Food safety during pregnancy
Many women, especially first-time mothers, may get
conflicting advice about a number of pregnancy-related issues, including what
is and isn’t safe to eat. If you’re pregnant, it’s important to have a healthy
diet to ensure the health of your baby.
If you’re pregnant, major food contamination risks include:
gondii, which is a parasite found in undercooked meat, unwashed
vegetables, and dirty cat litter boxes
monocytogenes, which is a bacterium that can
contaminate ready-to-eat foods and unpasteurized dairy and can grow in your refrigerator
- mercury, which is a heavy metal found
in certain types of fish
These toxins can cause serious illnesses, and they can
affect your baby’s development. You should avoid or limit consuming certain
foods and beverages while you’re pregnant. Discuss your diet with your doctor
and let them know about any questions, concerns, or symptoms you have.
Toxoplasmosis and how to avoid it
The T. gondii parasite
causes toxoplasmosis. According to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 60 million people in the
United States have toxoplasmosis. The parasite can be present in:
- undercooked meat
- cat feces
Symptoms of toxoplasmosis
Most people don’t have symptoms, but those who do may have flulike
symptoms, such as:
- swollen lymph nodes
- muscle aches
- a fever
- a headache
Severe toxoplasmosis can affect your brain and eyes and may
lead to reduced or blurred vision.
Toxoplasmosis can lead to premature birth. It can also cause
the following in your baby:
- intellectual disabilities
- developmental disabilities
- low birth weight
If you contract toxoplasmosis early on in pregnancy, your
developing baby has an increased risk of effects. Children who are born with toxoplasmosis
may not show symptoms at first and can develop them later in life.
Tips for prevention
Follow these tips to minimize the risk of a getting
- Rinse all fruits and vegetables before
eating, since the parasite is often present in soil.
- Wash all cutting boards and knives with
hot water and soap after using them.
- Clean all meats.
- Wash your hands after touching unwashed
vegetables, cat litter, soil, sand, or raw meat.
- Thoroughly cook all meats.
- Separate meats from other foods when
you store and prepare them.
- If you have a cat, ask someone else to change
the cat litter box during your pregnancy, and wear gloves when gardening or
It’s rare to get toxoplasmosis from
cats. Most people who do contract it get it from undercooked meat and unwashed
vegetables. Medications are available to treat toxoplasmosis during pregnancy.
Listeriosis and how to avoid it
The L. monocytogenes
bacterium causes listeriosis. It can be present in contaminated water and soil.
The cooking process often kills bacteria. However, it may still be present in
some packaged, ready-to-eat foods. It may be present in:
- processed or prepared lunch meats
- meat spreads, such as pâté
- hot dogs
- cold, smoked seafood
- soft cheeses such as Brie, Camembert,
- unpasteurized dairy products
- uncooked meats
- vegetables grown in contaminated soil
Symptoms of listeriosis
The symptoms of listeriosis include:
These bacteria can easily pass through the placenta. It can
- a miscarriage
- a stillbirth
- a premature birth
- fatal infection in your newborn
According to the American
Pregnancy Association, 22 percent of Listeria infections in pregnant women
result in stillbirth or death of the unborn child.
Tips for prevention
Follow these tips to reduce your risk
- If you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant,
you should avoid foods that may carry the bacteria.
- If you’re going to eat hot dogs and lunch meats,
you should eat them when they’re steaming hot
- If you’re going to eat soft cheeses, make sure
they’re made from pasteurized milk.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating
- Cook all meat thoroughly.
Your doctor can treat listeriosis with antibiotics. Talk to
your doctor if you have the symptoms of listeriosis.
How to avoid the
effects of mercury
Most fish contain trace amounts of mercury. It tends to
build up in larger and older fish. If you’re pregnant or nursing, you should
avoid eating fish that are high in mercury because mercury can damage your baby’s
developing nervous system.
Fish that tend to be high in mercury are:
- king mackerel
What fish can you eat?
Many commonly eaten fish are considered to be low in mercury
and these fish can be a great addition to your diet while you’re pregnant. They
contain omega-3 fatty acids, which contribute to heart health and are good for your
baby’s brain development. If you don’t like fish, talk to your doctor about
whether you should take omega-3 supplements.
You should eat up to 12 ounces of any of the following fish
- canned light tuna
You should always eat fish while it’s hot. Avoid eating any preserved,
smoked, or raw fish.
Other food safety
Avoid all alcohol during pregnancy and while breast-feeding.
Alcohol has negative effects, and no amount of alcohol is safe to drink during
pregnancy. Alcohol has been shown to significantly increase the risk for:
- fetal alcohol syndrome
- developmental disorders
If you drink alcohol while pregnant, it can be present in
breast milk. You should avoid alcohol until you’re no longer breast-feeding.
raw and undercooked foods
Any raw or undercooked food can have bacteria in it. Because
of this, you should make sure that all food you eat has been cooked thoroughly.
In particular, certain foods are known to carry Salmonella, such as:
Pregnant women should also wash their hands after handling
eggs because Salmonella is commonly present
on the shells. You should also rinse eggs thoroughly before cooking.
your caffeine intake
It’s safe to have moderate amounts of caffeine while you’re
pregnant. However, caffeine is a stimulant and can increase you and your
developing baby’s heart rate and blood pressure. According to the America Pregnancy Association, pregnant women should
consume no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day. Caffeine is present
- certain teas
- certain sodas
Honey may contain the bacteria that cause botulism or other
toxins that can be harmful for pregnant and breast-feeding women. These toxins
can also potentially harm your developing baby or infant younger than 1 year old.
You should avoid eating honey while you’re pregnant, and you should also avoid
giving honey to children under 1 year old.
Practicing safe food handling can reduce risks for you and
your developing baby. In general, practicing safe food handling by doing the
- Cook meats thoroughly.
- Wash fruits and vegetables.
- Wash your hands after handling the foods
These methods can eliminate potentially harmful bacteria and
help prevent infection. See your doctor immediately if you have any symptoms
that may be due to toxins present in your food.