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Things to avoid during pregnancy

12-minute read

Key facts

  • There is no safe level of alcohol during pregnancy.
  • It’s great to be active and stay fit while you’re pregnant.
  • There are some foods you should avoid when you're pregnant.

When you’re pregnant, everyone has well-meaning advice on what you can and can’t do. From hair highlights to house paints, learn more about what's safe for you and your baby.

Everyday things to take care with


There is no safe level of alcohol during pregnancy. Whether you are planning a pregnancy or already pregnant, not drinking is the safest option.

Alcohol can harm your unborn baby.


If you are new to exercise, start slowly. Progress at your own pace, and at an intensity that makes you feel good.

It’s great to be active and stay fit while you’re pregnant. Exercise will not harm your developing baby as long as you exercise at a safe level. Regular moderate exercise is preferable to occasional intense exercise.

Always check with your midwife or doctor to make sure there are no reasons to prevent you from exercising.

Sports and activities to avoid while pregnant

There are some sports and activities that you should avoid when you are pregnant. These include:

  • Any sports or activities where there is a risk of collision, tripping, falling, or any other heavy body contact.
  • Any competitive sports where you have to move your body in a way that may not be safe.
  • Activities with unsafe environments — such as spas, hydrotherapy pools or 'hot' yoga.
  • Activities that involve heavy equipment — such as weightlifting, skiing and scuba diving.
  • High impact, repetitive exercises that can cause joint pain.


There are some foods you should avoid when you're pregnant because they might make you ill or harm your baby. Learn more about the foods you should avoid when you're pregnant.

Complementary therapies

It’s best to avoid any unnecessary medicines or treatments when you're pregnant. There are very few good studies on the effectiveness of complementary therapies. Anything you take into your body can affect your unborn baby.

Some complementary therapies, such as massage and acupuncture, are generally considered to be safe during pregnancy.

If you’re considering using a complementary therapy, it’s important to tell your doctor or midwife.

Massage therapy

Massage therapy is generally considered safe if it is done properly by a trained professional. It's important to make sure your massage therapist is specially qualified for pregnancy massage.

Women who receive massage therapy during pregnancy have reported decreased depression, anxiety and leg and back pain.


It is generally safe to have acupuncture when you are pregnant. Tell your acupuncturist you are pregnant because certain acupuncture points cannot be used safely during pregnancy.

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Self-care and beauty treatments

Fake tans

It’s fine to use fake tan creams and lotions while you are pregnant, but it’s best to avoid spray tans. This is because the effects of inhaling (breathing in) the spray aren’t known.

Even though there are no known risks to your baby, you could have an allergic reaction to fake tans.

This can happen because pregnancy changes your hormone levels and can make your skin more sensitive than normal. If you do use fake tan, always test the product on a small area of skin first.

If you work with spray tans, it’s suggested that you wear nose plugs or a face mask.

In Australia, Melanotan-I and -II are not approved products for tanning.

You can read more about cosmetic procedures and beauty treatments during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Hair dye

The chemicals in both permanent and semi-permanent hair dye aren’t readily absorbed through your scalp. So, it’s very unlikely that hair dye will cause any harm to your baby. While there is limited research in this area, colouring your hair during pregnancy is considered safe.

If you are concerned about dyeing your hair, you may choose to wait until after your first trimester. This way you avoid your baby being potentially exposed to chemicals whilst their vital organs form.

If you are colouring your hair yourself, you can reduce the risk of exposure by making sure that you:

  • wear gloves
  • leave the dye on for the minimum time
  • rinse your hair well at the end of the treatment

You may also want to consider:

  • using a semi-permanent vegetable dye
  • only getting highlights

When you highlight your hair, you only put dye onto strands of hair. The chemicals used are only absorbed by your hair, and not by your scalp or bloodstream.

Pregnancy can affect your hair’s normal condition. For example, your hair may become thicker, or thinner or react differently to colouring.

Before dyeing your hair, it's always a good idea to do a strand test first. Speak to your hairdresser for more advice.

If you’re a hairdresser, there’s no need to worry. Try to:

  • wear gloves
  • work in a well-ventilated room

Read more about cosmetic procedures and beauty treatments during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Saunas or hot tubs

While there is little research on using heated leisure facilities during pregnancy, it's advisable to avoid these because of the risks of overheating, dehydration and fainting.

Heated leisure facilities include:

  • saunas
  • jacuzzis
  • hot tubs
  • steam baths
  • steam rooms

When you use a heated leisure facility, your body can’t lose heat effectively by sweating. This causes your body's core temperature to rise. It's possible that a significant rise in your core temperature may affect your unborn baby. Particularly if this happens in the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy.

You’re likely to feel warmer during pregnancy. This is due to hormonal changes and an increase in blood supply to your skin.

If you overheat, more blood flows close to your skin, to help cool your body by sweating. This means less blood flows to your internal organs such as your brain. If this happens, your brain may not get enough blood and oxygen. This can also make you feel faint.


Sunbeds (solariums) give out ultraviolet (UV) rays, the same type of harmful radiation found in sunlight. Using a sunbed increases your risk of developing skin cancer, including malignant melanoma — the most serious form of skin cancer.

There is no clear evidence about the effect of UV rays from sunbeds on your unborn baby. Some studies have suggested there may be a link between increased UV rays and a folic acid deficiency. This is because UV rays can break down folic acid.

Commercial solariums are illegal in Australia.

You may find that your skin is more sensitive during pregnancy. This can mean that you are more likely to burn if you use a sunbed.

Potential household hazards


Toxoplasmosis is a common infection that is usually harmless. In most people, toxoplasmosis doesn't cause any symptoms. It’s caused by the parasite called Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii).

If you get toxoplasmosis for the first time while you’re pregnant, there’s a small risk of:

In Australia, pregnant women are not routinely screened for toxoplasmosis. It's therefore important that you know how to prevent infection.

You can avoid toxoplasmosis infection by:

  • washing your hands before handling food
  • thoroughly washing all fruits or vegetables — including prepared salads
  • thoroughly cooking raw meat and ready prepared chilled meats
  • wearing gloves when gardening
  • avoiding cat faeces (poo) in cat litter or soil

Cleaning products

Check the labels of cleaning products to make sure there are no safety warnings for pregnant women.

If you use cleaning products or any other household chemicals, follow the safety directions on the label. You can also:

  • make sure the room is well ventilated — open the windows and doors
  • don’t breathe in the fumes
  • wear gloves to minimise the absorption of chemicals through your skin
  • get help with the cleaning

You may want to try cleaning your home more naturally. Try using:

  • steam
  • sugar scrubs
  • vinegar
  • soap
  • baking soda

Painting and decorating

The risk of fumes from modern household paints harming your baby is low. But it’s impossible to know exactly how small the risk is.

The risk of harm to your baby may be slightly greater from solvent-based paints and old paintwork. Old paint work may contain traces of lead.

If you're concerned about paint fumes affecting your baby, you should avoid doing any painting and decorating while pregnant.

If you choose to paint and decorate when you're pregnant, you can reduce any potential risks by:

  • not painting and decorating until after week 12 of your pregnancy
  • using water-based paints instead of solvent-based paints or spray paints
  • making sure where you paint is well ventilated by opening all windows and doors
  • wearing protective clothing — like long trousers, long-sleeved tops, gloves, face masks and goggles
  • not eating or drinking where you're decorating
  • washing your hands when you've finished painting

Lead-based paint

Renovating can increase your exposure to lead. Get advice before doing anything if your house was built before 1971 (when lead-based paint was still available).

Disturbing lead-based paint can spread lead dust into the air and around your house. It’s important that pregnant women and young children aren’t around during renovations that disturb lead-based paint.

High levels of lead exposure can lead to:

Medical procedures


If you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, tell your doctor and the radiology practice before you have any x-ray tests. Unborn babies are more sensitive to radiation than adults.

You can discuss whether the tests can be delayed or avoided, and whether there are alternative tests. Your doctor may also consider using another imaging method instead, such as an ultrasound scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

X-rays that do not directly involve your tummy will deliver a comparatively low dose of radiation to your baby. However, the following tests need to be considered carefully:

  • tests where your unborn baby will be directly exposed to the radiation beam
  • tests where the imaging involves nuclear medicine

Being exposed to radiation increases the chance of your baby developing cancer later in life. This increase in risk is very small — 1 baby in 1,000.

To find out more, visit Radiation exposure during pregnancy.

Dental x-rays

Your dentist may need to take dental x-rays to provide you with the best care. These x-rays can be taken during pregnancy.

You may be asked to wear a lead apron while the x-ray is taken. This apron is placed over your chest and tummy.

Make sure your dentist knows that you're pregnant.

Resources and support

To get more advice on things to avoid during pregnancy, speak with your midwife or doctor. You can also call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak to a maternal child health nurse.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2024

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