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Home safety smarts for moms-to-be

Many homes pose health hazards—toxic building materials, dangerous cleaners, slippery bathtubs and more—that can harm a developing fetus. Learning the risks and taking precautions can go a long way toward protecting your pregnancy. Take these steps to make your home healthy and safe for you and your unborn baby.

1. Squelch smoking.

Don’t allow smoking in your home. The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke can cause placental problems, stillbirth, slow fetal growth and preterm delivery. Secondhand smoke also causes pregnancy complications, and babies exposed to it are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), develop asthma and suffer from illnesses like bronchitis, pneumonia and ear infections.

2. Avoid toxic substances.

Metals like lead and mercury and chemicals found in pesticides, fertilizers, solvents, paint thinners and some paints can cause birth defects and increase your risk for miscarriage. Existing lead paint poses little risk as long as it’s not chipped or peeling. But if you plan to remove it or remodel, hire a professional and stay away until the project’s done. Acrylic-based paints are better, so if you can’t get someone else to paint the nursery, be sure to wear protective clothing and a mask and open windows while painting.

Mercury can be found in thermometers and fluorescent or high-intensity light bulbs. If one should break, ask another adult to clean it up (don’t use the vacuum cleaner, which will disperse the mercury). If you must have your home or property treated with pesticides, remove all food, dishes and utensils from the area. Have someone else apply the chemicals, wash up and ventilate your home before you return.

3. Pass on pet care.

Some pets like cats, hamsters, mice and guinea pigs may carry diseases that can have tragic consequences for your baby. Cats may carry the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, and rodents (pets or wild) may carry lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus.

You’ll need to avoid contact with cat feces. Ask another person to change the litter box, keep sandboxes covered and wear gloves when gardening. Infection from rodents is less common, but to be on the safe side, keep these pets in a part of the house where you spend little time. Have someone else care for the animals. If wild rodents are a problem, call an exterminator, but talk with your healthcare provider before allowing pest control chemicals to be used in your home.

4. Secure any slip, trip or fall hazards.

As your pregnancy progresses, your growing girth and relaxing ligaments can make you unsteady on your feet and primed for a fall. You should arrange furniture to open up pathways; clear clutter from floors and stairs; tuck away electrical, appliance and phone cords; and move low-rise pieces like coffee tables, magazine racks and planters away from traffic areas. Secure or remove throw rugs and install nonslip decals or a mat in the shower and tub. Wear sturdy shoes with nonskid soles (like sneakers) and use handrails. Place night-lights in hallways and bathrooms.