Children are probably life’s greatest joy. But in the flood of information and advice that women receive when they fall pregnant, they are often left wondering whether it is safe to continue with many of their normal activities.
Gardening is another one of life’s great pleasures, but many women may fear that they will have to let their gardens and allotments go to ruin until after their baby has been delivered. The good news is that you can continue gardening – but it’s best to be aware of some risks and make some adjustments and adaptations to your methods.
The things you will need to watch out for are avoiding toxins and soil-borne infections and being careful not to place undue physical strain on your body.
First off, you need to be protected: hat, gloves, long-sleeved top, trousers, and sunscreen.
It’s always important to stay protected from the sun, but especially during and after pregnancy when Melasma (a hyper-pigmentation condition most commonly on the forehead, cheeks and skin) is more common. A good SPF-50 UVA-PF 28 sunscreen should prevent that, and a sun hat and long sleeves will help too.
The covering will also help keep you from getting too hot and bothered. As well as covering up you should keep well-hydrated, because we all know it’s easy to get lost in your gardening task and forget to drink water for long periods.
If it’s a very hot summer’s day, perhaps use the opportunity to relax, rather than undertaking any strenuous gardening activities.
Keeping covered will also help to protect you from any toxins or infections.
Toxins and infections
The biggest risk factor is an infection called toxoplasmosis.
Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that can be present in the soil through cat faeces. Toxoplasmosis is quite common and is not dangerous to healthy adults, who may have no symptoms or mild flu-like symptoms; however, for people with weaker immune systems and unborn children, it can cause serious complications.
If you have contracted toxoplasmosis in the past then you will have developed immunity and it is of no concern to you or your baby, but you do not want to contract it for the first time while pregnant.
You may have already read advice that you should not be the one cleaning out your litter tray if you have a cat and you are pregnant, that you should wash all vegetables and fruit thoroughly before eating, and that you should avoid eating cured or raw meats as well as unpasteurised goats cheese or milk – these are all in order to avoid toxoplasmosis.
In terms of gardening, there are a few easy steps you can take to minimise your risk.
• Cover your skin with good gardening gloves and clothing.
• Avoid direct contact with the soil and make sure you wash your hands and arms thoroughly with soap afterwards.
• Avoid touching your face with dirty gloves.
Also, it’s best to keep neighbours’ cats out of the garden and from using your borders as a toilet. One way to deter cats from your borders is to plant chopsticks into the soil every 8 inches or so. They are not sharp enough to hurt cats, but they are often enough to keep them from lounging about.
There are also some plants that cats apparently do not like the smell of, so plant some of these in your border and it should keep them away:
- Lemon thyme
- Coleus canina (aka scaredy cat plant)
Cat’s also don’t like the smell of citrus, so scattering the peels of citrus plants around the garden is often enough to keep them away.
The other thing you want to avoid is chemical pesticides. If you need to use pest control then always use organic, non-chemical types while pregnant.
If you feel that chemicals are needed, use the least toxic option available and get someone else to apply it for you. Stay out of the garden until it is fully dried, and then still be sure to use gloves and wash your hands thoroughly after gardening.
Take it easy
When you are pregnant you are more prone to overuse syndromes such as carpal tunnel or tennis elbow, so posture is important.
Long handled tools can help you to maintain better posture while working. Breaking up your activities by switching tasks regularly will also help you avoid any kind of repetitive strain.
Gardening can be a great way to keep up some exercise while pregnant. As with any physical activity, it’s important to warm up and stretch your muscles, and you should probably leave any heavy lifting or digging to someone else.
Also, now is not the time for all-day gardening marathons. Little and often is the key for the time being, so spread your tasks throughout the week rather than leaving everything to one day.
Take some time to walk around outside to prepare your muscles and do some stretches before getting started.
Your back can be especially vulnerable at times during pregnancy, so take extra care when lifting and bending. It is better to kneel than to be bent over for long periods, so invest in a kneeling pad or knee pads if you don’t have them already.
Here are my top eight garden activities that are ideal for pregnant women:
- Watering the garden
- Planting bedding plants
- Growing salad crops
- Creating a herb planter
- Taking cuttings
- Growing seeds
- Hoeing weeds
- Planting up window boxes
With these few small alterations to your gardening routine, you’ll still be able to enjoy your lovely garden in a way that shouldn’t pose any threat to you or your baby. Just remember to always only do what you feel comfortable with, and never compromise your health or well-being. Before you know it, you’ll have a little garden helper running around eager to enjoy your wonderful garden with you!
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.
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