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Pregnancy - risks

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During your pregnancy it is very important to avoid some things that can harm your developing baby. Here are some of the risks in pregnancy that you need to be aware of.  

The Pregnancy part of our website has more information about each of these risks - and much more.....


With every pregnancy all women have a 3 to 5% chance of having a baby with a birth defect. Some behaviours, medicines and drugs increase this risk.


Health experts are not able to tell you what a safe level of alcohol is during pregnancy. Some harm may occur to some babies even when they are exposed to a small amount of alcohol but the risks are higher when more alcohol is drunk. It is best to avoid drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

For more information: Alcohol during pregnancy.


Tanberg cartoon - the Australian Medical AssociationIt is best not to smoke during pregnancy.

Women who smoke during pregnancy are at least twice as likely to have a miscarriage as non-smokers, and their babies do not grow as well as babies who are not exposed to smoke before they are born.
(Image "Courtesy of 'Tanberg and the Australian Medical Association".)

Problems that have been found to be caused by smoking:

  • lower birth weight of babies
  • death of the baby before birth happens more often (miscarriage or stillbirth)
  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) happens more often (at least twice as often)
  • babies have more breathing problems.

For more information: Smoking during pregnancy.


Caffeine is a stimulant found in many foods and beverages including coffee, tea and cola drinks. Drinking high amounts of caffeine may make it more difficult to become pregnant and high levels may make miscarriage more likely. In humans, even large amounts of caffeine do not cause an increased risk of birth defects. However, it is best to limit the amount of caffeine that you drink each day.

For more information: Caffeine in pregnancy.

Prescription medicines

  • If you take any medicines regularly, talk about them with your doctor before you get pregnant if possible, or as soon as you know that you are pregnant.
  • Only a few medicines have been proven to cause harm to developing babies, however many more have not yet been proven to be totally safe.
  • Usually it will be better for your baby if you keep well by taking the medication you need, so it is very important that you continue to take medicines that you have been prescribed for conditions such as asthma, diabetes, depression, epilepsy and many other conditions unless your doctor advises you to stop or change your medication.

For more information: Medicines during pregnancy.

Over-the-counter medicines

  • Before you take any medicine, including herbal preparations, check with your pharmacist, midwife or doctor to find out if it is safe.
  • Many products that are available from pharmacies, health food shops or even supermarkets may not be safe for a developing baby.
  • For pain, paracetamol is safe, but other pain relievers such as aspirin and ibuprofen should be avoided.
  • Many cough and cold medicines, laxatives and herbal preparations should be avoided.

For more information: Medicines during pregnancy.

Illegal drugs

Many illegal drugs have been shown to have effects on the growth and development of an unborn child.

For more information: Illegal drugs during pregnancy.


Listeriosis is an infection which may cause a flu like illness, but most people with the infection are not sick at all. Listeriosis can harm an unborn baby, causing an increase in miscarrages and stillbirth. This is a rare problem, but the risk can be made even lower if you take care with the food that you eat.

For more information: Listeria.


Toxoplasmosis is another infection that can harm an unborn baby, but effects from toxoplasmosis are rare.

Most people who get toxoplasmosis get it from raw or undercooked meat. Although cats have been thought to have been another source of the infection, recent research has suggested that they are not the main source. We still advise pregnant women to avoid young cats and handling kitty litter.

For more information: Toxoplasmosis.

Mercury in fish

Fish forms a part of a healthy diet and 2-3 serves per week of most types of fish are recommended. When pregnant avoid shark (flake), sword fish, broadbill, marlin, orange roughy (sea perch) and catfish, as these may be high in mercury. Canned tuna has very low levels of mercury because smaller and younger fish are used.

For more information:

Pregancy and hair treatments

Mother to baby - Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS)  

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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