Four Household Chores that Should Definitely Be Avoided in Pregnancy

You’re pregnant. Life still goes on. That means household chores still need to be done. Which ones are safe? Which ones should you avoid altogether? Here’s a list of four that should be avoided during pregnancy and a little about the risks associated with each one:

  1. Cleaning the cat box. Cleaning the cat litter box puts you at risk for contracting toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that is generally found in undercooked meats and shellfish. The parasite can also be found in contaminated drinking water and in cat feces.

Surprisingly, millions of people are walking around playing unwitting host to the toxoplasma parasite. They don’t get sick because their healthy immune systems keep the parasite in check.

However, if you are pregnant, or if you want to become pregnant, a newly acquired infection with toxoplasmosis can be harmful, as it readily passes from mother to baby. Babies can develop brain or eye damage as a result of infection.

If you have a cat, let someone else clean the litter box. It should be cleaned at least every 4-5 days because that’s how long it takes for the parasite to become infectious once it has been shed in the cat’s feces.

  1. Spraying for insects. Many insecticides (bug sprays) kill insects by attacking the bugs’ nervous systems. The same chemicals that cause harm to insect nervous systems can also cause harm to human nervous systems.

In your first trimester of pregnancy, your little one’s nervous system is just beginning to develop and, for this reason, is especially susceptible to the effects of insecticides. Insecticides are harmful to young children as well. Some studies have even shown a link between insecticide use and childhood leukemia.

If you have a pest problem in your home or garden, it’s best to let someone else handle the insecticides. Make sure windows are open and your home is aired out before you enter if insecticide must be sprayed indoors. Additionally, if someone in your household works around pesticides, make sure they leave their boots and outerwear at the door to avoid spreading it throughout your house.

  1. While you’re pregnant, the urge to get in there and paint the nursery can be overwhelming. This is yet another task best left to someone else. Household paints, especially oil-based paints, can have toxic fumes that could harm your baby.

Additionally, if your home was built before 1978, it is very likely that lead-based paint was used at some point to paint the walls. Disturbing the paint by scraping it could release lead particles into the air that you could breathe in. Lead is very harmful to developing babies and young children, causing brain damage.

If you need the nursery painted, make sure your painter uses a low-VOC latex paint, open the windows to keep the fumes in the room to a minimum, and stay out of the room for a couple of days after painting is complete.

  1. Heavy lifting. You’re strong. You’ve always been strong. But now is not the time to prove it to anyone—including to yourself. Heavy lifting in pregnancy, especially if repetitive heavy lifting is part of your job, has been associated with preterm birth, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and maternal injury.

Even before your pregnancy starts showing, your body is releasing a surge of hormones. Two of these hormones are progesterone and relaxin, which work to relax your joints and allow your body to stretch more in preparation for the stretching that will be happening when you give birth. This extra elasticity can make it very easy to push your body beyond what would normally feel comfortable, leading to pain and injury.

If you’ve got heavy lifting to do, it’s best left to someone else.

And there you have it. Four chores you should absolutely avoid if you’re pregnant: cleaning the cat litter box, spraying for insects, painting, and heavy lifting. During pregnancy, your body is different. It is not able to withstand the same environmental insults it could before you became pregnant. You must give extra care to yourself and your baby. If in doubt, leave the chore to someone else. If you have any specific concerns about other chores to be avoided, you should consult your physician.

Janette DeFelice
Dr. Janette DeFelice is a writer currently focusing on how the changing environment affects our health. She holds a Doctor of Medicine degree from Chicago Medical School where she taught clinical and diagnostic skills to beginning medical students, and a Master’s degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Her writing can be seen online at BeTheChangeMom, ChicagoNow, and Medium, and she’s very excited to have published her first novel, Delia Rising: A Ballet in Three Acts. She lives in Chicago’s west suburbs with her school-age twins, her husband, and a family cat named Clara Barton.

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