Avoiding and minimising risks to keep you and your baby healthy during pregnancy.


Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to various health issues for both mum and baby.

The good news is, if you manage to quit smoking by the 15th week of your pregnancy and remain smoke free, the risks to your baby in terms of growth and development can be reduced to that of a woman who has not smoked. Find out more about the benefits of quitting smoking during pregnancy.

New guidelines mean that you will have your carbon monoxide levels tested at each midwife or consultant clinic appointment, to ensure that the staff can give you the help and support you need. Carbon monoxide is an odourless poisonous gas. Breathing it in can make you very unwell and it can kill if you’re exposed to high levels. Carbon monoxide is produced when fuels do not burn fully. Incorrectly installed, poorly maintained or poorly ventilated appliances such as cookers and boilers are some of the most common causes of accidental exposure to carbon monoxide. Blocked chimneys, faulty car exhausts, paint fumes and cigarettes can be other causes of carbon monoxide poisoning. Alongside the health risks to yourself it can also be harmful to your unborn baby. Babies exposed to carbon monoxide during pregnancy are at risk of prematurity, low birth weight (making them more susceptible to infection), stillbirth, neonatal death and behavioural problems.

In order to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning you should get a registered engineer to install any appliances in your home, maintain and service appliances as recommended by manufacturer, quit smoking, make sure all chimneys are swept regularly and you can install a carbon monoxide alarm in your home to alert you if there is a leak. Read more on carbon monoxide.

Throughout Dorset there are specialist Smoking in Pregnancy Support Services to help you quit. The services are run by qualified midwives who have completed specialist training to support you to give up smoking. The specialist one-to-one support and the treatments provided mean you are four times more likely to be able to quit, and to remain smoke free, than if you tried to quit alone. At your booking appointment, your midwife can refer you to the relevant service so they can offer you support right from the start of your pregnancy.

Learn more about the use of e-cigarettes in pregnancy.


Drinking alcohol at any stage during pregnancy can cause harm to your baby – the more you drink, the greater the risk. This is why the advice for pregnant women that the safest approach is to not drink alcohol at all during pregnancy. 

Drinking at any stage during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, small birth weight and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). FASD is the term used to describe abnormalities resulting from a fetus’s exposure to alcohol, including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is a preventable, very serious, lifelong condition which is caused by drinking alcohol during pregnancy, which affects the way a baby’s brain develops.  Children with FAS have problems with brain development, abnormal growth, and have characteristic facial features that result from exposure to alcohol in the womb (or ‘during pregnancy’).

Get support. If you think you might have problems stopping drinking talk to your doctor or midwife.

Learn more about the use of alcohol and drugs in pregnancy from NHS Choices.

You can also read more about the use of alcohol and drugs during pregnancy from Wessex Healthier Together.

Please contact the following organisations for help:

Illegal drugs

Taking illegal drugs, street drugs, legal highs or medications that have not been prescribed for you can be extremely harmful to you and your unborn baby. If you are using drugs or struggling with a drug addition, it’s very important to speak to your midwife, GP or a specialist drug and alcohol service. Getting help early can protect your baby and keep you well.

You can contact the following organisations for help:


Some infections or viruses can be harmful to you and/or your baby if you suffer from them during pregnancy. Please seek medical advice from your GP if you are concerned about any of the following:

Chicken pox

Chicken pox is a virus which is highly infections and can be dangerous to your baby. If you have already had chicken pox, you will most likely be immune to the virus and you don’t need to worry about being around children or adults with chicken pox during your pregnancy. If you’re unsure whether you’ve had it or not, you may be able to get a blood test to check your immunity.

If you are unsure whether you are immune or not and you think you have come into contact with chicken pox during your pregnancy, you should contact your GP or your midwife. Don’t attend the maternity unit unless you are told to do so, as this may spread the virus to other pregnant women.

Slapped cheek syndrome (Parvovirus B19)

This virus usually affects children, but adults can catch it too. If you catch it during pregnancy, it can be harmful to your baby.

If you experience a blotchy, red rash on your face, usually with a mild temperature, headache or sore throat, you should call your GP or midwife for advice.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

Rates of some sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, herpes and gonorrhoea are increasing, and they can be harmful to your baby’s health. Others such as human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV) can be passed to your baby without appropriate treatment. If you are suffering from symptoms of an STI during pregnancy, or you think that either you or your partner may have been exposed to one, it’s very important to get tested. Find your nearest sexual health screening service here by entering your postcode.


Toxoplasmosis is a dangerous virus that’s often found in cat faeces, contaminated soil or contaminated meat. If an adult catches it, they’ll usually experience flu-like symptoms and won’t realise they have it. However, if you catch it during pregnancy, it can be harmful to your baby. It is rare so it is not tested for usually, but you should see your GP If you are concerned that you may have come into contact with toxoplasmosis. If you have a cat, ask your partner to handle the litter trays during pregnancy if possible, or use disposable gloves if you have to do it yourself. Avoid gardening if possible, or use gloves. It’s best to wash all fresh fruit and vegetables to remove any traces of soil.

Activities to avoid

Being active during pregnancy has many benefits for your physical and mental wellbeing. However, there are some activities that pose an increased risk which should be avoided.

  • Activities where there is a higher risk of falling or high impact injuries such as skiing, gymnastics, horse riding, water skiing, surfing, boxing, judo, football, basketball, and off-road cycling are not recommended during pregnancy

  • Activities in environments with a particularly high or low air/water pressure such as skydiving and scuba diving are not recommended

  • Activities lying flat on the back are not recommended after the first trimester, because the weight of your bump presses on your main blood vessel bringing blood back to your heart and this can make you feel faint. Pregnancy-specific yoga or pilates classes should not include these exercises so are a good choice. Hot yoga or pilates should be avoided due to the heat and humidity

  • If you were not taking part in regular physical activity prior to your pregnancy, strenuous activities such as running, HIIT, racquet sports and strenuous strength training may be less suitable

  • Try to build in regular movement into your daily routine and avoid long periods of sitting or lying down during the day. This will help to regulate your blood sugar levels and reduce risk of developing a range of health conditions

Being active during pregnancy is generally safe for most women. However, a small number of women might need to consult with a healthcare professional before taking part, and in some cases, will benefit from additional monitoring, support and guidance from a qualified exercise professional.

The Get Active Questionnaire for Pregnancy (GAQ-P) has been designed to identify individuals who need to consult with a healthcare professional before they begin or continue to be physically active, and to help the majority of healthy pregnant women overcome any concerns they might have about getting or staying active.