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Chemotherapy and other treatments that are completely safe during pregnancy

As an experienced author, journalist and editor, Sarah specialises in writing about business, property, travel and parenting. She's written for magazines including Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Collective and Your Investment Property magaz...

Which medical treatments are safe for pregnant women?

From SheKnows Australia
When it comes to getting treatment for medical and health issues during pregnancy, it pays to be overcautious.

There can be dozens of different reactions expectant mums may experience as a result of taking certain medications or undergoing various treatments, and sometimes they don’t even know they’ve put their baby’s health at risk.

Feverfew, for instance, is a popular herbal remedy used by people who experience migraines. But according to the Victorian government’s Better Health service, the herb feverfew “can cause uterine contractions and possible miscarriage in pregnant women.”

As I said, you can never be too careful. In saying that, there are some treatments you may believe are “no-go zones” at first glance but that are actually quite safe for pregnant women. These include:

1. Chemotherapy for cancer treatment

Cancer specialist Christobel Saunders is the first to admit that the idea of undergoing chemotherapy when pregnant “does seem counter­intuitive.” But according to Prof Saunders, there is no evidence that chemotherapy damages the baby if it occurs after 12 weeks' gestation, as all the baby’s organs are developed by this stage. Furthermore, the placenta helps ­protect the baby from any damage.

More: IVF breakthrough gives women with fertility issues new hope

This was of huge comfort to Perth mum Pam Cinquini, who underwent chemotherapy for breast cancer earlier this year despite being four months pregnant. She said she was shocked to learn she could have surgery to ­remove the cancer and chemotherapy to attack any lingering cancer cells while she was expecting.

Five months ago, Cinquini delivered her healthy and much-wanted little boy, Leonardo, conceived after eight years of IVF, six miscarriages and three egg ­donations.

2. Acupuncture

Acupuncture isn’t just completely safe and effective during pregnancy, but it can also help to ready your body to conceive or undergo IVF.

According to The Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic, “Acupuncture treatments applied in the 4 weeks before the due date for delivery has been shown to reduce medical induction and emergency caesarian rates. It also has been shown to encourage cervical ripening and shorten labour time.”

More: Why drinking while pregnant is bad again

3. Dental treatments such as fillings and root canals

Hormones: They're the curse of pregnancy. One of the many side affects they can bring about is issues with your teeth, as they can cause irritation to your gums and make them swell and bleed. If you happen to find yourself suffering a toothache or gum issues during pregnancy, you may think you need to postpone treatment until after you've delivered your baby. But according to the Mayo Clinic, visiting the dentist during pregnancy — even for major dental treatments such as fillings, tooth extractions and root canals — is safe.

"The consequences of not treating an infection during pregnancy outweigh the possible risks of the medications used during dental treatment," Mayo Clinic reports, adding that the ideal time to have dental treatment during pregnancy is during the second trimester. This is because by weeks 14 to 20, the development of the fetal organs is complete and the risk of side effects are lower.

The WA Department of Health also advises: "There is no reason to avoid dental treatment when pregnant, as most dental procedures can be carried out safely during pregnancy."

4. Electroconvulsive therapy

For women who are living with bipolar disorder or other psychiatric illnesses, treatments such as ECT may form an effective part of their treatment. Formerly known as electroshock therapy, ECT is a psychiatric treatment that induces seizures in patients to provide relief from psychiatric conditions.

The Black Dog Institute reports that during pregnancy, ECT may be continued, as it "plays an important role in treating both acute mania and psychosis and severe depression, as a last resort. Examples include when a woman is pregnant and certain types of medications should not be used (i.e. contra-indicated), or when other treatments have not worked."

More: Everything you need to know to properly prepare for pregnancy

5. Radiation from X-rays and diagnostic tests

The first thing we need to know: Background radiation is always present in our environment, according to The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists. Every year, every single person living in Australia "receives background radiation that is equivalent to the radiation dose from 50 to 100 simple chest X-rays."

The second thing we need to know: The risk associated with a diagnostic imaging procedure to a pregnant woman is the same as the risk level for any woman of the same age who is not pregnant.

"It is very important to realise that almost all imaging tests expose the foetus to such low levels of radiation that they are not a cause for concern," they advise. "However, it's good practice if possible to avoid those tests and procedures that directly expose the uterus or abdomen to radiation if a woman could be or is pregnant."

The primary caveat to this is radiation for cancer, however, as this type of treatment involves radiation doses that are several thousands times higher than those delivered by diagnostic tests.

As with all medical treatments, it's important that you advise your doctor or health care provider if you are pregnant or trying to conceive to ensure you minimise your risks. The information in this article is provided as a guide only and should not be relied on as medical advice.

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