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Expert Q&A

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Can I still highlight my hair if I'm pregnant?

Asked by Kristi, Atlanta, Georgia

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I just found out that I'm four weeks pregnant. Is it safe to continue highlighting my hair? Is there anything I should avoid while I'm pregnant?

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Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

Congratulations on your pregnancy! These are important questions, because anything you eat, drink, touch or breathe has the potential to affect your pregnancy -- from making you sick to causing a miscarriage or creating birth defects. It's most important to be careful during the first trimester (the first 12 weeks of pregnancy) when the baby is developing especially rapidly.

The choices a mother-to-be makes during these 40 weeks should boil down to balancing the risks and benefits that any product or activity may pose to the pregnancy. For women who are planning to get pregnant, it's also a good idea to practice some of these safe and healthy habits starting at least three months before conception. Since every woman's situation is different, it's best to get the advice of the obstetrician or midwife regarding specific questions. However, here is a brief discussion about some of the most common questions I hear about possible toxic substances during pregnancy (and breastfeeding).

In general, for anything involving chemicals, fumes, or dyes -- if you can live without it, it may be best to wait, at least until after the first trimester. Try to avoid prolonged skin exposure to dyes and other chemicals; wear rubber gloves or wash your hands thoroughly after contact with irritating substances. If you go to a salon for hair or nail care, consider booking the first appointment in the morning before the fumes get too strong, and make sure there is good ventilation. An occasional highlight treatment is unlikely to cause problems, because very little of the chemical is expected to be absorbed through the scalp.

Of course, women who smoke cigarettes should quit before becoming pregnant or as soon as they find out they are pregnant. It's also important to avoid drugs and alcohol and may be helpful to limit one's caffeine intake. Women on medications for chronic conditions such as antidepressants should check with their doctor to see whether these should be continued during the pregnancy.

Foods to avoid while pregnant include raw or uncooked meat and some deli/luncheon meats and unpasteurized cheeses and juices (unless you wash the fruit and make the juice yourself for immediate drinking) -- all of which can carry illness-producing bacteria, viruses or parasites. The March of Dimes suggests avoiding sushi altogether during pregnancy, although some experts feel that sushi from reputable handlers may be safe. The EPA advises pregnant women to avoid fish that are high in mercury such as swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish and to limit all other types of seafood to no more than 12 ounces per week. Wash all produce well before eating, and cook vegetable sprouts (such as alfalfa or bean sprouts) to avoid bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli.

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