Pregnancy myths

There are many misconceptions around what you can and can’t do in pregnancy. We sort out the facts from the myths. By Kirsten Braun

pregnant woman hiking

I need to get rid of my cat because of toxoplasmosis

False

Toxoplasmosis is an illness caused by a parasite which can be found in undercooked or raw meat, raw eggs, cat faeces, and soil or cat litter contaminated with infected cat faeces. A woman who acquires toxoplasmosis during pregnancy can pass the infection on to her baby, which may result in miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects. Thankfully, contracting toxoplasmosis during pregnancy from the family cat, is not that common for a number of reasons. Firstly, for toxoplasmosis to be a danger in pregnancy, the woman must be infected with the parasite for the first time in her life during the pregnancy. Many women have immunity from the parasite due to being infected previously. Similarly, cats develop immunity to the parasite and, therefore, will usually only be infectious when they are first infected, generally for about two weeks. In addition, the parasite must be ingested, making it more likely that a woman would contract toxoplasmosis from eating uncooked or raw meat than from a cat-related source.

If women take a few basic precautions during their pregnancy, the family cat can happily stay in the home. If possible, women should pass on the duty of cleaning out the cat’s litter tray to another member of the family. If this isn’t possible, they should wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly afterwards. Changing the litter tray daily is important as the parasite only becomes infective after one to five days. Cats should be kept away from food preparation areas in the kitchen. Other ways to reduce the risk of toxoplasmosis are to avoid eating raw or undercooked meat, to wear gloves when gardening and to thoroughly wash hands after handling raw meat, cat litter or soil.

While immunity testing for toxoplasmosis is not routinely carried out in pregnancy, a test is available.

I can’t dye my hair

False

While hair dye does contain chemicals, there are no reports of the amounts used in hair dye causing problems in human pregnancies. Very little hair dye is actually absorbed into your system when you dye your hair. If women still have concerns there are a number of steps they can take to put their mind at ease. Women can wait until the second trimester, when the risks of chemical substances to the baby are lower. Women can also consider streaking or highlighting their hair instead of a full hair dye as the chemicals in this process have little or no contact with the scalp. If women colour their own hair they should wear the gloves provided, apply the dye in a well-ventilated space, only leave the dye on as long as necessary and rinse the scalp thoroughly at the end.

While hair dye is safe to use during pregnancy, women sometimes find their skin and scalp reacts differently during pregnancy. Therefore, women should tell their hairdresser they are pregnant as the hairdresser may first wish to carry out a skin patch test to ensure they are not going to have an allergic reaction to the hair dye. If women are dyeing their hair at home they should also carry out any skin patch tests recommended by the hair dye manufacturer.

I should skip my regular Pap smear

False – Ok but with some restrictions

The National Cervical Screening Program guidelines state that women who are due or overdue for a Pap smear should be offered one. For some women, pregnancy might be one of the few times they seek medical care and so it can be a good opportunity to have a Pap smear at this time. The guidelines explain that a woman can be safely screened at any time during pregnancy, provided the correct sampling equipment is used; a broom type brush rather than an endocervical brush. The use of an endocervical brush can lead to spotting, which can be distressing to women and so it is not recommended.

In reality, however, many doctors tell women to wait until after the birth of their baby to have a Pap smear, particularly if they have had regular Pap smears. From 1 December the Pap smear test will be replaced by an HPV test. The same advice will apply for the HPV test.

I can’t travel by plane

Maybe

Airlines do have flying restrictions for pregnant women. The restrictions are based on: how advanced the pregnancy is, whether the pregnancy is single or multiple, flight length, and existing pregnancy complications. Policies differ between airlines so it is important to check with the particular airline of choice. Many airlines require a certificate or letter from a registered medical practitioner/midwife if you are 28 weeks or more pregnant. The certificate or letter confirms the estimated date of delivery and that there are no complications with the pregnancy.

Using Qantas as an example, if the flight is less than four hours a woman with no complications can travel up to the end of week 40 (single pregnancy) or the end of week 36 (multiple pregnancy). If the flight is four hours or more, a woman with no complications can travel up to the end of week 36 (single pregnancy) or the end of week 32 (multiple pregnancy).

Pregnant women have a higher risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) while flying. Women can reduce their risk by drinking plenty of water during the flight, using foot rests if available and doing in-flight exercises. Compression stockings may be recommended for longer flights.

I should stop exercising

False – Ok but with some restrictions

Women who do not have any pregnancy complications can continue to exercise during their pregnancy. There are many benefits to staying fit during pregnancy including: maintaining a healthy pregnancy weight, reduced risk of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, reduced back and pelvic pain, improved mental and emotional health, fewer delivery complications, and a quicker return to pre-baby weight.

For previously active women, moderate physical activity three to four times a week can be continued, until it becomes uncomfortable to do so. Suitable activities include brisk walking, running, cycling (stationary bike), swimming, aerobics, pregnancy specific exercise classes and water-based classes. Women should also include muscle strengthening exercises twice a week.

Women who were inactive prior to pregnancy are also encouraged to exercise during pregnancy, after firstly consulting with their doctor. These women can start low intensity exercise such as walking and swimming and gradually build up the length of time.

Pregnant women do need to be aware of their pelvic floor as some exercises can place too much pressure and cause damage. For more information on pelvic floor safe exercises, women can refer to: www.pelvicfloorfirst.org.au. Women are encouraged to do pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy three to four times a week.

Women should avoid contact or potential contact sports, those with a risk of falling, those that require extreme balance and agility (as the normal centre of gravity changes) and those carried out in the supine position (e.g., some yoga positions). Women should also avoid getting overheated and stop exercising if they experience abdominal or pelvic pain, severe headaches, dizziness, excessive shortage of breath, chest pain, uterine contractions, calf pain/swelling, vaginal bleeding or leakage of fluid. If women are unsure about whether an activity is safe during pregnancy, they should ask their doctor.

I need to increase my intake of calcium

Maybe

The recommended dietary intake (RDI) of calcium per day for pregnant women is
1,300 milligrams (mg) for those aged 14-18 years and 1,000 mg for those aged 19-50 years. This RDI is the same for non-pregnant women. It was once thought that women needed to increase their calcium intake during pregnancy but this is no longer recommended for most women. If a pregnant woman’s current calcium intake is very low (i.e., if a woman avoids dairy and does not consume alternative high calcium foods), she should take a calcium supplement of at least 1,000 mg per day.

Last updated: June 2017

©Women's Health Queensland Wide Inc. This article was written by Kirsten Braun and reviewed by the Women's Health Queensland Wide editorial committee. It was published in Health Journey 2017 Issue 2.

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