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Pregnant? Five things to think twice about before taking these substances

Seemingly safe substances like aspirin could harm your unborn baby.

1. Caffeine

Research links excess caffeine during pregnancy and miscarriage. Studies recommend women drink less than 200 milligrams of caffeine a day (roughly two cups of coffee), or the caffeine could cross the placenta barrier, increasing the fetus’s heart rate to dangerous levels.

2. Antidepressants

There is a very low risk of birth defects if women take antidepressant medication while pregnant. The risks of antidepressants are usually outweighed by the benefit they have for the mother. Untreated depression can lead to risky behaviour such as consuming alcohol and smoking. The risk to depressed mothers who avoid treatment and fail to get the nutrition and healthcare they need outweighs any concerns. 

3. Alcohol

Many women think one drink “isn’t likely to hurt your baby” but studies show “even moderate drinking” can affect a baby’s brain development. This could lead to a range of problems including miscarriage or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, “which can cause facial deformities, heart defects and mental” underdevelopment. 

4. Tobacco

Smoking or being exposed to second-hand smoke when pregnant can result in health risks such as low birth weight and premature delivery. Research estimates that one in every five babies born to a mother who smokes will be underweight. The baby is also at a higher risk of asthma, ear infections, colds, pneumonia and bronchitis. 

5. Over-the-counter medication

Aspirin, a common and cheap painkiller, is not considered safe to take during pregnancy. Low doses aren’t linked to many health issues but high doses, especially in the first three months of pregnancy, are associated with miscarriage and heart defects in the fetus. A similar but safe alternative painkiller is acetaminophen — especially for women who use aspirin regularly for conditions like clotting disorders. — Source: Mayo Clinic

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Amy Green was a health reporter at Bhekisisa from 2013 until 2016.