Pregnancy can be a tremendously exciting time in your life, marked by physical and emotional changes, and the growth of your family.
In addition to taking a prenatal vitamin throughout pregnancy, and ideally at least one month before pregnancy, many expecting parents are unsure of the other lifestyle, food and other changes they need to make when pregnant. The following recommendations are meant to inform and help you as you navigate the exciting weeks and months to come.
We spoke with Carrie Mattoon, PA, and asked her what she thinks can make the biggest and healthiest differences in your pregnancy.
You do not need to eat for two while pregnant, but it is important to prioritize a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. Some things need to be avoided because they commonly carry toxins or bacteria you can’t defend against.
You are at a higher risk of foodborne illnesses during pregnancy because your immune system is weakened, making it harder for your body to fight off harmful foodborne microorganisms. Similarly, your unborn baby’s immune system is not developed enough to fight off harmful microorganisms. For both, foodborne illnesses can cause serious health problems.
While pregnant, it is best to avoid mold-ripened soft cheeses with a white coating on the outside. These include brie, chévre, and camembert, unless they’ve been cooked until steaming hot. Similarly, soft blue cheeses like Danish blue, gorgonzola, and Roquefort should also be avoided unless cooked until steaming hot. Finally, do not eat any unpasteurized cows’, goats’ or sheep’s milk products.
The reason unpasteurized dairy products are unsafe is because they may contain listeria, which causes an infection called listeriosis. There is a small chance that listeriosis can lead to a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or make your newborn unwell. Soft cheeses that have a white coating on the outside contain more moisture, which makes it easier for bacteria to grow.
It is safe for you to enjoy all hard and soft pasteurized cheeses. Examples of hard are cheddar, parmesan and Stilton. Soft pasteurized cheeses like cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, cream cheese, halloumi, ricotta, and processed cheese spreads are also on the approved list.
Raw, undercooked meat, liver and liver products, all types of pâté–including vegetarian pâté– and game meats like pheasant, partridge and goose should be avoided while pregnant. So long as they are cooked thoroughly, cold cured meats like chorizo, pepperoni, prosciutto and salami are safe.
Eating raw or undercooked meat has a small chance of causing toxoplasmosis, which can lead to a miscarriage. Cured meats and raw, undercooked meats may have parasites in them that cause toxoplasmosis and put your baby at risk. Liver and liver products contain a lot of vitamin A, which is harmful to an unborn baby.
Chicken, beef, and pork are very safe for you and your growing baby, so long as they’ve been cooked with no trace of blood or pink. Be aware and careful when eating sausages, burgers, poultry and pork–they must be cooked through entirely (well done) to be safe.
It is best to avoid raw or partially cooked eggs while pregnant. Duck, goose, chicken, and quail eggs are safe if fully cooked until the whites and the yolks are solid.
Undercooked eggs may have salmonella, which is unlikely to harm your unborn baby, but may give you food poisoning. Eggs are an excellent source of protein and other nutrients like choline (which helps your metabolism and liver function, and is good for fetal brain development), and vitamin D (which helps both your immune system and bone health). Just be sure to cook every part of your egg fully to enjoy while pregnant.
While most fish are safe and good for you while pregnant, it is important to avoid swordfish, marlin, shark, and raw shellfish. You should limit your oily fish intake (salmon, fish, mackerel, and herring) to 2 portions each week. Additionally, you should eat no more than 2 tuna steaks, or 1 to 2 medium-sized cans of tuna per week.
Methylmercury, which is found in shark, tilefish, king mackerel, and swordfish, can be harmful to your unborn baby’s developing nervous system.
You are safe to eat cooked seafood, shellfish, and cold, pre-cooked shrimp. You can also enjoy sushi, so long as the fish has been cooked (think California rolls, shrimp tempura rolls, vegetable rolls, etc.)
Water is incredibly important for a healthy pregnancy and baby. Staying hydrated and consuming more water than the average person helps you form amniotic fluid, build new tissue, carry nutrients, produce extra blood, flush out wastes and toxins, and enhance digestion.
“Water is never recommended enough,” Carrie added, “You should be drinking enough to make your urine a pale yellow color to avoid UTIs during pregnancy.”
Sometimes, you may crave something other than water–what other beverages are safe while pregnant?
Alcohol and other drug use may cause lifelong problems for you and your unborn baby. If you are trying to become pregnant or are expecting, the safest approach is to avoid alcohol entirely.
There is no “safe amount” of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy–all alcohol use can affect your unborn baby in many ways, including low birth rate, early delivery or miscarriage, slowed growth and development, intellectual disabilities, heart problems, physical defects, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE), and death.
Alcohol consumption can also negatively affect you during pregnancy. If you drink, you may experience a poor appetite, trouble sleeping, early labor, sudden bleeding, a higher chance of sexually transmitted infections, and an inability to cope or recognize normal pregnancy changes. There is no amount of alcohol that is safe for you or your unborn baby while pregnant.
After delivery, alcohol can cause your baby to experience withdrawal symptoms and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Similarly, it can cause you to struggle being a parent, increase your chances of experiencing depression, make it hard to bond with your baby, and increase your risks of coping with your baby’s needs.
Caffeine is okay to enjoy during pregnancy, but only in moderation. You should consume no more than 200mg of caffeine a day.
Common caffeinated drinks have:
Caffeine, a stimulant, increases your heart rate and blood pressure, both of which are important to keep low during pregnancy. Additionally, caffeine increases your frequency of urination, which can lead to dehydration. Make sure to enjoy caffeine only in moderation.
Carrie “does not recommend any herbal medicines or supplements except for ginger tea in pregnancy.”
Water is your hydration buddy, and can be enjoyed still, with lemon, lime, or other fruits, or in carbonated (sparkling) form.
Recreational drugs and prescription painkillers are not safe for your unborn baby.
Like alcohol, drugs can have a very negative and long-lasting (often, lifelong) effect on you and your unborn baby. No drug use is safe during pregnancy. If you are pregnant and on methadone maintenance, a daily dose of 20mg or less will help prevent your baby from experiencing withdrawal symptoms after birth.
At your initial prenatal visits, it’s important to talk to your provider about your vitamins, supplements, sleeping pills, and any other drugs you may be taking. Your OB will offer suggestions, modifications, and changes to ensure that you and your baby receive all the recommended vitamins and nutrients.
Smoking is not safe for you or your unborn baby. Not only is smoking harmful to your lungs, it can also cause growth and developmental disabilities, miscarriages, premature separation of the placenta, and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Pregnancy is a great time to stop smoking for life–talk to your provider about smoking cessation suggestions and support groups, if you’re interested.
If you have questions or concerns about what to avoid during your pregnancy, ask your OBGYN! We are here to help you have the safest, healthiest pregnancy possible, and are honored by your decision to partner with us. If you chose to do your own research, please remember to use reputable, scientific journals and trusted sources.
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