeing—causes FAS,” says Margles.
But because no studies have ever been conducted on the effects of an occasional glass of wine and anecdotal evidence doesn’t point to any serious effects, Margles advises her patients to use common sense and their own comfort level.
You’re Conservative if … you don’t even want to consume whatever alcohol is baked into that tiramisu.
“No amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy,” says Dr. Alla Gordina, a pediatrician in East Brunswick, NJ, who specializes in children with FAS and other alcohol-related issues. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agrees with Gordina on her zero alcohol policy.
You’re Liberal if … you’re still toting that Starbucks cup even as you’re shopping for baby gear.
Even though caffeine is a stimulant that raises your heart rate and your baby’s as well, it’s actually not harmful if you stick to drinking it on a “sometimes-only” basis. “[Your] baby’s heart rate will go up anytime yours does, whether you’re exercising, excited or anxious, or having a moderate amount of caffeine,” says Margles. “And that’s OK.” Dr. Paul Tamanaha, an obstetrician in Mesa, AZ, recommends his patients keep to less than three cups of coffee, soda or tea daily, and new guidelines recommend no more than two cups of coffee a day. Artificial sweeteners are considered safe, as well, but avoid energy drinks, which contain unsafe amounts of caffeine and herbal supplements that can be harmful.
You’re Conservative if … you’ve switched to OJ for that early a.m. pick-me-up.
A recent study found that three to five cups of coffee a day could cause miscarriage, so just one cup a day is all that Julie Redfern, registered dietician at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, recommends. While 300 milligrams of caffeine is the most a woman should consume per day when pregnant, in Redfern’s view it’s wise to stay well under that amount. And while soda, including diet soda, is generally perceived as safe during pregnancy, experts recommend sticking to just one a day. Keep in mind, too, that as a diuretic, caffeine is dehydrating.
Fish, Meats & Cheese
You’re Liberal if … you can’t back away from that smoked salmon bagel for breakfast.
Some consider smoked fish, cold cuts or lunch meat and soft cheeses off-limits during prengnacy due to the potential presence of listeria. But because these foods contain very small amounts of listeria compared to soft cheeses,the no-no may not apply so adamantly here—this is especially true if you heat the food thoroughly before eating.
Redfern names five cheeses to be concerned about: feta, brie, camembert, queso blanco (also known as queso fresco) and blue-veined cheeses, such as gorgonzola. But if these cheeses are produced in the United States and are pasteurized (just check the labels), go ahead and eat them, says Margles. Redfern agrees, but recommends cooking them until bubbly, which should kill any bacteria.
Mercury in fish is a valid concern in pregnancy, but a recent study found that the health benefits in fish far outweigh the danger for most people, so there’s no problem with sticking to the recommended 12 ounces a week.
The FDA is generous in its canned tuna recommendation, allowing 6 ounces a week.
You’re Conservative if … you’re convinced that baked chicken is the only safe thing to eat.
“It’s not that common that someone would get listeria from deli meats, but if they do, it can be devastating in a pregnancy,” Redfern says. For that reason, many experts say to avoid them, as well as smoked or cured fish. Redfern also advises steering clear of the five forbidden cheeses in restaurants, where you won’t have access to labels.
If you’re a seafood eater, learn what is in the low-mercury category and limit your servings to 12 ounces a week. The off-limits, high-mercury-containing fish list that Redfern gives her patients contains a few more fish than most lists, including orange roughy and lobster. When it comes to canned tuna, Redfern allows for 3 ounces a week, encouraging women to stick to lower-mercury chunk light. But the Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends avoiding canned tuna altogether when pregnant. Both Margles and Redfern agree: No raw fish while expecting!
You’re Liberal if … you plan to stick with your marathon training right up to your due date.
Exercise is always recommended for healthy women with healthy pregnancies, as it’s beneficial to both mom and baby. “If there’s something you’re good at, like running, biking or playing tennis, and you want to continue, that’s fine. Just do so moderately,” Margles says. Further, expecting women are cautioned to listen to their bodies and not push themselves. “Your body will tell you what’s safe and what isn’t.”
You’re Conservative if … you avoid stairs, lugging groceries and anything else that might put a strain on your baby.
It’s true that pregnant women should avoid any type of exercise that has a high risk of traumatic fall, such as downhill skiing or trampoline jumping, says Tamanaha. Contact sports are also off-limits during pregnancy. Margles emphasizes that women with high-risk pregnancies or other health concerns should always check with their doctor before exercising.
You’re Liberal if … you refuse to suffer silently through that pesky cold or scary skin breakout.
Taken once or twice, most over-the-counter medicines are generally safe, Margles says. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is always safe within the recommended dosages, and ibuprofen (Advil) can be OK during specific stages of pregnancy. Also on the safe side of the medicine cabinet are decongestants.
Skin conditions like acne and the so-called “mask of pregnancy” can be handled with certain medications, as well. There are antibiotics, such as eurythromycin and azithromycin, that can help safely control acne during pregnancy, says Dr. Jonette Keri, assistant professor of clinical dermatology at the University of Miami. Benzoyl peroxide products are generally considered safe, too. Glycolic and lactic acid peels, hydroquinone treatments, laser hair removal and waxing are also all safe during pregnancy, notes Dr. Leslie Baumann, director of cosmetic dermatology at the University of Miami.
You’re Conservative if … you’re still wringing your hands about the Advil you popped before you knew you were pregnant.
Medications are sorted into A, B, C, D and X classifications by the FDA. Those that are safe to use during pregnancy typically fall in the A and B range. Familiarizing yourself with the classifications can help you be aware of what’s OK to take. For colds, Margles says it’s a good idea to read labels since many cold meds are combinations of products: an antihistamine, for example, which isn’t safe during pregnancy, joined with a decongestant, which is fine.
For skin troubles, avoid salicylic acid, as well as prescription retinoids. Baumann even advises against over-the-counter retinoids, since some drugs in the retinoid family are known to cause birth defects. Still, Keri says, “I have a lot of women that don’t want to take anything when pregnant, but if they’re going to have scarring acne, there’s something we can do for them.”
Looking for the bottom line, according to all of these experts? First talk to your doctor, then stay within your comfort zone as you weigh the risks versus benefits of any action. And whether your leanings are more liberal or more conservative, don’t be afraid to trust your judgment—you’ll be counting on it for many mothering years to come!