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Gardening While Pregnant

By: Rachel Newcombe - Updated: 24 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Garden Gardening Plants Weeds Soil Safe

A leisurely potter around the garden tidying up the borders and pulling up any errant weeds, may seem like the ideal way to while away an afternoon. But whilst being outdoors and getting fresh air is great at any time, there are some issues you need to be aware of when you’re pregnant. Here’s the lowdown on how to garden safely.

The biggest gardening-related issue for pregnant women is toxoplasmosis. You’ll probably have come across this in relation to raw or undercooked food, but the parasitic infection can also lurk in soil too, posing a potential danger in the garden. About one in 500 women in the UK catch toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, through various means. If you do catch it, there’s around about a 40% chance that your baby will be affected. It can cause miscarriage or stillbirth, your baby may be born blind or have brain damage, or they may appear healthy, but develop problems later in childhood. In short, toxoplasmosis isn’t a pleasant infection and could have dire consequences.

The parasite toxoplasma gondii can be found in soil, usually from cat faeces that may be in the garden. It can inadvertently be passed from your hands to your mouth or eyes without even noticing. Even if you don’t have a cat yourself, it’s possible that other cats may have wandered into your garden at some point, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.

To reduce the risk of becoming infected with toxoplasmosis when gardening, always:

  • Wear gloves when you’re touching the soil and dealing with plants.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after you’ve gardened, even if you’ve worn gloves.
  • Avoid touching your face or eyes when you’re gardening and before you’ve washed your hands.

Pesticides and Insecticides

The other area to be aware of is the use of pesticides and insecticides in the garden. Many gardeners don’t think twice about spraying chemicals on to plants to protect against pests and diseases and the chances are products such as these may already have been used in your garden. But some studies suggest they could pose risks to pregnant women.

Studies into the risk of pesticides suggest that it’s during the first trimester, particularly weeks three to eight, when the most damage could be caused if you’re in contact with pesticides. This is because it’s the time when a baby’s neural tube development is occurring. Other potential risks to babies include the development of heart defects, limb defects and oral clefts.

Although there are no strict guidelines on exposure to pesticides, the American Academy of Pediatrics does suggest pregnant women don’t use pesticides at all during the course of their pregnancy, just to be on the safe side. Alternatives, such as natural or organic methods, are available instead. If pesticides are already in use, here are some safety guidelines:

  • Don’t panic if you know pesticides have been used in your garden. It’s long term exposure or exposure to large quantities that poses the most danger, so a small amount is unlikely to be too harmful.
  • If you can’t avoid using pesticides in your garden, avoid handling them yourself and instead get someone else to apply them.
  • Always wear gloves when you’re gardening and thoroughly wash your hands when you’ve finished.
Gardening certainly isn’t an activity that’s off-limits when you’re pregnant, so make the most of any good weather and enjoy spending time in your garden.

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