Infections during pregnancy can hurt both the mother-to-be and her baby.
Making healthy choices and taking a few extra precautions can improve the chances that babies will be born healthy.
Here are 11 things you can do during pregnancy to protect yourself and your baby from infections.
Maintain good hygiene and wash your hands often—especially when around or caring for children. Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent infections. If soap and running water are not available, you can use alcohol-based hand gel. Learn how clean hands save lives.
Cook your meat until it's well done. The juices should run clear and there should be no pink inside. Do not eat hot dogs, luncheon meats, or deli meats, unless they are reheated until steaming hot. These undercooked meats and processed meats might contain harmful bacteria. Learn more about Listeria.
Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk and foods made from it. Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, brie, and queso fresco unless they have labels that say they are pasteurized. Unpasteurized products can contain harmful bacteria. Learn more about raw milk dangers.
Ask your doctor about Group B streptococcus (GBS). About 1 in 4 women carry this type of bacteria, but do not feel sick. An easy swab test near the end of pregnancy will show if you have this type of bacteria. If you do have GBS, talk to your doctor about how to protect your baby during labor. Learn more about GBS infections.
Talk to your doctor about vaccinations. Some are recommended before you become pregnant, during pregnancy, or right after delivery. Having the right vaccinations at the right time can help keep you healthy and help keep your baby from getting very sick or having life-long health problems. Learn more about vaccinations during pregnancy and why the flu and Tdap vaccines are essential for pregnant moms.
Get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV and hepatitis B, and protect yourself from them. Some people that have HIV, hepatitis B, or an STD do not feel sick. Knowing if you have one of these diseases is important. If you do, talk to your doctor about how you can reduce the chance that your baby will become sick. Learn more about preventing STIs.
Avoid people who have an infection. Stay away from people who you know have infections, such as chickenpox or rubella, if you have not yet had it yourself or did not have the vaccine before pregnancy. Learn more about the MMR vaccine and the chickenpox vaccine.
Protect against insects known to carry diseases. Stay abreast of developments in Zika virus in your area or places you might be traveling to. When mosquitoes and ticks are active, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when outside. Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered insect repellents with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus (para-menthane-3,8-diol). Avoid travel to areas where infections can threaten you and your baby. Learn more about the Zika virus and pregnancy.
Do not touch or change dirty cat litter and avoid contact with potentially contaminated soil. Have someone else do it. If you must change the litter yourself, be sure to wear gloves and wash your hands afterwards. Dirty cat litter and soil might contain a harmful parasite. Learn more about cats and toxoplasmosis.
Stay away from wild or pet rodents, lizards and turtles, and their droppings. Have a pest control professional get rid of pests in or around your home. If you have a pet rodent, like a hamster or guinea pig, have someone else care for it until after your baby arrives. Some rodents might carry a harmful virus. Learn more about lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV).
Only take vitamins in the doses recommended by your doctor. Your doctor may recommend a daily prenatal vitamin pill, which includes folic acid, iron, calcium and other minerals, and the fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA). Make sure your doctor knows about any other supplements you may be taking, including herbal remedies. Learn more about the benefits of folic acid.
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Editor's Note: The article is published in recognition of National Birth Defects Prevention Month which occurs in January each year. Every 4½ minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect in the United States. Not all birth defects can be prevented. But, women can increase their chances of having a healthy baby by preventing infections before and during pregnancy. To join the conversation on Twitter, use the hashtag #Prevent2Protect or visit www.NBDPN.org.