Along with the news that you are expecting a child comes a laundry list of things you cannot do during your pregnancy. From drinking alcohol to smoking to riding amusement park rides and even skiing, expecting mothers need to be vigilant during their childbearing months. But, equally as important as avoiding the obvious harmful habits and activities, pregnant women must also be cautious about what foods they eat, as dietary choices influence a baby’s development.
1. Certain types of seafood.
One of the most common misconceptions about dietary restrictions during pregnancy revolves around seafood. Typically, seafood can be a great source of protein, iron and Omega 3—all of which are critical during the stages of brain development. But some types of seafood—particularly large, predatory fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish—can contain high levels of mercury, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Although the mercury in seafood is not much of a concern for adults, it can be if you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant. If you regularly eat fish containing higher levels of mercury, the substance may accumulate in your bloodstream. In turn, too much mercury in the bloodstream can damage your baby’s developing brain and nervous system.
By contrast, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends eating anywhere from eight to 12 ounces of a variety of fish each week from choices that are lower in mercury—that means two or three servings of fish a week. Ultimately, there is no need to steer clear of seafood altogether; you just need to make sure that the seafood you are ingesting is properly cooked and does not contain high levels of mercury.
For more information about seafood dietary restrictions, visit the FDA’s website.
2. Foods containing listeria.
While some types of seafood are recommended, pregnant women must also be cautious of listeria—a type of bacteria that infects humans through contaminated food and can induce a miscarriage. According to American Pregnancy, listeria has the ability to cross the placenta and may infect the baby, which could lead to infection or blood poisoning and may be life-threatening.
Refrigerated, smoked seafood often labeled as lox, nova style, kippered, or jerky should be avoided entirely because it may be contaminated with listeria. This type of fish can be found in the deli section of your grocery store—however, canned or shelf-safe smoked seafood is typically fine to eat. Additionally, listeria can be found in a number of deli meats. To kill the bacteria, it is recommended that you reheat deli meat until it is steaming.
3. Undercooked meat, poultry, and eggs.
According to the Mayo Clinic, during pregnancy, women are at increased risk of bacterial food poisoning. Therefore, as mentioned previously, it is incredibly important that you cook all meats and poultry thoroughly.
Similarly, raw eggs can be contaminated with harmful bacteria. To be on the safe side, avoid foods made with raw or partially cooked eggs. Some foods containing partially cooked eggs include eggnog, homemade ice cream and custards, raw batter (cookie dough), freshly made or homemade hollandaise sauce, and even Caesar salad dressing.
4. Soft cheese and unpasteurized milk.
Much like deli meats and certain types of seafood, soft cheese and unpasteurized milk may contain listeria. According to the Mayo Clinic, many low-fat dairy products such as skim milk, mozzarella cheese and cottage cheese can be a healthy part of your diet. However, anything containing unpasteurized milk can be harmful to pregnant women. Products containing unpasteurized milk could potentially lead to foodborne illnesses. Avoid soft cheeses, such as Brie, feta and blue cheese—unless they are clearly labeled as being pasteurized.
Please note the above list is not comprehensive. For additional food safety tips, visit the FDA’s website.