By Julia Robertson, Utah Department of Health, MotherToBaby Utah (formerly Pregnancy Risk Line)

I can’t begin to describe how organized I was during the holiday season when I was pregnant with my first child. Since I was pretty far along (5 months), I wanted to make sure each gift was chosen way ahead of time, I knew how long it would take me to get the food trimmings just right and whether I should emphasize red or green in my decorating scheme. All of this had to be done before that “pregnancy brain” I had heard so much about set-in. Little did I know, the most important items on my holiday to-do list weren’t sitting on store shelves or mixed in with the tinsel and mistletoe.

Years later, as a teratogen information specialist for MotherToBaby, I realized some of the best gifts for a healthy pregnancy didn’t come with ribbons and bows, but from awareness and education! For example, did you know the holiday buffet table could include foods containing the potential for causing harm to a developing baby? Or, if not careful, decorating could put a pregnant woman in a dangerous situation? Today I encourage pregnant women to master must-know safety tips long before putting together must-have gift lists this season. Here are a few of my tips:

Tip 1. Get a Flu Vaccine. Not only should a pregnant woman get a flu shot, but anyone older than 6 months of age who will be around a newborn should be vaccinated. Breastfeeding moms should get a flu shot if they didn’t during pregnancy.

Tip 2. Tdap Vaccine. Health care providers now recommend this vaccine that protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis for moms in EVERY pregnancy, regardless of when they were last vaccinated. If a mom didn’t get the vaccine while pregnant, she should during breastfeeding. Anyone planning on being around a newborn needs to be up-to-date on the Tdap booster, which is usually given every 10 years.

Tip 3. Choose Wisely at the Buffet Table. Drinks like eggnog and spiced cider may contain alcohol. If you’re not sure what is in a beverage, ask the host. Also, avoid soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, as they may contain bacteria that can cause serious illness in a developing baby, as well as increase the risk of miscarriage, uterine infection, or premature labor. Meats like cocktail franks and pâté can also contain bacteria. Meats need to be thoroughly cooked so that bacteria are killed.

Tip 4. CMV (cytomegalovirus) May Be Lurking. CMV is a common virus that often has no symptoms. If a pregnant woman gets CMV, her baby could be at increased risk for hearing loss, developmental delays, or birth defects. To prevent infection, pregnant women should wash hands after changing diapers, feeding children, wiping children’s noses, or handling children’s toys. Moms should avoid sharing food, eating utensils, toothbrushes, and pacifiers with their children. Ask your health care provider about CMV at your next visit.

Tip 5. Holiday Decoration Safety. Some artificial trees, strings of lights, and ornaments may contain lead. Use gloves or wash hands after handling decorations to reduce exposure. Also, because of changes in their center of gravity, pregnant moms should stay off ladders and let others decorate the hard-to-reach places.

I hope these tips are helpful. While my son did end up turning out to be just fine, I think I would have caused myself less stress and worry had I known these tips during my pregnancy! If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call MotherToBaby. On behalf of all of us at MotherToBaby, here’s to wishing you a happy and healthy holiday!

For your FREE personalized risk assessment, call MotherToBaby toll-FREE (866) 626-6847. MotherToBaby is a service of the international non-profit Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), a society that supports and contributes to worldwide initiatives for teratology education and research. MotherToBaby affiliates and OTIS are suggested resources by many agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and are dedicated to providing evidence-based information to mothers, health care professionals, and the general public about medications and other exposures during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Learn more at

Julia Robertson

Julia Robertson, CPM, is the program manager for MotherToBaby’s Utah affiliate. She has authored several peer-reviewed publications focusing on maternal medication consumption and the effect on the developing fetus.