Pregnant women have to take extra care to remain healthy and prevent illness during pregnancy. They are at a greater risk of developing serious illness from exposure to bacteria, and foodborne illnesses can be extremely harmful to an unborn baby, causing birth defects, complications, and possibly even miscarriage.
We’ll go over the most up-to-date recommendations on foods that pregnant women should limit or avoid during the gestational period.
Most expecting parents have heard about the need to avoid lunch meat. This includes hot dogs, deli meats, cold cuts, fermented or dry sausage, and any other deli-style meat or poultry product. Even “precooked” products should not be eaten cold but should be reheated to an internal temperature of at least 165°F before eating. This is due to the risk of Listeria bacteria, which can cause serious illness. Premade deli salad (such as tuna or chicken salad) and refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads should be avoided as well.
Unpasteurized Dairy Products
Unpasteurized milk, cheese or yogurts should also be avoided during pregnancy. Raw (unpasteurized) milk, cheese, and other dairy products may contain harmful bacteria such as E. coli, Listeria, or Salmonella. Pregnant women are at a greater risk of food poisoning, which increases the risk of potentially miscarrying. Therefore, all raw dairy products should be avoided.
Most dairy products that you find in the grocery store today have undergone a pasteurization process, which helps kill bacteria and prevent food poisoning. However, you may want to double-check the labels when buying certain types of cheeses, such as feta cheese, goat cheese, blue cheese, Brie, Camembert, and Mexican queso fresco.
Raw (or even undercooked) eggs can contain Salmonella bacteria that can make mom and baby very sick. For this reason, health guidelines recommend that pregnant women avoid consuming raw or undercooked eggs. This includes other food items that contain raw eggs, such as eggnog, cookie dough, or hollandaise sauce. Eggs should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160°F.
The same goes for avoiding raw sprouts such as alfalfa, clover, mung bean, and radish. These sprouts should always be cooked thoroughly to avoid the risk of any bacteria.
Certain Types of Fish
While seafood can be a very healthy part of your pregnancy diet, fish that are known to have high levels of mercury should be avoided. This is because mercury can negatively affect the growth and development of a fetus. Fish that are high in mercury and should be avoided include shark, swordfish, marlin, king mackerel, tilefish, and tuna steak.
In general, try to limit your servings of seafood to less than 12 ounces per week (about two servings of fish per week), and stick to fish that are low in mercury, such as canned light tuna, catfish, salmon, cod, tilapia, and shrimp. Albacore (or white) tuna should be limited to less than 6 ounces (or one serving) a week.
Raw Fish / Sushi
Similarly, sushi, sashimi, ceviche, and raw oysters, clams, or scallops should be avoided during pregnancy. This is because any seafood dish that has not been cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145°F may contain harmful bacteria such as Listeria.
In addition, refrigerated smoked seafood should be avoided (unless part of a dish has been cooked to reach an internal temperature of at least 165°F). This includes various types of fish that are labeled as “Nova-style,” “Lox,” “Kippered,” “Smoked,” or “Jerky.” (Canned and shelf-stable versions of these products ARE safe, however.)
Coffee / Caffeine
Last but not least, pregnant women should limit their intake of caffeine. While small amounts of caffeine during pregnancy should be OK (and possibly even beneficial), it is important to monitor how much you are consuming. Caffeine does cross the placenta and reach your developing baby, and while research is still ongoing, there may be an increased risk of low birth weight, miscarriage, and other complications associated with high caffeine intake.
Most health experts now recommend limiting caffeine to less than 200 mg per day (about two 8-ounce cups of coffee). Remember, caffeine is also found in tea, soda, chocolate, energy drinks, and even some medications or supplements.
In summary, pregnant women should avoid eating anything that carries a higher risk of foodborne illness. This includes raw or unpasteurized products of any kind. All meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood should be cooked thoroughly, and all beverages, including milk, cider, and juice, should be pasteurized.
Pregnant women should exercise caution at potlucks, buffets, and other environments where it cannot be verified how long food has been sitting out. Cold hot dogs, cold lunch meats, and premade deli salads (such as egg salad or chicken salad) should be avoided.
Lastly, intake of caffeine and seafood should be monitored and limited, especially fish that are high in mercury.
Safe cooking practices are also important – such as washing hands and surfaces often, separating raw meat and poultry from other foods, cooking foods to the proper internal temperature, and preserving leftovers within 2 hours.
Excessive alcohol intake has been associated with negative effects on fetal development, and even moderate consumption could potentially be harmful. It is best to avoid alcohol during pregnancy entirely.
If you have any questions about the safety of consuming certain foods or beverages during pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider or give us a call.