What are the risks of common exposures to a pregnancy?

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Two lines? Is that really two lines?

I’m pregnant?! YES!!!! And then…oh, no.

But I had a glass of wine last night. Or, it was girls’ night last Friday and I had a margarita. . . or two. Or, I smoke. And what about the medication I’m taking?

Learning you are pregnant comes with many emotions, and worry can be one of them. Being concerned about potential pregnancy exposures is completely normal. And since there are so many resources offering advice on pregnancy, it can be difficult to keep up.

So let’s start at the beginning.

The first two weeks after a pregnancy is conceived is considered the “all-or-nothing” period. Exposures during this timeframe are believed to either cause a miscarriage or have no effect on the pregnancy. If a pregnancy loss does not occur, it is thought that the exposure(s) will not have a negative effect on the developing baby.

About that margarita. . .  The reality is that many women drink alcohol before they know they are pregnant and that one or two drinks very early in pregnancy are unlikely to cause a significant problem. However, continued use of alcohol can cause serious issues for a baby, including intellectual disability, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). And remember, a baby’s brain continues to develop throughout pregnancy, so any alcohol use, even later in pregnancy, can result in these issues. Because no amount of alcohol is known to be safe during pregnancy it is currently recommended that pregnant women do not consume any alcohol. If you are finding that it’s harder to quit than you thought, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

As for smoking, according to the American Lung Association, approximately 15% of women in the United States smoke, many of whom are of childbearing age. Cigarette smoke has thousands (seriously!) of chemicals and toxins that can be harmful to a developing baby. Smoking during pregnancy can cause multiple complications including placenta previa, where the placenta covers the cervix, placenta abruption, premature birth, and low birth weight. No one would claim that quitting smoking is easy, but help is out there.

Now for your prescription medication. Prozac? Flexeril? Synthroid? This one is a bit trickier. The best advice is, if you are worried about pregnancy exposures, talk to your obstetrician. And most importantly, never, ever stop taking any prescription medication without first talking to your doctor. Stopping a prescribed medication can cause harm to you and/or your baby if it is not done correctly.  

 

Stay tuned for our next post which will cover a few more common exposures you may be thinking about. You can also find more information on the potential effects of exposures during pregnancy at MotherToBaby and MarchOfDimes.

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About Author

Sheila Johal

Sheila Johal is a licensed genetic counselor with Recombine who counsels patients about their test results, and educates both patients and their physicians. She came to Recombine after nine and a half years at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, where she provided prenatal, general and cardiovascular genetic counseling. Sheila graduated with a master’s degree in Medical and Molecular Genetics with a focus in Genetic Counseling from Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis in 2006. Prior to attending graduate school, she also received a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Kent State University. She has a specific interest in disorders of hemoglobin and is passionate about educating genetic counseling students. When she is not working, Sheila spends time with her husband and children, watching football, and coordinating her book club.