Safe Pregnancy

Safe Pregnancy 

Foods to avoid in pregnancy

Some foods carry more risk during pregnancy. It is important that pregnant women follow food safety tips. You should also avoid eating foods that can put you at high risk of infections.

What is listeriosis?

Listeriosis is a rare but serious disease. A type of bacteria called listeria causes this infection. Pregnant women are at a greater risk for it than other adults.

To reduce your risk of getting listeriosis, the Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that pregnant women avoid:

  • Raw fish such as sushi, clams, oysters and mussels.
  • Raw or undercooked meat, poultry and seafood.
  • Non-dried deli meats including cold cuts such as bologna, roast beef and turkey breast (unless heated until steaming hot).
  • Hot dogs straight from the package without heating.
  • Refrigerated pâtés, meat spreads.
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood and fish.
  • Raw or unpasteurized milk products and foods made from them (examples are: raw milk cheese, particularly soft or semi-soft cheeses including Camembert and Brie).
  • Unpasteurized juices, such as unpasteurized apple cider.
  • Raw or lightly cooked eggs or foods made with them (for example, homemade Caesar vinaigrette).
  • Raw sprouts, especially alfalfa sprouts.
What are the symptoms?
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Talk to your health care provider if you have the symptoms above.

Safe food handling

Safe food handling is the key to avoiding infection and disease. Follow these tips:

  • Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before making meals and eating.
  • Cook all meats well.
  • Keep raw meats, poultry, fish and seafood separate from other food in the fridge.
  • Wash cooking utensils and food surfaces, both before and after preparing meals and raw meat.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables well.
  • Make sure that hot foods are hot & cold foods are cold.
  • Keep raw meats and cooked foods separate.
What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite. This parasite can be found in meat that is raw or not cooked enough, infected garden soil and infected cat feces. Infection normally only happens once in a lifetime.

Most pregnant women do not have signs and symptoms. For those that do the symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
How can I reduce my risk?
  • Avoid changing the cat litter. Ask someone to do it for you. If you must change it, wear gloves and wash your hands after.
  • Always use gloves when gardening. Wash your hands after.
  • Cover sand boxes when not in use.
  • Follow safe food handling tips above.
Avoid Mercury

Health Canada recommends that pregnant women have at least 2 Canada's Food Guide servings of fish each week. Choose fish that are high in omega-3 fats and low in mercury. Mercury can be harmful to your baby's nervous system and general health.

You can continue to enjoy eating fish (PDF) if you choose carefully and eat many different types of fish.

Communicable diseases and pregnancy

Some diseases can cause problems for the growing baby. Call your health care provider if you think that you were in contact with any of these diseases:

  • Rubella (German measles)
  • Chickenpox
  • Mumps
  • Measles
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • Parvovirus (Fifth disease)

 Who is at a higher risk?

  • People who work with children. 
  • Health care workers.
  • People who work in labs or with animals.
  • People who travel. Updated travel health notices are available on the Public Health Agency of Canada website.
  • People with young children.

 How to protect yourself?

  • Proper hand washing.
  • Make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date before you get pregnant. If they are not, speak to your health care provider.
  • Ask your health care provider for a blood test that can tell you if you have protection from rubella before you are pregnant.
  • Wait at least 4 weeks after a vaccination for chickenpox and rubella before getting pregnant.
  • Some vaccines are not recommended for use during pregnancy. If you are planning a pregnancy, speak to your health care professional before getting the vaccine.
  • Some vaccines that are safe to have when you are pregnant:

    • Tetanus and Diphtheria
    • Influenza (flu shot)
Working when you are pregnant

Many women continue to work during their pregnancy. These tips can help when you're back in the office. Talk to your health care provider to see if there is anything you should not be doing at work.

Sitting, standing and lifting

Many work spaces require standing or sitting for long periods, or lifting and carrying objects. These activities can be hard when you are pregnant . Your centre of gravity changes because of the extra weight of the baby and the placenta. The extra weight puts a strain on your body, especially on the muscles and tendons in your back and neck.

If you sit a lot at work:

  • Bring in a footstool and put your feet up.
  • Get up from your chair every hour or two and walk around.
  • Try things like standing up while talking on the phone, or stretching your muscles before you get up from your chair.
  • Rotate tasks (sitting, walking, standing) whenever possible.

If you stand a lot at work:

Long periods of standing and strenuous work during pregnancy increase the risk of your baby being born too soon or too small.

  • Take breaks to relax your muscles and sit down during breaks.
  • If you must stand in one place, move your weight from foot to foot.
  • Walk when you have the chance.
  • Bring a stool to work and put up one foot if you must stand in one spot for a while.

If you have to do lifting, pulling or carrying at work:

  • Lower the amount that you could lift before pregnancy.
  • Use proper lifting techniques by bending your knees and keeping your back straight .
  • Do not hold your breath while lifting.
  • Lift heavy loads with someone else or use a forklift if possible.
  • Don't do any twisting movements while lifting.

Health hazards to men, women and unborn children

Some workplace conditions may be harmful to:

  • Pregnant women and their unborn child .
  • Reproductive health of both women and men . These conditions can lower the chances of getting pregnant.

Ask your health care provider for advice if you are exposed to any of the following chemical, biological and physical hazards in your workplace. In most cases, changes to your work are enough to lower the risks.

Chemical Hazards

  • Heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium) .
  • Agricultural chemicals such as pesticides and insecticides.
  • Polyhalogenated biphenyls.
  • Organic solvents.
  • Ethylene dibromide and ethylene oxide.
  • Formaldehyde.

Make sure you carefully read labels before using or buying products.

Physical Hazards

  • Ionizing radiation (alpha, beta and gamma radiation, x-rays) .
  • Excessive noise (may cause hearing loss to either you or your baby).
  • Extremes of either hot or cold.
  • Long work hours.
  • Standing for long periods.
  • Lifting, pulling or carrying.
  • Vibration.

Protect your health and the health of your baby

If you are concerned about your health, and the health of your baby, talk to your employer. You may need a change in assignment, or a change in your work area and responsibilities. Speak to your occupational health nurse, human resources staff, or occupational health and safety representative about your concerns or to answer any questions you have.

By law, employers need to change or adjust job duties as needed to protect workers, pregnant women and unborn children. For more information on your rights visit the Ontario Human Rights Commission .

Alcohol, Cannabis, Tobacco and Medications

There is no safe amount or safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy. The safest choice is to not drink any alcohol once you have decided to try to get pregnant and when you are pregnant.

Alcohol crosses the placenta. Alcohol can affect the baby's fast-growing tissues. It can do this by either destroying the cells or slowing their growth.

Did you know?

  • No kind of alcohol is safer than another (for example beer is not safer than wine).
  • Alcohol levels that are not dangerous to the birthing parent can hurt the baby.
  • If you drink regularly, or binge drink (drink a lot at one time), your baby is at higher risk for problems.
  • A 12oz bottle of beer has the same amount of alcohol as a 5oz glass of wine and one shot (1.5oz) of liquor.

What is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder?

Drinking alcohol when you are pregnant can put your baby at increased risk of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). FASD is the name used to describe a group of birth defects and problems with development that can happen to babies of birthing parents who drink alcohol during pregnancy. FASD is a problem that lasts a lifetime. It does not get better over time. Individuals with FASD can have:

  • Distinct facial features.
  • Slow growth before and after birth.
  • Problems with learning, memory and attention.
  • Impulsive actions.
  • A hard time solving problems.

If you are drinking and need help to stop, you can:


The placenta joins mom and baby. It takes food and oxygen from the mother's blood to feed the baby.

When a woman smokes or breathes in second-hand smoke:

  • Her risk of miscarriage is higher.
  • Her placenta does not work as well as it should.
  • Her baby gets less food and oxygen.
  • Her baby does not grow as well as it should.
  • Her baby is at higher risk of being born too early.
  • Her baby is at higher risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • Her baby gets nicotine from the cigarette.

What can you do to protect yourself and your unborn baby?

Make your home and car smoke-free. Ask others to go outside and not to smoke around you or your children.

Babies and children who live in a smoke-free home have fewer breathing problems and ear and lung infections.

What if you are pregnant and smoke?

Try to quit or cut down your smoking. If you are thinking about quitting smoking, remember:

  • It is easier for pregnant women to quit smoking if those around them do not smoke.
  • Babies of women who quit smoking early in pregnancy do as well as babies of non-smoking mothers.
  • For information on programs to help you stop smoking, call Ottawa Public Health.

What about partners who smoke?

Support your partner when she tries to quit. Don't smoke around her. Be a good example - children of non-smokers are less likely to become smokers.

Encourage other family members who smoke to not smoke around the pregnant woman or the new baby.


How can cannabis affect unborn babies

Cannabis is a plant that has hundreds of chemicals. Some of these chemicals are called cannabinoids, like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is psychoactive, meaning it affects the way you think, act and feel. No matter how cannabis is used, THC can pass through the placenta to your developing baby.

Current research indicates that there is no safe amount or safe time to use cannabis during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. The safest choice is to not use cannabis once you decide to get pregnant and once you are pregnant.

Using cannabis while you are pregnant can result in:

  • Low birth weight, meaning babies are born too small for their gestational age. Low birth weight babies can have health problems as they grow. 
  • Babies may not sleep well and may be fussier.
  • Children may have problems with behavior, learning, memory and mental health as they grow up.

What if you are pregnant and smoke cannabis?

The safest choice is to not use cannabis once you decide to get pregnant and once you are pregnant.

Burning cannabis and rolling papers produces smoke that has the same harmful chemicals and carcinogens as the smoke caused by burning cigarettes. These harmful chemicals are made by the process of burning and are not found in the cannabis plant.

To protect yourself and your baby from second-hand smoke, ask your partner, family and friends to not to smoke cannabis around you or your children. You can also encourage your partner, family and friends to use lower risk ways, like cannabis products you can eat, such as oils, capsules or edibles rather than smoking to protect your lungs. Start with the least amount of THC possible and be aware the effects are delayed.

Nausea and vomiting

Individuals who have nausea and vomiting during pregnancy should talk with their health care provider about safe treatment options. Due to the potential harm of using cannabis during pregancy it is not recommended for those who are pregnant to self-medicate with cannabis to treat morning sickness.

If you consume cannabis and need help to reduce your consumption or would like help quitting, you can:

For more information:

Medications and herbal products

Almost all medications, drugs and herbal products go to the placenta. Many are not safe to take when you are pregnant including some herbal teas.

If you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant, talk to your doctor or pharmacist:

  • About any medications (over-the-counter, prescription) and herbal products you are taking.
  • Before taking any medications or herbal products.
  • Before stopping any prescription medications.

What should I ask my doctor about medications ordered for me?

  • Do I really need this medication?
  • Are there any risks to my baby?
  • What are the risks to me if I don't take the medication?
  • Is there a safer medication?

Remember that over-the-counter medications like antacids, laxatives, and headache pills are also drugs. If you have any questions about taking medications when you are pregnant:

  • Talk to your doctor
Abuse in pregnancy

Abuse can happen to anyone. About 40% of abused women in Canada say they were first assaulted during pregnancy. It usually gets worse over time. Abuse is not your fault! All kinds of abuse can hurt you. No one deserves to be hurt. Get help right away.

What is emotional abuse?

Abuse is emotional when your partner:

  • Puts you down
  • Swears at you
  • Acts jealous
  • Blames you for being pregnant
  • Breaks your things
  • Hurts or kills your pets
  • Threatens to hurt you
  • Doesn't let you see your friends or family
  • Doesn't let you leave the house or do outside activities
  • Keeps you from seeing your health care provider
  • Controls the money
  • Uses violent words or actions to scare you

What are the signs of physical abuse?

Abuse is physical when your partner:

  • Pushes, punches, or throws you
  • Hits or kicks you
  • Does anything that can or does physically harm you

What is sexual abuse?

Abuse is sexual when your partner:

  • Insults you sexually
  • Says things that make you feel bad about your body
  • Forces you to have sex
  • Makes you do sexual acts that you do not want to do

The effects of abuse on you

Abused women can have both emotional and physical effects including:

  • Sadness 
  • Loneliness
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression
  • Feeling bad about themselves 
  • An increased use of drugs, including alcohol and tobacco
  • Trouble sleeping and decreased appetite

What are the effects of abuse on your pregnancy?

Abuse during pregnancy can cause direct or indirect injury to your baby. It can cause your baby to:

  • Be born too small or too early
  • Have injuries or infections
  • Have health problems later in life
  • Be at higher risk of being abused after they are born

What can you do?

  • Talk to someone you trust about what is going on:

    • Friends and family
    • Your health care provider
    • Women's shelter or support line
    • Your prenatal teacher
    • Public health nurse
  • If possible, have an emergency escape plan
  • Get help to leave the abusive relationship

Where can you get help?

You are not alone! There is help.

  • Assaulted Women's Helpline 1-866-863-0511
  • Gloucester Services for Abused Women 613-745-4818
  • Shelters for Abused Women - 24 hours service

    • Provides temporary shelter for abused women and their children

      • Interval House of Ottawa-Carleton 613-234-5181
      • La Présence 613-241-8297
      • Maison d'amitié 613-747-0020
      • Nelson House 613-225-0533
  • Call Ottawa Public Health Information at 613-580-6744

Do you have more questions about parenting?

February 2020

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