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Tips for pregnant and breastfeeding women on how to put their health first from our partners at Motherisk

Fact #1: Exercise

Exercise during pregnancy is recommended due to its benefits to the pregnant woman, her pregnancy and her baby.

Evidence is accumulating that moderate-intensity exercise in a healthy, low-risk pregnancy can reduce the likelihood of excessive pregnancy weight gain and can also help with common pregnancy complaints (1, 2) including back pain (1, 2), varicose veins (1), and moodiness (1). Other benefits may include a lower risk of caesarean delivery (1, 2), maternal hypertension (2), and gestational diabetes (1, 2), especially in obese individuals (1, 2). Contrary to prior belief, exercising within recommended guidelines does not increase the risk of low birth weight (1, 2), preterm delivery (1, 2), or miscarriage (1).

Always check with your healthcare provider or call Motherisk (1-866-439-2744) to make sure you are exercising safely during your pregnancy. 

Fact #2: Influenza Vaccine

Although most people who are infected with influenza experience mild symptoms, pregnant women have a greater risk for severe disease, adverse pregnancy and neonatal outcomes.

Due to changes that occur during pregnancy, pregnant women are more likely to get infections (2). Pregnant women who catch the “flu” have a greater chance of being hospitalized (1, 2) and even dying due to being seriously ill (2). There is also a higher chance that they deliver early (2) or have other delivery complications (2), especially if they have the flu in the second or third trimester (1).

The Canadian   National   Advisory   Committee   on   Immunization   (NACI)   recommends that all pregnant women, at any stage of pregnancy, get their flu shot (1). To date, studies have not reported concerns with getting the flu shot during pregnancy (1). Research shows that women who got their flu shot during pregnancy had fewer smaller and premature babies compared to women who did not get their flu shot (1). And their babies were less likely to get the flu and be hospitalized as infants (1).

Speak to your healthcare provider or call the Motherisk Helpline (1-877-439-2744) to learn about the safety of the influenza vaccine during pregnancy.

Fact #3: Dental Care

Poor oral health in pregnancy can increase the risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Studies have shown that some dental infections, especially if left untreated, can increase the risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes such as pre-eclampsia, preterm birth and low birth weight (1). As well, they may affect maternal health (1). Pregnancy hormones can increase the risk for gingivitis (2). It is important for women to visit their dentist for routine dental care during pregnancy. Dental procedures such as dental filling, cleaning, dental X-rays and anesthetics have not been associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes (2).

Speak to your healthcare provider or call the Motherisk Helpline (1-877-439-2744) to learn about the safety of dental treatments during pregnancy. 

Fact #4: Smoking

Smoking is associated with risk during pregnancy. Quitting early or before pregnancy will produce the greatest benefit for both mother and baby.

Smoking has been linked to a higher chance of miscarriage, lower birth weight, prematurity, placenta problems and other adverse outcomes and is dependent on the number of cigarettes smoked per day. If unable to quit, cutting down on the number of cigarettes at any point in pregnancy is still beneficial. Women who are unable to quit on their own may consider nicotine replacement therapy (such as the patch, gum or inhaler) in combination with cognitive behavioural therapy. These therapies have shown to result in significantly higher quit rates in pregnancy with no adverse effect on the baby.

Speak to your health care provider or call the Motherisk Alcohol and Substance Use Helpline (1-877-327-4636) to learn more about the effects of smoking on your baby and how to safely quit. Information is also available about support or treatment services, if needed. 

Fact #5: Folic acid

Low levels of folic acid in the first few weeks of pregnancy can increase the risk of major birth defects, such as spina bifida, a neural tube defect (NTD). 

To reduce the risk for NTDs, women who are planning a pregnancy are strongly recommended to take 0.4-1 mg of folic acid starting two to three months before pregnancy and continuing into pregnancy Women are recommended to take a higher dose of folic acid (4mg) while planning their pregnancy and into the first trimester if they or their male partners have an NTD or a previous pregnancy/baby with an NTD.

Speak to your healthcare provider or call the Motherisk Helpline (1-877-439-2744) if you have any questions about folic acid supplementation during pregnancy.

Fact #6: Alcohol during Pregnancy

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can harm your developing unborn baby.

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is the leading preventable cause of birth defects, and intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities in infants. Children affected by alcohol during pregnancy struggle with depression and anxiety and experience difficulties in social interactions and relationships.

There is no known safe amount of alcohol in pregnancy. There is also no known time during pregnancy when it is safe to drink alcohol. Therefore, abstinence remains the prudent choice for a woman who is or might become pregnant. You can improve the outcome of your pregnancy if you refrain from drinking alcohol as soon as you find out about your pregnancy.    

Speak to your health care provider or call the Motherisk Alcohol and Substance Use Helpline (1-877-327-4636) to discuss the risk associated with drinking alcohol during pregnancy. A counselor can also refer you to available services for support or treatment, if needed.


  • Alleyne J, Peticca P, Canadian Academy of Sports and Exercise Medicine. Discussion Paper: Exercise and Pregnancy Discussion Paper. Ottawa (ON); 2008. Available at:
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. ACOG Committee Opinion No. 650: Physical activity and exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Obstet Gynecol. 2015;126:e135–42.
  • Public Health Agency of Canada. An Advisory Committee Statement (ACS) National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI): Canadian Immunization Guide Chapter on Influenza and Statement on Seasonal Influenza Vaccine For 2015-2016. Ottawa (ON); September 2015. Available at:
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prevention and control of seasonal influenza with vaccines. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices--United States, 2013-2014. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2013 Sep 20;62(RR-07):1-43
  • Papapanou PN. Systemic effects of periodontitis: lessons learned from research on atherosclerotic vascular disease and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Int Dent J. 2015;65(5):283-291.
  • Giglio J, Lanni SM, Laskin DM, Giglio NW. Oral Health Care for the Pregnant Patient. JCDA. 2009 Feb;75(1): 43-48.
  • Tobacco Use and Dependence Guideline Panel. Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: 2008 Update: Specific Populations and Other Topics. Rockville (MD): US Department of Health and Human Services; 2008 May. Available at:
  • Wilson RD, Wilson RD, Audibert F, Brock JA, Carroll J, et al. Pre-conception Folic Acid and Multivitamin Supplementation for the Primary and Secondary Prevention of Neural Tube Defects and Other Folic Acid-Sensitive Congenital Anomalies. JOGC. 2015; 37 (5): 534-549. Available at:
  • Carson G, Cox LV, Crane J, Croteau P, Graves L, Kluka S, et al. Alcohol Use and Pregnancy Consensus Clinical Guidelines. JOGC. 2010; 32(8 Suppl 3): S1-S31. Available at: