Whether it’s your first pregnancy or your fifth, it’s nearly impossible to get a clear handle on the rules of which activities, foods, and drinks to avoid when pregnant. While there are countless do’s and don’ts swirling around the prego-sphere counseling you on what you should and shouldn’t do during your nine months of gestation, the information isn’t always clear. Some docs okay certain things, while others don’t.
MYTH: Pregnant women shouldn’t take baths.
TRUTH: Lori Albright, a certified nurse-midwife at The Midwife Center for Birth and Women’s Health in Pittsburgh, says a warm bath is a wonderful way for anyone to relax—pregnant or not. “The danger is when the water temperature is too hot,” she notes. “In the first trimester, very hot water can cause developmental problems in the fetus, and later in pregnancy, it can cause preterm labor.”
In general, a pregnant woman should avoid anything that raises her body temperature above 102 or 103 degrees, whether it’s hot baths, fevers, or Jacuzzis. “Also, if a pregnant woman is leaking fluid or bleeding, she should avoid bathing altogether and consult her care provider,” Albright says. Hot tubs, steam rooms, and saunas, however, are all off-limits.
MYTH: Avoid caffeine.
TRUTH: Good news: There’s no need to give up Starbucks for the next nine months. According to Dr. K.B. Lim, an ob-gyn at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., there is no proof that small amounts of caffeine—which means one cup of coffee or tea a day—adversely affect a normal pregnancy. However, if you are having a complicated pregnancy, you may want to limit your caffeine intake. If you have questions or concerns about how much caffeine is okay for you and your particular situation, check with your doctor to be sure.
MYTH: You must sleep on your left side.
TRUTH: Often, pregnant women are told that they must only sleep on their left side. However, it’s not necessary to change your sleep habits. “While some women who sleep on their backs can get dizzy or sweaty from too much pressure put on the vena cava, during a normal pregnancy, sleeping on the right side is just as good as the left,” says Trish Woollcott, a certified nurse-midwife in Chicago.
However, if you have high blood pressure, if your kidneys aren’t functioning properly, or if the baby isn’t developing well, sleeping on the left side is slightly better than the right, she says. Bottom line: Whichever way you can sleep comfortably at night, just do it.
MTYH: It’s okay to have an occasional drink.
TRUTH: Despite any disapproving looks they may receive, some pregnant women still have an occasional glass of wine. Experts, however, advise that you think before you drink. “No safe level of alcohol consumption has been established—but since there is no safe level, you and your doctor need to decide,” says Siobhan M. Dolan, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y. Dr. Dolan recommends excluding all alcohol, especially during the first trimester, when so much of the baby’s nervous system is being formed.
MYTH: Don’t color your hair.
TRUTH: Most research, although limited, does show that it is safe to color your hair while pregnant, as the chemicals in permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes are not highly toxic. While some studies have shown that very high doses of the chemicals in hair dyes may cause harm, it would take using a massive application of hair dye—we’re talking using enough for a thousand women—to cause any harm.
If you’re still concerned and would prefer to stay on the utmost safe side, wait to dye your hair until after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when the risk of chemical substances—hair dye or otherwise—harming the baby is much lower. If you’re coloring your hair yourself, wear gloves, leave the dye on for the minimum time, and work in a well-ventilated room.
As highlighting your hair doesn’t involve the dye touching your skin and reaching your bloodstream, it poses less of a risk. Of course, semipermanent pure vegetable dyes, such as henna, are a completely natural, safe alternative.
MYTH: Steer clear of soft cheese.
TRUTH: In the past, pregnant women were told to avoid soft cheeses like brie, camembert, and gorgonzola altogether during pregnancy. These days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it’s safe to eat soft cheese as long as it has a label clearly stating that it’s made from pasteurized milk.
Raw milk and any cheeses or other dairy products made from unpasteurized milk can carry disease-causing organisms, including the potentially deadly bacterium listeria. While raw-milk soft cheeses are thought to be the Martha Stewarts of hosts for listeria, the pasteurization process kills the bacterium and other potentially harmful organisms.
What’s 100 percent safe? As most dairy products made in the U.S. are pasteurized, your local grocery store has a whole range of pregnancy-safe dairy options. Cottage cheese, ricotta, cream cheese, processed cheeses like American, and hard cheeses such as cheddar and Parmesan are fine, as are cultured dairy products like yogurt and buttermilk. Regardless, before you indulge, check the label and make sure that it’s been made with pasteurized milk.