A pregnant woman stands outside near flowers.
Pregnancy can be a great time to enjoy nature—just make sure you’re careful to avoid exposure to soil and chemicals. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

There’s an old familiar saying about springtime: April showers bring May flowers.

Well, the showers part is behind us and we’re well into the flowers.

For many, this season is a sign that it’s time to head outdoors to work in gardens and flowerbeds. The green thumbs among us know these are relaxing activities that can relieve stress and even provide for light exercise.

I’ve talked to people who enjoy tending their flower gardens, and most of them really enjoy that feeling they get when there’s soil on their hands.

But if you’re pregnant, you need to wear gloves when you’re working outdoors.

Why? Toxoplasmosis and chemical exposure.

According to the National Institutes of Health medical library, toxoplasmosis is an infection due to the parasite toxoplasma gondii, a common parasite. The infection can result from blood transfusions or solid organ transplants, but also from handling cat litter, eating contaminated soil, or eating raw or undercooked meat.

It takes about one to five days for the parasite to become infectious.

The symptoms usually arise about one to two weeks after contact with the parasite, according to the medical library. In some people, toxoplasmosis can cause flu-like symptoms such as muscle pain and fever, although it can seriously affect people with weakened immune systems.

Medical care is needed immediately if symptoms are seen in infants or babies, or in people who have weaker immune systems. When the infection is passed from an infected mother to her baby through the placenta, it results in congenital toxoplasmosis, a serious condition that requires immediate treatment.

One way that toxoplasmosis is spread: cat feces, which can be in the soil. Hence the recommendation for gloves while gardening.

So, what about cats? Do you have to get rid of your cats during pregnancy?

No. If they are indoor cats, there’s a very rare chance they would have toxoplasmosis.

Just make sure you don’t feed them raw meat, which can also harbor the parasite. (Another reason you don’t want to eat undercooked meat.)

It’s also best to have someone else change your cat’s litterbox while you’re pregnant. It’s also recommended that you don’t take in stray cats during your pregnancy, and don’t get a new cat or kitten.

You cannot get toxoplasmosis from petting cats, but good hygiene (washing your hands regularly) is always something you should do.

Chemical exposure is another reason to wear gloves when gardening. Herbicides and insecticides can be a concern with a developing baby.

Just because you’re expecting doesn’t mean you need to avoid flowers and gardening. You just need to take some extra precautions.

Some important recommendations for working outside when you’re pregnant:

  • When you’re working in the garden, avoid the hottest part of the day. Choose the cool morning or late evenings.
  • Stay hydrated—the sun can quickly dehydrate you.
  • Wear a hat to avoid too much sun exposure.
  • Wear gloves at all times.
  • Use minimal pesticides—if any at all.
  • Try to keep cats out of the flower bed and garden areas.
  • Wash all your produce thoroughly.
  • If chemicals are being sprayed outside your home or in your garden, stay indoors.
  • Maintain good posture. Lots of bending can make you sore even when you’re not pregnant. It’s important to find a comfortable position and take frequent breaks.