When you’re pregnant, you’re eating for two. That doesn’t just refer to the amount of food you eat. You do, of course, need to take in some extra calories while you’re pregnant. You also have to be especially careful about what you eat.Dr. Cal Says:Pregnant women should take a vitamin supplement of 1 mg folic acid daily to prevent spinal cord abnormalities. In addition, there are foods that should be limited or avoided completely, such as certain cheeses, seafood and deli meat.
A developing baby has different nutritional needs than an adult, so you have to be sure to eat what the baby needs as well as what you need. In addition, a developing baby is vulnerable to certain types of foods that don’t bother adults. That means you may need to avoid certain foods while you’re pregnant.
Harboring a new little one is a big responsibility and you want to give your baby the healthiest possible start. So, let’s take a look at what foods are risky during pregnancy.
What makes food dangerous during pregnancy?
Although poor dietary decisions are unlikely to cause a serious birth injury like Cerebral Palsy, the food that you eat while pregnant can put the baby at risk in two ways.
First, some foods are more likely to carry certain kinds of infections. Those infections aren’t usually dangerous to adults but can cause serious health problems for a baby. Second, some foods have high levels of certain toxins. Those toxins don’t cause a problem for adults, but babies have less ability to process them and so are likely to suffer harmful effects.
Foods with Infection Risk
This is tough news for sushi lovers. Uncooked seafood may carry coliform bacteria, salmonella, toxoplasmosis, and other dangerous bacteria. A baby’s immune system isn’t fully formed and these serious infections can be deadly.
Smoked seafood, including lox, nova, kippers, and more, can carry listeria. Listeria can cause life-threatening infection in both mother and child. In addition, listeria infection may cause a miscarriage.
Seafood in cans or in shelf-stable packaging is typically safe to eat.
“Shellfish” is a blanket term for a large variety of seafood. This category includes oysters, mussels, clams, abalone, and scallops. It also includes crabs, lobsters, shrimp, and crawfish. Raw shellfish is particularly dangerous during pregnancy. Raw shellfish carry a wide variety of bacteria that can be life-threatening to a fetus. Cooking the shellfish may kill some of the dangerous bacteria.
Even cooked shellfish, however, is not safe for pregnancy. Shellfish feed mostly on algae, which sometimes produces toxic byproducts. Algae isn’t removed by cooking and can be harmful or even fatal to the baby.
We like our steaks medium rare, but it’s safer to dial up the temperature during pregnancy. Like uncooked seafood, undercooked meats can carry bacteria like salmonella and toxoplasmosis.
Remember that poultry and pork should always be cooked all the way through – those types of meat can carry infections serious enough to make even healthy adults very ill.
Deli Meat and Meat Spreads
Deli meat can carry listeria, a serious infection that can pass through the placenta to the baby. Pate and other meat-based spreads run the same risk. Listeria may cause blood poisoning in the baby, which can be fatal. In addition, a listeria infection can cause a pregnant person to miscarry.
However, you don’t have to give up on your favorite deli meats and pates entirely. You can reheat deli meat until it’s steaming, which will kill any listeria present. Pates and other meat spreads that are shelf-stable or canned are also safe.
We all know we shouldn’t eat raw eggs, but sometimes we can’t help but sneak a bite of raw cookie dough. Raw eggs can carry salmonella, which is a serious infection in adults. In a pregnant person, salmonella can be fatal to the baby.
Remember that cookie dough isn’t the only place you might run into raw eggs. Many homemade recipes call for uncooked eggs, including Hollandaise sauce, mayonnaise, and Caesar salad dressing. If you’re making a recipe that calls for raw eggs, be sure to use pasteurized eggs – those are safe for pregnancy. Restaurants typically use pasteurized eggs for these types of recipes, but it’s worth asking to be sure.
When cooking eggs, be sure to cook the yolk all the way through. The yolk must be fully cooked to kill any lurking salmonella.
Most milk that you buy at a grocery store is pasteurized. However, there has been a trend in recent years toward unpasteurized milk. Unpasteurized milk can carry listeria. As mentioned above, listeria can be fatal to the baby.
Like unpasteurized milk and eggs, soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk can carry listeria. Soft cheeses include brie, camembert, bleu cheese, feta, gorgonzola, and more. If a soft cheese is made with pasteurized milk, it will be clearly indicated on the label. If there is no indication on the label, the soft cheese is not safe to eat.
Pregnancy doesn’t get you out of eating your veggies, but you do need to be careful about how you handle your fresh produce. Fresh produce must be very carefully washed to ensure that all pesticide and soil residue is removed. Soil left on produce may carry toxoplasmosis, a dangerous parasite. Healthy adults typically don’t have any trouble clearing out toxoplasmosis on their own. Babies, however, are incapable of fighting off the parasite and may suffer lifelong symptoms, including blindness and mental disability.
Like unwashed produce, unpasteurized juice can harbor salmonella and E. coli bacteria. That means it’s best to put your home juicer away during pregnancy and stick to store-bought, pasteurized juices. Don’t drink juice unless it is clearly marked as pasteurized.
Foods with Toxin Risk
Fish and Mercury
Fish that are high in the food chain contain high levels of mercury. Healthy adults won’t have a problem filtering out the mercury, but babies don’t have the ability to clear mercury out of their systems. In addition, developing brains are believed to be particularly vulnerable to mercury. Consuming mercury during pregnancy may cause brain damage and developmental delays.
Fish high in mercury include tilefish, swordfish, king mackerel, and shark.
Those four types of fish tend to have the highest levels of mercury, but doctors typically recommend eating other types of fish several times a week while pregnant. Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids and other important nutrients that foster healthy development in the womb.
Fish and Environmental Toxins
In addition to potential mercury content, some types of fish may contain dangerous environmental toxins such as polychlorinated biphenyls. In general, this risk is greatest for fish caught in local streams and lakes, including trout, bass, pike, walleye, and bluefish.
If you’re a fishing enthusiast, don’t despair. Contact your local health department or the Environmental Protection Agency to learn if there are dangerous levels of toxins in your local fishing spots.
If you have a serious caffeine habit, you’re not alone. The average American adult drinks more than 2 cups of coffee every day, and that doesn’t even account for soda and other sources of caffeine. There has been a lot of hype in recent years over drinking caffeine while pregnant. A number of studies suggest that high caffeine intake is linked to an increased risk of miscarriage. Some studies have shown links between caffeine intake and low birth weight, while others have shown no connection between the two.
So, is it safe to drink caffeine? Current consensus among experts suggests that moderate caffeine intake during pregnancy is ok. The March of Dimes recommends keeping your daily caffeine intake under 200 milligrams, which is about the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee.
In addition to the potentially increased risk of miscarriage, caffeine can cause other minor problems. Pregnancy often makes it harder for you to sleep and causes heartburn – caffeine makes those issues worse. Caffeine also makes it harder for your body to absorb iron, which is a crucial nutrient for both you and the baby during your pregnancy.
Finally, caffeine can pass through the placenta to the baby. The baby can’t process caffeine as well as an adult can, so even small amounts may affect your baby’s natural sleep cycles in the womb.
Caffeine is obviously present in coffee, many sodas, and many teas. It is also present in chocolate, so check the caffeine levels on the label to keep your daily intake at safe levels.
As with caffeine, there has been a lot of hype over drinking alcohol while pregnant. In general, experts recommend abstaining from alcohol while pregnant. Alcohol passes through the placenta to the baby – everything you drink ends up there. Alcohol can have serious detrimental effects on a developing baby, including birth defects, intellectual disabilities, developmental delays, and other problems.
Drinking while pregnant may cause your baby to develop a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the most serious and most widely-known of the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. It causes facial deformities and a wide range of developmental disabilities.
There is no amount of alcohol that has been proven to be safe for pregnant women. The safest option is to avoid alcohol if you’re pregnant or think you may become pregnant. If you didn’t know you were pregnant, it’s safest to stop drinking as soon as you find out.
So what can you eat?
Other than what’s listed here, you should stick to your regular, balanced diet. That means eating plenty of fruits and vegetables (thoroughly washed, of course!), whole grains, and lean proteins. Basically, a pregnant diet is just an extra-safe version of a regular healthy diet.
You should also talk to your doctor about any special dietary requirements or supplements. Your doctor can help you put together a regimen of vitamins and supplements to support your health and the healthy development of your baby.