Ages & Stages: Pregnancy: Gardening While Pregnant

When Merideth Hadersbeck moved from Anaheim, Calif., to Las Vegas, she did so in the middle of the summer heat. Anyone who has spent time in the scorching summer desert knows just how hot and uncomfortable it can be. Yet she wanted to immediately get working in her garden and to add some greenery to her backyard. Being five months pregnant and with temperatures over 100 degrees didn’t keep her from rolling up her shirt sleeves and digging in.

“I needed to add some color to our yard,” says Hadersbeck. “I worked off and on until my baby was born at the end of October. In the really hard, dry desert dirt I did a lot of digging.”

She made sure to take some precautions to keep herself safe, including drinking a lot of water, wearing a hat and making sure to get the work done in the early morning or evening when the heat wasn’t as intense. Simple safety precautions like these are vital to having a healthy day working in the yard or garden while you are pregnant.

Matters for Concern
“Women who are pregnant and gardening need to be careful of two things,” explains Dr. Susan Boyd of Las Vegas Ob/Gyn Associates, “toxoplasma cysts in the soil and using chemical pesticides.”

Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that can be transmitted to humans through reptiles, birds and animals, especially by cats. People can also come into contact with it through eating undercooked meat or unwashed fruits and vegetables from the garden.

Because some animals may have the parasite in their feces, it’s extremely important that pregnant women not come in contact with it, whether in the garden or while changing the cat litter box. Working outside in the garden can put you in a position to come in contact with such contamination.

“The spores live in the soil and get there from animal waste products,” says Dr. Boyd. “Infection during pregnancy can result in miscarriage, fetal death or infection to the newborn, causing illnesses that can lead to brain damage, hearing and sight problems.”

For most people, this parasite doesn’t pose such a risk because they have been exposed to it early in life and may have immunity or no symptoms at all. Pregnant women are the ones who really have to be careful when it comes to toxoplasmosis.

Taking Necessary Precautions
“There’s no need to stop gardening,” advises Amy Gifford, an education specialist with the National Gardening Association. “I gardened safely during my pregnancy by taking a few simple precautions.”

She advises:
• Wear gloves when doing any outdoor work, preferably the rubber-coated type, which are better at keeping things from penetrating.
• Wear a big hat to shade your head and face, and always wear sunscreen.
• Wash your hands thoroughly when you finish. Be sure to not touch your eyes, face or mouth prior to washing your hands.
• Avoid picking and eating anything right from the garden. Everything needs to be washed completely before being consumed.
• Drink a lot of water to avoid dehydration.
• Take frequent breaks. This will help you avoid overworking yourself or waking up the next morning feeling sore.
• Find a position that is comfortable for you, whether it be sitting or kneeling. If something doesn’t feel comfortable, don’t continue in that position.
• Save the heavy stuff for someone else, especially any big jobs or heavy bags that need to be moved.
• When it comes to using chemicals in the garden, always read and follow the safety instructions, and opt for pumps over aerosols, since they create less of a vapor for inhalation.
• Do a little research prior to getting started so you can avoid working with any types of plants that might be poisonous.
• Consider watering the garden soil before starting your work, to reduce the risk of being infected through inhalation of contaminated dust.

“I think it is unfortunate that the garden is often portrayed as a dangerous place to be while pregnant,” adds Gifford. “I, along with countless others, have found gardening to be therapeutic. By respecting some easy-to-follow precautions, the garden can continue to be an oasis throughout pregnancy.”

Go Organic
Pregnancy might be the perfect opportunity for you to try organic gardening methods. In organic gardening, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are not used. Only natural methods of fertilizing plants and controlling pests are considered. Going with this option will help eliminate the risks associated with the use of chemicals that might lead to pregnancy complications.
“Pregnant or not, it’s always better to garden without the use of pesticides,” says Gifford. “I would suggest taking this opportunity to explore other, safer methods of pest control. This is an especially smart step to take in preparation for having a small child in the garden in the not-too-distant future.”

Making it Special
While spending time outdoors, you may want to get creative and find a way to memorialize your pregnancy, such as planting a tree, creating a scrapbook page of you working in the garden, planting pink and blue flowers, or getting an inscribed garden stone or bench. Use this time to enjoy the peace and quiet of working in nature. Before you know it, the sound of the breeze blowing through the trees will be joined by the beckoning of your new baby.

Jacqueline Bodnar is a freelance writer who lives in Ormond Beach, Fla., with her husband and two children.