Dear Mr. Dad: I’m pregnant, and it seems that the more my husband and I read, the more confusing the whole thing gets. One “expert” says that I should stay away from any alcohol. Another says it’s OK. One says sushi could be deadly, someone else says it’s not. One says I should be careful not to put on too much weight, while another says it’s more dangerous to put on too little. And this goes on and on. Do you have any suggestions for how to filter out the myths from reality?
A: The amount of pregnancy-related information out there is staggering. And, as you’ve discovered, everyone seems to have an opinion on what’s good, bad, healthy or dangerous. Unfortunately, as you’ve also discovered, it’s really hard to figure out who’s right and who’s completely full of it. Fortunately, there are a few resources that can help.
The one I’d recommend especially for your husband (but for you too) is my book “The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be.” I’ve spent a lot of time digging through the research and have tried to debunk as many myths as possible.
The second resource is “Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong – and What You Really Need to Know,” by Emily Oster. Oster is an economist, not an MD. The reason that’s important is that economists tend to be obsessed with analyzing data, and that’s exactly what she did.
I had a chance to interview Oster, and here are a few interesting tidbits from her research.
A little bit of alcohol is OK. The emphasis here is on “a little bit.” In the first trimester, one or two drinks per week should be OK. In the second and third trimesters, up to one drink per day is OK. However, drink slowly, and never binge. Because this flies directly in the face of conventional wisdom, I recommend that you talk with your OB before you start raising your glass.
Caffeine in moderation is fine – as long as you have the equivalent of four cups of coffee or less. Women who drink more than five cups of caffeinated coffee per day have a higher miscarriage rate than those who consume less caffeine.
Do not smoke while you’re pregnant. At all. Women who smoke are more likely to be anemic, suffer from pregnancy-related high blood pressure, and give birth prematurely or have a stillborn or low birth weight baby.
Sushi is fine. You can avoid most foodborne health risks by staying away from rare or raw beef and poultry, carefully washing fruits and vegetables, and avoiding raw-milk cheeses and deli meats.
When it comes to weight gain, worry (if you really have to) more about not putting on enough than about putting on too much. Generally speaking, the more weight you gain, the bigger your baby; the less you gain, the smaller the baby. While infants face some health risks if they’re born too large or too small, the risks to the too-small babies is greater.
Don’t worry about dyeing your hair or changing your cat’s litter box. Digging around in your garden, though (which outside cats consider to be a giant litter box), could be a problem. Wearing gloves, washing your hands, and keeping your fingers away from your face should reduce most risks.
The bottom line is that while there are definitely some reasons to be cautious during pregnancy, one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your baby is to try to relax.