Pregnancy – Common Questions (FAQ)

Pregnancy often bring with it lots of questions about the safety of day to day activities for mom and baby.

Is it safe to dye my hair or use hair spray or other hair products?

Exposure to chemicals from hair dyes or hair products are unlikely to cause harm to the unborn baby due to their very limited absorption. Pregnant women who have three to four chemical hair treatments per pregnancy are not expected to be at an increased risk for adverse effects on the unborn child.

Can I have my nails done when pregnant?

Current literature cannot confirm or exclude the risk for hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) transmission in nail salons and barbershops. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there have been no reported cases. The risk of hepatitis in nail salons cannot be confirmed according to the literature. However, the Public Health Agency of Canada recommends sterilization of all tools prior to use.

Is it safer to use tanning products or lie in the sun when pregnant?

Self-tanning lotions have minimal absorption through the skin. However, they may be irritating to a pregnant woman’s sensitive skin. A pregnant woman’s skin, especially the skin of her face, is more sensitive to the effects of sun exposure. Sunlight may increase hyper pigmentation (or pregnancy mask) for some pregnant women.

  • Avoid self-tanning lotions if they are irritating.
  • Practice safe sun protection. Avoid sun exposure between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., wear long clothing and a hat, and regularly apply sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 to the skin and lips.

Should I apply insect repellents?

Mosquito and tick bites may negatively affect the outcome of a woman’s pregnancy by transmitting diseases such as West Nile virus (WNV) and Zika virus which may be harmful to an unborn baby.

Most insect repellents contain DEET, a chemical compound whose concentration varies from product to product. Although DEET is recognized as being of low toxicity, limited information is currently available as to its use during pregnancy.  The benefits of applying DEET during pregnancy may outweigh the risks of contracting a disease such as West Nile virus.

To decrease exposure insect repellent:

  • Reduce exposure to insect and tick bites by wearing long clothing and applying the insect repellent to clothing instead of directly on the skin.
  • Use the lowest concentration to provide protection for the time spent outdoors.

Citronella or lavender oil-based products have not been proven effective alternatives to DEET-based insect repellents. There is not enough information available regarding the safety of these products during pregnancy.

Are there any risks to me or my unborn baby with using plastic storage containers?

Plastics containing BPA and phthalates are found in many items used daily. Over time, these harmful chemicals can leach into the surrounding environment. Neurological and hormonal problems have been associated with exposure to these chemicals by the unborn baby and young children.

Most Canadians are exposed to very low levels of BPA that are not expected to pose a general health risk. The Canadian government has initiated extra precautions such as packaging and import controls to increase protection for those most vulnerable: newborns and infants.

  • Avoid or reduce exposure to items with a recycling symbol #3 because they contain phthalates. Examples include soft plastic toys, bags and backpacks with PVC, shower curtains, and flooring.
  • Avoid or reduce exposure to items with a recycling symbol #7 because they contain BPA. Examples include water bottles, baby bottles, and the lining of food and beverage cans.
  • Use glass food-storage containers as safe alternatives for plastic food-storage containers.

Attempt to keep the home free from dust to reduce exposure to chemicals from deteriorating plastics.

Is it harmful to use cleaning products in my home?

Some cleaning products may contain chemicals that can affect health. To decrease the risks associated with unsafe chemicals in cleaning products:

  • Reduce the use of products containing ammonia, bleach, or turpentine or use these products with caution.
  • Ventilate the area or room when using cleaning products and use the least amount of product as possible.
  • Use products that have been labelled eco, non-toxic, safe, or EcoLogo as safer alternatives.
  • If using a dry cleaning service often, switch to one that does not use solvents.
  • Use vinegar and water or baking soda as safe cleaning-product alternatives.

How can I protect myself from pesticides?

Pesticides are commonly used in and around homes to rid the environment of pests such as insects. They contain chemicals that may negatively affect your unborn baby’s growth and development while you are pregnant. Pesticides can also be found on fruits and vegetables and in insect repellents.

To decrease the risks associated with pesticides:

  • Prevent pest infestations by:
    • Clearing the home of food waste.
    • Sealing cracks in homes.
    • Fixing leaks that can lead to moisture in the home.
  • Avoid entering a pesticide-treated area for the length of time indicated on the pesticide label concerning pregnant women. If the label is unavailable, wait 24 hours before entering the pesticide-treated area.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables prior to consumption.
  • Consume organic food where possible.

Are there any safety concerns when caring for my pet?

Toxoplasmosis and LCMV (Lymphocytic choriomeningitis) are diseases that may cause birth defects or miscarriage. A pregnant woman may be exposed to toxoplasmosis when exposed to soiled cat litter and LCMV when exposed to rodent droppings.

To decrease the potential risks associated with caring for pets:

  • Avoid caring for soiled cat litter. If unable to avoid, use gloves when handling soiled cat litter or wash hands thoroughly.
  • To reduce the risk of infection cat litter boxes should be cleaned daily.
  • Avoid contact with wild or pet rodents, such as pet mice and guinea pigs.
  • Seek medical attention if bitten by an animal.

What forms of travel are considered safe during pregnancy?

While many forms of travel are considered safe during pregnancy, pregnant women are encouraged to speak with their health care provider about engaging activities like boating, snowmobiling and using ATV’s.

Cars

While travelling in a car pregnant women should:

  • Wear a three-point seatbelt (at hips and shoulder) positioned correctly without slack, at every stage of pregnancy.
  • Position the lap belt at the pelvis under the belly.
  • Position the shoulder belt at the collar bone, not on the neck.

Turning off the airbag is not recommended for pregnant women. Studies have shown that the protection provided by the airbag, in addition to the protection provided by a seatbelt, is maintained during pregnancy. Transport Canada recommends that all people who are over the age of 13, short, tall, or pregnant are safer travelling with an airbag than without one.

Pregnant women should:

  • Maintain at least 25 cm between their sternum and the centre of the steering wheel (or the dashboard if the woman is not driving).
  • Move the seat back to maximize the distance between herself and the steering wheel as her abdomen grows.

Planes

The Government of Canada states that air travel is considered safest from the 18th to the 24th week of pregnancy. Airlines usually allow pregnant women to travel up to one month before their due date. Specific airlines may have restrictions. Check with the airline prior to making travel arrangements.

Airport metal detectors and body scanners do not pose a risk to the pregnant woman or her unborn baby.

To minimize discomfort and risks of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) during air travel:

  • Consult your health care provider prior to making travel plans.
  • Stand up and move around about once every one to two hours.
  • Stretch your legs while seated.
  • Select an aisle seat if possible.
  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes.
  • Consult a health care provider about the need to wear compression stockings.
  • Check with the airline regarding the rules for pregnant passengers.

When planning international travel:

  • Check with your health care provider prior to making travel plans to an international destination.
  • Visit a travel health clinic if recommended by your health care provider.
  • Avoid live vaccines (e.g., measles, mumps and rubella) unless the benefits outweigh the risks; however, inactivated vaccines are considered safe (e.g., hepatitis B).
  • If possible, avoid travel to areas where malaria and Zika virus transmission occurs.
  • Obtain travel/health insurance appropriate for travel plans and pregnancy stage.
  • Carry a letter stating the due date for immigration or airline purposes.

Is it safe to get in a hot tub or do hot yoga?

A pregnant woman’s increased body temperature increases the risk of heat stroke and hyperthermia. Hyperthermia in pregnancy increases the risk of neural tube defects for the unborn baby. The neural tube forms at 4- 6 weeks of pregnancy. The neural tube later becomes the spinal cord, spine brain and skull.

During pregnancy avoid:

  • Practicing Bikram (hot) yoga
  • Sitting in a hot tub
  • Exercising in very hot weather or humid environments

When exercising indoors use a cooling fan to prevent overheating.

Source: Prenatal Education Key Messages for Ontario, Supporting Evidence. Accessed May 13, 2020

Is tooth whitening safe during pregnancy?

Optimal oral health is essential during pregnancy. Let your dental professional know if you are pregnant so that your oral care can be provided safely and effectively.

Questions have been raised about the safety of tooth whitening treatments during pregnancy. More research is needed to establish if these treatments are safe during pregnancy. In the absence of such evidence, it is recommended that tooth whitening be deferred during pregnancy.

Source: Canadian Dental Association https://www.cda-adc.ca/en/about/position_statements/toothbleaching/. Accessed Feb., 2019

Can a heating pad be used to relieve the aches and pains of pregnancy?

A heating pad is a good option for temporary relief if you are dealing with pain in your back or pelvis or muscle cramps in your legs. Unlike a hot tub or a sauna, using a heating pad on isolated parts of your body will not raise your core body temperature when used correctly. For safe use during pregnancy:

  • Do not apply the heating pad directly on your belly.
  • Apply heat for 20 minutes or less
  • Use the lowest setting that still makes you feel better.
  • Do not sleep with your heating pad; use a hot water bottle or microwaveable heat pack instead.
  • A warm bath is another great option.

Can I still do my gardening?

Gardening is a wonderful hobby during pregnancy when done with safety in mind. There can be bacteria and parasites in the soil that may be harmful to your unborn baby, such as toxoplasmosis. Pesticides and herbicides are potent and often damaging to your health, so garden organically. Other safety tips:

  • Always wear gloves in the garden
  • Water your garden before you disturb the soil to lessen the chance of inhaling soil particles
  • Wash your hands thoroughly when you are done, and wash right up to your elbows
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose, mouth, or face until you wash your hands
  • Do not eat your homegrown fruits and vegetables until they are washed

Source : Debbie L Prince  and Linda R Vollmer Safety in Pregnancy. Obstetrics and Gynecology Forum, Volume 27 Number 1, Jan 2017, p. 19 – 24

Services related to this information:

Women’s Health, Eastern Health

Public Health Nursing offices, Eastern Health

811 HealthLine (Newfoundland & Labrador) – Call 811 or 1-888-709-2929 / TTY 1-888-709-3555

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Last updated: 2020-07-31