Pregnancy is a time when most women try to be very mindful of their health and actions. There’s so much advice out there, but many times the advice is conflicting. How do you separate truth from old wives’ tales? Let’s talk about some of the common dos and don’ts of pregnancy.
Can I get my hair permed or colored?
It is generally considered safe to get your hair permed or colored; chemical levels absorbed by your body are low (1, 2). However, there are some things to take into consideration. Your skin may be extra sensitive during pregnancy, and you may have a reaction to the chemicals, even if you haven’t before. Your hair may react differently than it usually does as well — your hair may become frizzy or brittle or the color may not take as it should. If you want to go a more natural route, there are plant-based dyes out there. I have a friend with beautiful red hair that is dyed with henna.
Can I get my nails done?
Pregnancy is a time when you might want to treat yourself to things you find relaxing, as you may be more tired or stressed than usual. Getting a manicure, if that’s something you enjoy, is considered safe. The possible concerns are infections and exposure to chemicals (2). To avoid infections, choose a salon with good hygiene practices where instruments are sterilized properly. To minimize breathing chemicals, choose a salon with plenty of ventilation.
Can I get a spray tan?
There isn’t a great deal of information on spray tans since they haven’t been in popular use for very long. You can always ask your care provider, but I advise erring on the side of caution. It is best to avoid inhaling chemicals while pregnant, and that would include the airborne chemicals in a spray tan (1). Foams and creams are probably a better option, as it removes the chance of inhaling the chemicals.
Can I fly?
In terms of pregnancy dos and don’ts, there is much mixed advice here. However, flying is safe during pregnancy (3), with a few exceptions. It’s always a good idea to ask your healthcare provider if it’s okay for you, because there are a few reasons they might advise against it. For example, if you have high blood pressure, if you are very anemic, or if you have a miscarriage before (1). Also, check with the airline before booking. Most don’t allow women to fly after week 36 of pregnancy. Also, most airlines will ask for a letter from your doctor that says it’s okay for you to fly; make sure to keep this letter with you as you travel.
Can I go in a sauna or hot tub?
It is best to avoid things like saunas and hot tubs during pregnancy. When your body temperature rises, so does your baby’s. His or her temperature takes much longer to come down than yours does, though. This prolonged rise in temperature can cause problems for your baby. In early pregnancy, it could cause birth defects or miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, it could cause baby to develop neurological disorders like seizures (2).
Can I use an electric blanket?
Electric blankets should be avoided for the same reason as saunas and hot tubs: because they can cause you and baby to overheat. Additionally, there’s mixed evidence on exposure to low-frequency electromagnetic energy. It is possible that prolonged exposure could be harmful (2), which just gives an additional reason to steer clear of electric blankets.
Can I get a massage?
In the dos and don’ts of pregnancy, this one may carry particularly mixed advice. Some say it may not be safe to get a massage while pregnant. Others say that pregnancy is exactly the best time for a massage, thanks to the extra stress and sore muscles that come with carrying a little one. The good news is that the American Pregnancy Association says that massage during pregnancy is typically safe. Always talk to your own provider to be sure it’s safe for your situation, of course. And search for a massage therapist who is certified in prenatal massage.
Can I get an X-ray?
X-rays on your limbs, chest, or head are generally considered safe, and during an X-ray, your abdomen will be protected with a lead apron. X-rays of the abdomen are usually avoided, though there are situations where the information your doctor can get from an X-ray is important enough to do one. Your doctor will determine if your need for any X-ray outweighs the possibility of a small amount of exposure. What about dental X-rays? Dental X-rays are also considered safe, though you should always let your dentist know that you are pregnant.
The FDA has a helpful resource with more information about X-rays here.
Can I get a vaccine?
When thinking about dos and don’ts in pregnancy, medical things like this may make you particularly worried. Always discuss vaccines with your doctor or midwife. Some are considered safe during pregnancy while healthcare professionals recommend avoiding others. You should not get the chicken pox (varicella zoster) vaccine or the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. It is usually recommended that pregnant women get the flu vaccine, which is considered safe at any stage of pregnancy. (4)
Can I eat sushi?
While pregnant, you should only eat vegetable sushi or sushi with cooked fish. Cooking kills parasites and bacteria, so uncooked fish is more likely to contain these dangers than cooked fish (4).
Can I scoop cat litter?
This is a chore best left to someone else if possible. Cat feces may contain a parasite called toxoplasma gondii, which can cause toxoplasmosis in humans (1). Most people who have cats have had the infection and didn’t even know it and previous infection, as long as it’s more than three months before conception, isn’t a risk to baby. Becoming infected during pregnancy can cause problems for baby. These complications are rare, but include an enlarged spleen or liver, sight or hearing loss, and brain damage. It can also risk the pregnancy itself, increasing the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. If someone else is not available to scoop for you, be sure to wear gloves and wash your hands afterward.
Can I paint?
Many pregnant women want to paint during their pregnancies, whether part of preparing a nursery for baby or just generally “nesting” or making home improvements. You should not spray paint because of the possibility of inhaling paint particles or chemicals. Rolling or brushing paint onto surfaces is safer, though it’s best to use low-VOC or no-VOC paints to avoid harmful volatile organic compounds. If you do paint, wear gloves and make sure there’s plenty of ventilation.
Can I douche?
Pregnant or not, you should avoid douching. (4) Your vagina cleans itself, and it’s best not to throw off its natural balance. Cleaning only the outside of the vulva with soap and warm water during regular bathing is all that’s necessary.
Can I wear a seatbelt?
Dos and don’ts of pregnancy can be confusing, but this is absolutely straightforward. You can, and you should. Always. A properly seatbelt is not a risk to you or your baby and will keep both of you safe in the event of an accident. The correct positioning for a seatbelt is with the lap belt under the abdomen, across the top of your thighs, and the shoulder belt above the abdomen.
Can I have sex?
In a normal pregnancy, it is safe to have sex. The amniotic sac cushions baby and also protects him or her from outside contaminants. There may be certain circumstances where you’ll be advised to abstain, at least for a while. Ask your doctor or midwife, especially if: you’ve had any bleeding; you’ve had a previous miscarriage or premature birth; you’ve been diagnosed with cervical insufficiency; or you’ve been diagnosed with placenta previa (1). Also, don’t have sex after your water has broken. With the amniotic sac no longer keeping baby separated from the outside, there is a risk of infection.
1. Barratt, Judy, et al. The Pregnancy Encyclopedia: All Your Questions Answered. Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2016.
2. Simkin, Penny, et al. Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: the Complete Guide. Da Capo Lifelong, 2018.
3. “Air Travel during Pregnancy: Is It Safe?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 21 Feb. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/air-travel-during-pregnancy/faq-20058087.
4. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010). Your Pregnancy and Childbirth Month to Month, 5th edition.
5. Curtis, Glade B., and Judith Schuler. Your Pregnancy Week by Week. De Capo Lifelong, a Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2016.