Food Safety During Pregnancy
Pregnancy can be an amazing time in a woman’s life. However, it can also
be very confusing. Women often get conflicting advice about a number of
pregnancy-related issues, including what it is and isn’t safe to eat.
The three major food contamination risks for pregnant women are:
a parasite found in undercooked meat, unwashed veggies, and dirty cat
a bacterium that can contaminate ready-to-eat foods and unpasteurized
dairy. Unlike many bacteria, it can grow in the refrigerator.
a heavy metal that is found in certain types of fish
These contaminants can cause serious illnesses in pregnant women, and
may even threaten the life of a developing fetus.
In addition to the major toxins, there are certain
foods that pregnant women should avoid or limit for other reasons. Some general
guidelines are listed below. However, it’s important to discuss your pregnancy
diet with your doctor.
Listeria is often
found in contaminated water and soil. In some cases, animals are carriers as
well. It can be found in uncooked meats and vegetables grown in contaminated
soil. Bacteria are often killed in the cooking process, however Listeria may
still be present in some packaged, ready-to-eat foods. Foods in which Listeria
is often present include:
- processed or prepared lunch meats
- meat spreads, such as pâté
- hot dogs
- cold, smoked seafood
- soft cheeses such as brie, camembert, and feta
- unpasteurized dairy products
In general, women
who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant should avoid these foods. However,
hot dogs and lunchmeats can be eaten if served steaming hot. Soft cheeses can
be eaten if made from pasteurized milk.
This type of bacteria
can be devastating to a baby in the womb. Listeria can easily pass through the
placenta, causing infection, premature delivery, and possible miscarriage.
According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), 22 percent
of Listeria infections in pregnant women result in the death of the unborn
Keeping Away From Mercury
fish contain trace amounts of mercury, but it tends to build up in larger and older
fish. Pregnant and nursing women should avoid fish that are high in mercury.
Mercury can potentially damage their baby’s developing nervous system. Fish
that tend to be high in mercury are:
- king mackerel
commonly eaten fish are considered to be low in mercury. These fish can be a
great addition to a pregnancy diet. They contain omega-3 fatty acids, which
contribute to heart health and are good for fetal brain development. If you don’t
like fish, talk to your doctor about whether you need an omega-3 supplement.
recommend eating up to 12 ounces of any of the following fish each week:
- canned light tuna
fish should always be eaten hot. Preserved or smoked fish should be avoided.
can be very risky during pregnancy, especially for cat owners. In order to
reduce your risk, you have to change both your diet and your cat care. To
minimize risk, you should:
- rinse all fruit and vegetables
before eating since the parasite is often found in soil
- thoroughly cook all meats
- make certain to clean your hands
well after handing any cat litter or sand and, if possible, have a spouse,
friend, or relative change the litter during your pregnancy
All alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The
negative effects of alcohol are widely documented, and there is no safe amount
of alcohol during pregnancy.
Alcohol has been shown to
significantly increase the risk for:
Alcohol is still a danger to children while breastfeeding. Discernible
amounts of alcohol are present in breast milk. Alcohol should be avoided until
a child is no longer breastfed.
Raw and Undercooked Foods
There is the potential for bacterial contamination in any raw or
undercooked food. Because of this, pregnant women should ensure that all food is
cooked thoroughly. This is particularly true for foods that are known to carry Salmonella,
Pregnant women should also wash their hands after handling eggs.
Salmonella is most commonly found on the shells. Additionally, eggs should be
rinsed thoroughly before cooking.
of caffeine are considered safe to ingest during pregnancy. However, caffeine
is a stimulant, and can increase heart rate and blood pressure in both mother and
the developing fetus.
Few studies exist
to prove caffeine’s effect on humans during pregnancy. According to the APA, pregnant women
are encouraged to consume no more than 200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day.
Remember that caffeine isn’t just found in coffee. Tea, soda, and chocolate
also contain caffeine.
There is a small
risk that honey could be contaminated with botulism or other toxins. These can
be dangerous for pregnant and breastfeeding women. They can also potentially
harm the fetus or a child younger than one year of age.