Top tips with expert Dr. Vivien Brown

By: Dr Vivien Brown pregnant

Expectant moms have nine long months to read books, attend prenatal classes, scour the Internet, and quiz their mommy friends in preparation for life with a new baby. Toronto-based family physician and women’s health expert, Dr. Vivien Brown, shares her top tips on what moms-to-be can do to make good choices:

1. Avoid unripened cheese, sushi and deli meat: Listeria is a bacterium that can cross the placenta causing stillbirth, miscarriage and acute illness in pregnant women. Deli meats can be contaminated with listeria, as can the unpasteurized versions of these products: soft cheeses (brie, camembert, feta, gorgonzola), fresh milk & milk products, juices and pâté. Pregnant women are at a higher risk of foodborne illness, so these foods should be avoided during pregnancy. Deli meats can be heated through to ensure bacteria has been cleared (but who’s going to eat hot baloney?) and soft cheeses made with pasteurized milk should be safe. Bacteria from raw fish in sushi can be an issue, pregnant or not, but given that your immune is altered during pregnancy you’re more likely to get sick, so it’s good idea to avoid raw fish during this time.

2. Get your flu shot and consider getting a whooping cough vaccination:Health Canada recommends that all pregnant women, at any stage of pregnancy, should be high priority recipients of the flu vaccine due to the risk of influenza-associated morbidity in pregnant women. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. also recently recommended that pregnant women should receive the whooping cough vaccine for adolescents and adults (called Tdap vaccine) during each pregnancy. Women should get this shot between the 27th and 36th week of each pregnancy.  This is protecting the newborn, who will later on be vaccinated, however in those first few months the baby is unprotected and needs the protection passed on from mom.

3. Eliminate alcohol and cigarettes, reduce caffeine: The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC) recommends abstaining altogether from wine and alcohol, the main reason being that nobody knows what the safe limit is for drinking alcohol during pregnancy is. It is important to avoid cigarettes (and any product containing nicotine) and reduce caffeine intake. Caffeine is a stimulant, which increases your blood pressure and heart rate, both of which are not recommended during pregnancy. The general recommendation for pregnant women is to limit intake to about 200mg of caffeine (about 8oz of coffee) per day or less.

4. Take your vitamins: Take prenatal vitamins with folic acid, starting two to three months before conception – as soon as you begin having unprotected sex. A recent survey of Canadian women showed that 87% of women didn’t know they needed to start taking folic acid 12 weeks before they even become pregnant.  There are a number of prenatal vitamins on the market, such as Nestlé Materna providing the folic acid needed for healthy brain and spinal cord development, and prevents neural tube defects such as spina bifida, which occurs very early on in pregnancy, even before you’ve missed a period.

If you haven’t started taking a prenatal vitamin yet, it’s not too late. Even after you’ve discovered that you’re pregnant and all the way through to the first six weeks post-partum, or as long as you are breastfeeding, a prenatal vitamin provides the higher levels of iron, as well as other nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D, which are important for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.

5. Rest when you can: Your body is busy 24 hours a day as your baby develops and it’s hard work. If you’re tired, don’t skip sleep. Put your feet up, take a nap or just slow down. You’ll feel better physically and mentally. Your chores will be there when you wake up!


Welcome to the start of an incredible adventure. Whether you have just found out you are pregnant or you’re well on your way, hopefully these tips help make your pregnancy a little easier to navigate. Good luck and happy parenting!


Dr. Brown is a family physician in Toronto, assistant professor at the University of Toronto and is the Vice President for MEDISYS Health Group, Inc. In 2013 she was honored by the College of Family Physicians with the “Physician of the Year” award for the region of Toronto.

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