Australia's fertility rate has dropped again, this time because of the GFC.

Pregnancy and birth

Once you find out you're pregnant, there are some basic precautions that you should take to ensure the best health of you and your baby. 

Smoking
If you are a smoker or live with a smoker talk to your doctor or call the Quit helpline (13 QUIT).

Alcohol
It is recommended that you avoid alcohol during the first trimester of your pregnancy. Obviously, by avoiding alcohol throughout your pregnancy, your baby will not be at risk as a result of alcohol. Often, women are advised that the occasional glass of wine is safe but the best option for your own peace of mind is to talk to your specialist to find out what is recommended for you.

Recreational drugs
Stop all recreational drugs immediately. If you find it difficult to stop, talk to your doctor who can help you quit.

Prescribed medications
Check with your doctor as soon as you fall pregnant to find out whether prescribed medications are safe.

Rubella virus (German measles)
In Australia, most girls are vaccinated against the rubella virus as teenagers. However the antibodies can lose their efficiency over time, so it is good to check your immunity prior to falling pregnant.

If you have been in contact with anyone who has, or who is suspected of having, German Measles, you should contact your doctor for testing straight away. Rubella can cause serious defects in your baby including deafness, blindness and heart disease particularly if it is caught in the first three months of pregnancy.

Food
The biggest rule throughout your pregnancy is to ensure that you maintain a healthy, balanced diet. You should keep in mind at all times that your baby is getting all of his/her nutrients from you.

If you are unsure about your diet, or want some help, ask your doctor to refer you to a dietician. Get into the habit of checking packaging and labels and become aware of what you are eating. Also keep the following in mind:

  • Ensure all meats, poultry and fish are thoroughly cooked.
  • Ensure meat is thoroughly defrosted prior to cooking. ·Do not allow raw meat or eggs to come into contact with other foods.
  • Eat only pasteurised dairy products.
  • Avoid soft cheese (such as brie and camembert) and processed deli-meats.
  • If you are a heavy coffee drinker reduce your caffeine intake.

Caffeine
Caffeine affects iron absorption and so it is recommended that pregnant women limit caffeine intake.The recommendation for pregnant women is to avoid caffeine if possible, but if you can't get by without that morning cup of coffee, then limit intake to one cup per day. Caffeine is found in coffee, chocolate and tea. Herbal teas make an ideal substitute for tea and coffee.

Tannin
The Tannin found in tea interferes with iron absorption and so should also be limited. (Most herbal teas do not contain tannin but check packaging to be sure).

Listeriosis
Listeriosis is a bacterial disease commonly associated with ingestion of contaminated milk, soft cheeses, contaminated vegetables and ready to eat meats such as deli-meats and pate. Pregnant women may have no apparent infection but there can be risk of foetal infection.

Symptoms of Listeriosis include fever, aches and pains, intense headache, nausea and vomiting. During pregnancy you should take particular care to ensure all meats are thoroughly cooked, vegetables thoroughly washed and that you eat only pasteurised dairy products. An unborn child affected by Listeriosis may be still born and the bacteria can cause recurrent miscarriage. Check with your doctor or dietitian if you want more information.

Toxoplasmosis
Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that can cause serious effects to your unborn child including brain damage and blindness. The infection can be found in raw meats, cat and dog faeces and contaminated soil. If you have pets or have any concerns at all about toxoplasmosis, discuss them with your doctor. Some guidelines for avoiding toxoplasmosis:

  • Don't eat raw or undercooked meat
  • Don't handle cat litter or do any gardening in soil where cats have defecated
  • Wear gloves when gardening
  • Be strict about washing hands after patting animals

Botulism
Botulism is a rare but severe form of blood poisoning caused by improperly canned or preserved food such as cured ham or pork. Botulism causes progressive degeneration of the nervous system and muscular paralysis.

Salmonella
Salmonella infection is most often traced to eggs and chicken meat. It's advisable to avoid foods that contain raw egg and always cook chicken and eggs well. Wherever possible, purchase free range eggs and chicken. Symptoms of headache, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fever and shivering develop approximately 12 - 24 hours after infection and last for 2-3 days.

Work related hazards
If you plan to work throughout your pregnancy then it is essential that you take the time to assess your workplace and the activities that you are involved in daily to determine if there are any potential hazards.

If you have concerns about your job or your environment, discuss them with your doctor. If your work environment is not suitable, or if your work activities pose a risk, then your employer should transfer you to an alternative job while you are pregnant.

Contact the The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations for answers to any questions about work safety during pregnancy or talk to your doctor. Also think about the following points: 

  • Are you exposed to chemicals or gases?
  • Do you work closely with animals?
  • Does your work involve excessive (or risky) physical activity?
  • Are you exposed to infectious diseases?
  • Are you exposed to toxic waste?
  • Are you exposed to ionising radiation?
  • Are you exposed to high levels of cigarette smoke?

If you answer yes to any of these or recognise other concerns with your work environment then discuss changing your work environment with your employer for the duration of your pregnancy.

Do not become overheated for long periods
Overheating your body can be dangerous to your baby, particularly in the first trimester. In particular hot spa baths and saunas can cause foetal abnormalities.

Travelling
Generally, travelling does not cause a concern throughout most of your pregnancy. The main things to keep in mind are:

  • Pregnancy can increase your sensitivity to motion sickness.
  • If travelling by plane, you should not travel after your seventh month.
  • If travelling long distances in a car or train take along something to drink and try to take breaks and move around regularly - try not to get cramped into one position for a long time.
  • If you are travelling internationally, speak with your doctor about required immunisations and what impact they can have on your unborn baby.

Also, read about food hazards to ensure you are familiar with potentially dangerous foods and drink bottled water.

Immunisations
Any vaccinations that use live viruses are avoided during pregnancy, including Rubella, measles, mumps and yellow fever. It is vital that you make your doctor aware that you are pregnant prior to having any immunisations. Immunisations are required for travel to some countries, and these should be discussed fully with your doctor prior to finalising any travel plans.