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How to Sort Through All the News on Pregnancy

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WebMD Health News

Feb. 20, 2001 -- For pregnant women, it's 'do this', 'don't do that'. Or perhaps this sounds familiar: 'you must not do this, you must do that.'

In recent weeks, there has been a dizzying array of news from many different sources on what you can and can't do while pregnant -- from taking common medicines or having sex to having a cup of java to get going in the a.m. Here's what you need to know to keep it all straight:

Cup of Joe

So, what's the deal with coffee? According to women's health expert Donnica Moore, MD, president of Sapphire Women's Health Group in Neshanic Station, N.J., "Five or more cups of coffee a day can double your risk of miscarriage during the first trimester and three to five cups per day ups risk of miscarriage by 30% in the first trimester." These findings were reported recently in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Are you free and clear after the first 12 weeks? Not necessarily," she says. "In the third trimester caffeine can contribute to preterm labor."

Moore's advice: "Limit caffeinated beverages to one per day or avoid them all together. The March of Dimes and Food and Drug Administration say to avoid caffeinated beverages all together," she points out.

Cough Medication

Several new studies suggest that cough medicine containing the cough suppressant dextomethorphan does not raise risk of birth defects in pregnant women. Three years ago, a study found that this cough suppressant did, in fact, cause birth defects -- in chick embryos. But recent studies, with humans, have not supported the link between the over-the-counter cough suppressant and major or minor birth defects.

Over-the-Counter Pain Medication

A Danish study recently found that a class of popular painkillers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Aleve, ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and perhaps even aspirin may increase the risk of miscarriage -- but they did not up the risk of birth defects or undergrown or premature babies.

"Women have to talk to their doctor regarding medication use during pregnancy on an individual case-by-case basis," Moore advises. "As in any situation, we are always weighing risks and benefits -- especially with prescription medications."

For example, if a mother has severe asthma and can't breathe without her medication, then the benefits of using the medicine during pregnancy will outweigh the risks to the fetus, Moore explains.

"In cases where we have choices between medications, we try to choose the one that is known to be the least toxic to the fetus and still gives the mom the benefit of the drug," she says.

For over-the counter-medications: "Read the label, read the label, read the label," Moore says.

"And talk to your doctor."

Pregnancy and sex

The idea that continuing to engage in sexual activity in the last trimester of your pregnancy increases your risk of premature delivery appears to be unfounded for most healthy women.

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