Congratulations! You’re in the first trimester of your pregnancy.
In the first trimester of pregnancy, your baby is busy developing the brain and the spinal cord.
The organs start to form and the limbs are on their way.
The heart begins beating and can be heard at around 6-8 weeks.
This is crucial development, which is why it’s so important to be mindful of what you do with your body in the first trimester of pregnancy.
When you become pregnant you are bombarded with information – some helpful and some not so much.
Let’s look at some useful information to help you navigate the minefield, and know what to avoid during the first trimester of pregnancy.
What weeks are the highest risk for miscarriage?
The term miscarriage means the loss of the baby at any time up to 20 weeks.
Unfortunately, if a baby loss is going to occur it usually happens within the first 12 weeks.
The risk levels, week by week, are:
- 0-6 weeks: the highest risk is in the first few weeks. Miscarriage this early might seem like a heavy period
- 6-12 weeks: the risk decreases slightly
- 13-20 weeks: the risk decreases slightly again.
If you’re older (35-40) when you fall pregnant, your risk of miscarriage increases.
If your baby’s heartbeat stops after the 20 week mark, we say the baby is stillborn. The loss of a pregnancy or a baby is very life-changing, and it is advisable to seek counselling.
Folic acid or folate – which is better for pregnant women?
We know folic acid is important for pregnancy. But there are several different forms and it’s confusing to know the difference and which is best to take in pregnancy.
Folate is a naturally occurring B9 vitamin, which converts into 5-MTHF as your body processes it. Folic acid is a synthetic form of vitamin B6. It’s chemically made to imitate the natural form of folate.
Folate is necessary for proper development of the baby’s neural tube, which becomes the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord.
An adequate amount of folate helps prevent a major birth defect, spina bifida, from occurring by up to 70%. It is vital you get enough folate during pregnancy.
While we’re talking about supplements, we should also mention Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is made in our skin when we are exposed to sunlight, and is found in foods such as egg yolks, fortified foods and mushrooms.
Vitamin D is vital for your baby’s bone development.
A vitamin D deficiency can also lead to pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes.
When taking any supplementation, make sure you have trustworthy health information, or seek advice from your maternity healthcare provider.
#1: What food can kill a baby in early pregnancy?
In the first trimester of pregnancy, the main concern about food is the risk of you becoming unwell or having too much of a certain nutrient.
Either situation can increase the risk of complications for your developing baby.
Listeriosis is a disease caused by bacteria in certain foods. Listeria can have serious consequences for you and your baby.
To find out more, be sure to read Listeria and Pregnancy – What You Need To Know About Listeria.
Salmonella are also food-borne bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Although not as problematic as listeria, salmonella can potentially affect your baby.
Too much vitamin A can cause complications for you and your baby.
When your body stores excess amount of vitamin A in your liver, it can cause liver problems for you and congenital birth abnormalities in your baby.
To avoid these problems, pregnant women should avoid these foods:
- Raw eggs, or partially cooked eggs
- Raw or undercooked meat
- Organ meats, such as liver (including pate)
- Soft cheeses
- Some types of fish, including sushi and fish high in mercury, such as swordfish
- Raw fruit and vegetables, particularly bean sprouts and prepacked salads
- Hot dogs and deli meats.
This food list isn’t exhaustive, so check with your healthcare provider, doctor or midwife if you’re unsure.
See these links for more information about eating the right foods:
- 5 Yummy, Healthy Foods Every Pregnant Woman Needs To Eat
- Is McDonald’s Safe To Eat While Pregnant?
- 7 Surprisingly Unhealthy Foods To Avoid
#2: What are the fruits to avoid early in pregnancy?
You might think fruit is a healthy food choice, but you should know what to avoid during the first trimester, including these fruits:
- Tamarinds. They are high in vitamin C; an excess can suppress progesterone, increasing the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and damage to your baby
- Papayas. The latex content can start contractions, increase bleeding, and cause miscarriage
- Bananas and peaches. Their high sugar content increases the chance of gestational diabetes
- Watermelons. They are high in sugars, low in fibre, and can cause blood sugar spikes
- Grapes. They are high in pesticides; always choose organic varieties
- Melons. They could contain bacteria; this increases the risk of listeria or salmonella
- Pineapples. They contain an enzyme called bromelain. Tablets with bromelain should be avoided during pregnancy, as this enzyme can break down protein in your body and cause bleeding. Pineapple is unlikely to have this effect as the bromelain is found in the core, not the flesh of the fruit.
#3: What vegetables should be avoided during pregnancy?
All vegetables need to be washed before being consumed.
Any bacteria that might be present bring an increased risk of listeria infection or food poisoning due to salmonella.
Vegetables can also have lingering traces of pesticides.
Vegetables that have a greater risk of listeria or other food-borne bacteria, and should be avoided include:
- Mung beans
- Prepacked salads.
#4: How early in pregnancy does alcohol affect the baby?
There is no known safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy. There’s also no safe time to drink when you are pregnant.
Drinking alcohol can cause problems for your developing baby throughout your pregnancy, including the time before you even know you’re pregnant.
Alcohol can lower the baby’s blood sugar, insulin levels, and thyroid levels, causing other health problems.
These health problems can lead to low birth weight, birth defects, and even death.
In utero, alcohol is a neurotoxin, just like carbon monoxide and lead. It destroys the brain cells of the fetus.
Care providers will offer medical advice about fetal alcohol syndrome to any mother who has consumed alcohol during pregnancy.
Fetal alcohol syndrome causes brain damage to the fetus, and increases the risk of premature delivery.
Alcohol also adds extra calories and weight gain that you don’t need in pregnancy.
Here are a couple of links you might find useful:
- Alcohol And Pregnancy – Is It Safe To Drink Alcohol During Pregnancy?
- Drank Alcohol Before I Knew I Was Pregnant – Is My Baby Okay?
#5: Can I drink caffeine in early pregnancy?
Fortunately, you can have coffee in early pregnancy with no fetal defects documented for baby.
The recommendation is to minimise your caffeine intake to 200mg per day.
Caffeine, like pretty much everything else, passes through the placenta to your baby in pregnancy.
Many women report they can’t drink caffeine anyway, due to morning sickness. Caffeine is also known to upset your tummy because it increases stomach acid.
The best practice is to get rid of caffeine altogether during pregnancy.
If you really love coffee this might not be an option. In that case, make sure you limit your caffeine intake to one cup per day, or switch to decaffeinated coffee.
It’s advised to put energy drinks on your list of what to avoid during the first trimester.
They are high in caffeine and contain a whole lot of ingredients that aren’t good to have throughout your pregnancy.
They also have high levels of sugar and might increase weight gain, and your chances of gestational diabetes.
Be sure to read Coffee and Pregnancy – Is Coffee During Pregnancy OK? for more information.
#6: Household activities to avoid in pregnancy
Pregnant women often don’t have much energy, or they might feel nauseous. An excuse to get out of certain household chores is a blessing.
Here’s a list of a few household jobs you can avoid:
- Avoid cat poop and make changing the litter tray someone else’s job. Cats are the most common carriers of a parasitic infection called toxoplasma gondii. This can lead to toxoplasmosis in pregnant women, causing serious eye or brain damage to your developing baby. Wear gloves when gardening if cats are likely to use the area to defecate. Toxoplasmosis and Pregnancy – Should I Get Rid Of My Cat? has more information.
- Avoid regularly lifting heavy loads. This can strain your abdominal muscles, which slightly increases the risk of pregnancy loss
- Don’t climb ladders. This is risky business for pregnant women. You could fall, especially if you’re more fatigued than usual
- Avoid cleaning products. They contain a raft of nasties like ethanol, chlorine and preservatives. Better to get someone else to do the cleaning
- Don’t take very hot baths. Time in a hot bath or hot tub can be dangerous for your baby. Experts say spending more than ten minutes there raises your body temperature too high and increases the risk of neural tube defects
- Keep away from paint fumes. Paints with high levels of solvent pose a risk of birth abnormalities, so make sure you use low toxic paints if you’re decorating the nursery.
#7: Does exercise affect early pregnancy?
It’s safe to exercise in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
In fact, activity is recommended for a healthy pregnancy, and supports a positive labour and birth down the track.
The types of exercise you do, however, should be restricted, for the health of your baby.
Exercise to avoid during pregnancy:
- High impact exercise. It is recommended you avoid high intensity exercise, as there’s a risk of muscle strain or injury
- Any exercise that means you have to be flat on your back. The weight of your uterus presses on the major vein that returns blood from your lower body to your heart. This can make you dizzy and interfere with the flow of blood and nutrients to the placenta and your baby
- Contact sports. You don’t want a hit to the belly; this can be harmful to your baby
- Falling sports or extreme sports. There’s a much higher risk of severe injury to you, and of infant death, with sports such as sky diving, water skiing or snowboarding
- Heavy weights training. Straining the abdominal muscles can be painful for you and your baby
- Horse riding. There is a greater risk of falling and injury. Horse riding encourages a tight pelvic floor, which is usually great to have. At the time of birth, though, a relaxed pelvic floor will help.
For more information check out Exercise And Pregnancy – Can I Exercise In Pregnancy?.
#8: Medications – what to avoid during the first trimester
Early in pregnancy most women don’t feel fantastic. They might have morning sickness, headaches, or other uncomfortable symptoms.
Some women turn to medication to ease some of these discomforts. It’s important to know which are safe during pregnancy.
Medication to avoid in pregnancy include:
- Antihistamines. If you have allergies and require antihistamines, check with your pharmacist or doctor first, as there are certain active ingredients that might not be safe for your baby
- Ibuprofen, also called Advil and Nurofen. These should only be taken on the advice of your doctor. There’s an increased risk of bleeding, heart defects and cleft palate if they are taken during early pregnancy.
- ACE inhibitors. They are used for high blood pressure, and can cause miscarriage and birth defects
- Valproic acid. This is used for epilepsy, and can cause birth defects
- Nasal sprays. Use after 12 weeks, as many contain steroids, which aren’t recommended during early pregnancy
- NSAIDS. These anti-inflammatory drugs aren’t recommended unless on the advice of your healthcare provider
- Decongestants. They may contain alcohol, and ephedrine, which decreases blood flow to your baby’s placenta
- Antidepressants. Certain types are linked with heart defects and low birth weight. You can take some types after weighing up the risks against the benefits for you and your baby.
Pregnant women should always check with their doctor or midwife before commencing any medication.
For more information, be sure to read Pain Medication During Pregnancy – What Can You Take?
#9: Can I have an X-ray in early pregnancy?
X-ray exams of the legs, head, teeth or chest don’t expose your belly to radiation and are deemed low risk and safe to have during pregnancy.
However, exposure of the abdomen to high dose X-rays in weeks 2-8 of pregnancy can pose a risk of fetal growth reduction, as well as a higher risk of intellectual disability.
If you are visiting the dentist for an X-ray, always let staff know you are pregnant and make sure they put a lead apron on your belly. This is generally safe, as your teeth are quite a distance from your abdomen.
Be sure to tell your doctor, midwife or care provider you’re pregnant if you require an X-ray.
You might be interested in reading Seeing the Dentist in Pregnancy – FAQ’s.
What doesn’t cause miscarriage in the first trimester – debunking the myths
There have always been myths and old wives’ tales about what causes miscarriage, and what to avoid in the first trimester.
Most have been proved untrue over the years.
It’s always important to know that a miscarriage isn’t your fault.
Pregnancy loss is most commonly due to genetic or chromosomal abnormalities, over which you have no control at all.
Most women will feel some guilt about pregnancy loss, regardless of what they’re told about why it happened.
If you find this guilt all-consuming, seek medical advice or counselling for support.
In a loving, committed relationship, sex is healthy and makes you feel good. It does not cause you to lose your baby.
Unless you are on pelvic bed rest (not putting anything in your vagina) because of medical complications, enjoy a healthy sex life with your partner.
As mentioned earlier, exercise is an important part of your daily life when you’re pregnant. Light exercise won’t cause women to lose a pregnancy. Walking, swimming and yoga are all excellent ways to stay fit and healthy.
Although stress isn’t great for your mind or body at any time, it won’t cause you to lose your pregnancy. Try to keep stress levels to a minimum, however, and engage in activities like meditation or yoga to help.
Birth control doesn’t cause women to lose a pregnancy. Women using contraceptives long term usually resume ovulation quickly once they stop taking them, and they aren’t at any increased risk of miscarriage.