Being a pregnant woman is kind of like living in a minefield. There are the things you know you should be doing, like eating right. There are things you know you shouldn't do, like drinking alcohol. And everyone has an opinion about everything you might or might not choose to do in between—eating soft cheese, wearing mineral makeup, staying on your anti-anxiety meds. There is a lot to think about!
And the list of things to think about is expanding all the time too, as researchers discover more things that can impact a pregnancy. In some cases, the effects are small and may require more research, but it's all interesting to consider. Here's what you need to know:
A recent study in Microbiome found that moms with furry pets like dogs and cats had babies with more healthy gut bacteria, even if the pets were no longer living with them after giving birth.
"Man’s best friend could be changed to a baby’s best friend," agrees Sherry Ross, M.D., author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period. "There is a positive effect for the baby when a pregnant woman exposes herself to her dog or cat 'hairs' in preventing allergies and making healthier gut bacteria. This happens when pregnant moms transfer strong immunities onto the baby, creating these health benefits."
This is a controversial area: Ibuprofen and aspirin have long been considered not great, but now research reports that Tylenol may be linked to ADHD, Butalbital may contribute to congenital heart defects, and Ondansetron could also carry several risks, according to a study in Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports. Ross recommends trying non-drug remedies to headaches or pain, like naps, heating pads, meditation, or acupuncture. If that doesn't work, Tylenol is OK—and still better than aspirin or ibuprofen.
While there's a lot of focus on how moms might improve their babies' health, a dad's age, alcohol consumption, and diet can affect a child's chances of experiencing fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, obesity, and other physical and mental health issues, according to a study in the American Journal of Stem Cells.
"Dads should exercise regularly, drink less alcohol, have a BMI under 30 percent, eat a diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein, and take a multivitamin to optimize their health when planning to have a baby," says Ross.
Moms who get pregnant in May are 10 percent more likely to go into premature labor, according to a study in PNAS. The authors think this may result from moms getting the flu in winter, soon before the baby's born, which can trigger an early birth. While this possibility hasn't been ruled out, Ross says things like smoking, alcohol, drug use, insufficient weight gain during pregnancy, and a history of preterm births are more significant contributors to premature births.
Another study in the International Journal of Sports Medicine found that kids born in November were more athletic, possibly because their moms were exposed to more Vitamin D right before having them. A lot of people are deficient in Vitamin D, says Ross, and since it affects your fertility, it is a good idea to get yours checked if you're planning to get pregnant. But if you don't have access to sun, you can still get Vitamin D through supplements or food.
Pregnant women who spend time around people who are smoking are more likely to have babies with concentration and aggression issues, according to a study in Neurotoxicology. Children of moms exposed to secondhand smoke while pregnant also have a higher risk of low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), says Ross. She recommends avoiding areas full of smoke while you're pregnant and asking any house guests who smoke to go outside or even change their clothes, since the chemicals can linger on them.