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The list is simply overwhelming.

No more foot massage. Quit coffee-ing. Stop lifting weights. Hit the pause button on hair-dye jobs. Eliminate sit-ups from your workout routine. Replace that glass of wine with water. Avoid all types of soft cheese. Oh, and tattoos are quite simply out of the question.

What is next for pregnant women? The list of substances, foods and activities considered unfit for pregnant women seems to be growing bigger every year, and they’ve just thrown another one on the list. Tea. That’s right, while coffee has until now been considered on par with vodka in terms of being harmful to babies in utero, a recent study has now shown that its seemingly innocent counterpart can also cause adverse effects if consumed during pregnancy.

The study, which tracked around 1,000 Irish women’s intake of caffeinated products during early pregnancy, demonstrated a consistent link between caffeine and adverse birth outcomes – regardless of whether it was tea or coffee that was consumed by women. The analysis was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and showed that for the highest caffeine consumption group, the risk of delivering a baby with abnormally low birth weight or short gestational age was roughly doubled.

Caffeine in any form has until now been considered inappropriate for consumption by pregnant women, though the recommended ‘allowable’ intake differs depending on organisation and country. While the WHO recommends less than 300mg a day – which equates to 3 cups of coffee or less – the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends no more than 200mg a day. The worrying thing is that this new study demonstrates adverse birth outcomes for women whose maternal consumption level of caffeine was lower than both these figures.

But just how much is too much? Admittedly, we are talking about the life of an unborn child here and in this particular instance we have the scientific proof to confirm these behaviours can have lead to negative birthing outcomes, but what about the other rules, no-nos, and superstitions of pregnancy? It’s a list that appears to be expanding each and every year. But how many on the list are validated and backed up by scientific research?

There is a rule that says lunch meat carries a dangerous and harmful bacteria called listeria, but ask any doctor and they will agree the chances of this occurring are so low that in fact other foods should be considered more potentially harmful, such as rice or pre-cooked vegetables. Similarly, the idea that pregnant women should stay away from seafood is ridiculous. It can do wondrous things for Moms-to be. While it is true that avoiding fish high in mercury is a good idea, eating lots of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids actually produces smarter babies. That’s right, one study revealed that Mums who ate at least 12 ounces of seafood per week throughout pregnancy produced children with higher verbal IQ, better social and communication skills, and superior motor skills to other babies.

The idea that curry induces early labour is also fairly laughable. One survey that set out to test this theory found that 18 percent of women believe this to be true, but, according to the British Fertility Society there is no scientific evidence to support this. Similarly, the idea of sex bringing on labor due to the release of oxytocin has been supported by very mixed, non-conclusive evidence. The wonderful, healing benefits of foot massage for pregnant women have similarly been dissed due to massage’s ability to bring on early labor if the correct acupressure spots are activated. Again, scientific studies have shown that while parts of the ankle and pinky toe are indirectly linked to the reproductive system, if one simply avoids touching these during the massage there is no risk of early labour or premature contractions. Rather, a foot massage can work wonders for a pregnant woman, helping her relax and unwind in advance of her incoming bundle.

All this being said there are real risks for pregnant women. Getting a tattoo while pregnant can be harmful to your unborn baby, for example. Why is this? The main concern is the risk of contracting an infection, such as Hepatitis B or HIV, through the tattoo needle and ink. While studies have shown there’s a very low risk of developing these diseases at a licensed facility, there is still a chance. And if you were planning on dying your hair you might want to do it before you conceive because dying one’s hair is also discouraged, especially during the early stages of pregnancy due to the risk of hair dye chemicals being absorbed through the skin. The soft cheese rule is also a biggie.

Soft cheese is a definite no no, due to risk of listeria bacteria in those cheeses that have not been pasteurised. To avoid this risk, pregnant women are advised not to eat uncooked mould-ripened soft cheese such as brie, camembert, mould-ripened soft cheese made with goats milk, and others with a similar mouldy rind.

There are enough things pregnant women need to worry about  – eating and exercising healthily, deciding on birth plans, investing in mattresses for quality sleep (especially in the third trimester when getting a good sleep at night becomes almost impossible), building a nursery, preparing to breastfeed – without having to worry about an ever-expanding list of contraband substances, foods and activities that might harm an unborn baby. It’s good to be careful, but take this kind of advice onboard with scepticism and don’t be afraid to conduct a little research into the sciences behind such assertions. It’ll make for a happier and healthier pregnancy.

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