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Pregnancy FAQs

Q: Why should I take folic acid when planning to get pregnant?

A: Folic acid has been shown to lower the risk of neural tube defects like spina bifida and is essential for the growth and development of your baby. According to Motherisk, a research program providing information to pregnant women and new moms on staying safe, these defects occur within 25 to 29 days after you become pregnant. For optimal prevention, it’s wise to start taking folic acid while planning for and in the early stages of your pregnancy.

Q: Can’t I just eat a healthy diet to get my daily intake of folic acid?

A: Motherisk says that if you are generally healthy, a diet rich in folic acid and a multivitamin that contains 0.4 to 1mg of folic acid should suffice. For the former, try eating more grains, dark green vegetables, liver and beans. For the latter, take a prenatal multivitamin two to three months before conception, during pregnancy and while you’re breastfeeding. However, if you have health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity or a family history of neural tube defects, your daily intake should be 5mg of folic acid at least three months before conception and for up to 12 weeks post conception. After that, you can take the regular multivitamin with folic acid or a prenatal vitamin.

Q: Can I paint the baby’s nursery while pregnant?

A: If painting the nursery is on your to-do list, Motherisk suggests looking for water-based paints (also known as acrylic emulsions) and avoiding oil-based paints that contain organic solvents, which have been shown to increase the risk of birth defects. Although short-term exposure to solvent-based paints is unlikely to cause harm, it’s better to err on the safe side. If you are painting the nursery, make sure the room is well ventilated; wear work clothes, gloves, goggles; and, avoid eating and drinking near the open paint containers.

Q: I was unaware that I was pregnant and had a chest X-ray done during my first trimester. Will this cause any harm to my baby?

A: There are a lot of misconceptions about the risk associated with pregnancy and X-rays. It all depends on what type of X-ray you are having and exactly how much radiation you will be exposed to. A chest X-ray exposes you in one moment to the same amount of radiation you would absorb over the course of 10 days while going about your regular activities. (Radiation is all around us.) It’s wise to avoid X-rays if you can, and always let your doctor know you’re pregnant.

Q: Are there medications I can take during my pregnancy that are safe?

A: Motherisk says that generally the safest medications are the ones that will work best for you, have the least number of side effects and have not been shown to cause harm to unborn babies. Also consider that the benefit of taking certain medications should always outweigh the potential risk. If you have a urinary tract infection, for example, leaving this untreated can lead to complications like increased risk of preterm delivery. There are antibiotics that can be taken during pregnancy and you should talk to your doctor for more information. No matter what ails you, always speak with your doctor when feeling ill and before taking any medications during pregnancy.

Q: Are there any foods that I should avoid while I am pregnant?

A: The best way to steer clear of bacteria carried in foods is to heat up or cook your meals and snacks. That being said, improved standards and surveillance have reduced the amount of contaminated foods in grocery stores. This means you don’t necessarily have to avoid foods associated with Listeria, like deli meats and soft cheeses, or soft-cooked eggs, which have been linked to Salmonella. Even sushi and sashimi can be safe depending on the source. When it comes to seafood, you should choose options that are low-mercury, like salmon, canned light tuna, and shrimp, as opposed to high-mercury fish like fresh tuna. Above all, it’s best to make sure your food is obtained from a reputable retailer; stored, handled and cooked properly; and eaten within a couple of days after purchasing.

Q: How much weight can I expect to gain during pregnancy?

A: It’s recommended that your caloric intake during pregnancy increase by 100 calories per day in the first trimester, and 300 calories per day thereafter. This allows you to achieve the normal weight gain associated with pregnancy. On average, you will most likely gain 1 lb a week with an overall increase of 25 to 30 lbs.

Q: Can I still exercise while pregnant?

A: Staying active during pregnancy can help you prepare for childbirth, but it’s important to find exercises that won’t cause harm to you or your baby. Running and weight training, for example, are fine in the beginning, but may have to be modified or cut out of your routine as your body changes. It’s also wise to avoid exercises that can result in slips or falls, such as cycling or rollerblading, and opt for more low-resistance options like walking, light jogging, swimming, yoga and low-impact aerobics. You should speak to your doctor before starting an exercise routine, as intensity and frequency will depend on several individual factors including your level of fitness pre-pregnancy or any complications you’ve been experiencing throughout.

Q: What are safe treatments for side effects like leg cramps, nausea, heartburn and hemorrhoids during pregnancy?

A: Pregnancy certainly does affect your body in many ways. When it comes to nausea, you need to pinpoint triggers, which can be anything from certain smells to getting overheated, and avoid them. An empty stomach can also aggravate nausea, so eat as soon as you feel hungry and try high-carbohydrate, low-fat meals. Get around another common digestive issue—heartburn—by eating smaller, more frequent meals and avoiding fried foods, carbonated drinks, citrus fruits or juices and spicy foods. To help manage leg cramps try stretching your calf muscles and taking a magnesium supplement before bed, staying active and hydrated as well as wearing comfortable, supportive footwear. Lastly, hemorrhoids are a common pregnancy complaint. Treat your discomfort by soaking in warm water, applying ice to relieve swelling and avoiding sitting for long periods of time. Talk to your Pharmacist to find an over-the-counter hemorrhoid remedy that’s safe to use during pregnancy.

Visit motherisk.org for more information on keeping safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Copyright © 2011 The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). All rights reserved. The Information on this web page is provided for educational information purposes only. It is not designed or intended to constitute medical advice or to be used for diagnosis or to replace your physician. Consult your physician to determine the appropriateness of the Information for your specific situation and before making any decision regarding treatment and/or medication. The Information is believed to be reliable when posted. However, neither Motherisk, The Hospital for Sick Children nor Shoppers Drug Mart guarantee or warrant the quality, accuracy, completeness, timeliness, appropriateness or suitability of the Information provided. Reference to or mention of specific products or services do not constitute an endorsement by Motherisk , The Hospital for Sick Children or Shoppers Drug Mart.