What can’t I eat during pregnancy?
If you have recently discovered that you are pregnant, then you will probably have received a lot of well-meaning, but sometimes conflicting, advice from your family and friends. This may include advice on the foods you can and can’t eat during your pregnancy. There are some foods that you should avoid while you are pregnant, because there is a risk that they could make you ill, or potentially affect the development of the baby. These are some of the most common foods that you should avoid.
Certain types of cheese
There are several types of cheese that you should avoid during your pregnancy. Soft cheeses such as brie or camembert, along with some blue cheeses (Danish blue, for example), as they are made using mould, and can contain listeria. Although listeria is rare, infection with this type of bacterium can lead to miscarriage or a stillbirth.
Hard cheeses such as cheddar are perfectly safe to eat at any stage of your pregnancy. They contain less water, so bacteria are unlikely to grow in these. It is also safe to eat cheeses such as mozzarella, cottage cheese, goat’s cheese and feta, as long as they have been made from pasteurised milk.
This is bad news if you like your eggs with the yolk still soft, as this is not advised during pregnancy. This is because lightly cooked eggs contain salmonella bacteria. Products containing lightly cooked eggs, such as mayonnaise, should also be avoided for the duration of your pregnancy. However, if you cook the eggs until both the white and the yolk are completely solid, then these are perfectly safe to eat.
It is always advisable to cook all poultry thoroughly, until there is no trace of pink remaining in either the meat itself or the juices, and this is the case whether you are pregnant or not. It is, however, especially important during pregnancy, and you should also take extra care with other meats and meat products, such as burgers.
The current advice is that you should also avoid rare meat while pregnant. This is because there is a risk of developing toxoplasmosis, which is from a parasite that is found in meat. This is an extremely rare condition, so it is highly unlikely that you would develop the infection even if you have eaten rare meat during your pregnancy. Treatment is available if you do become infected.
It is also important that you avoid pâté, even those that are vegetarian, as they can contain listeria.
After preparing raw meat for cooking, you should ensure that all of the surfaces and utensils used are cleaned thoroughly, which will help to prevent the spread of bacteria and reduce your risk of food poisoning. Washing your hands is also very important.
Foods containing high levels of vitamin A
Too much vitamin A can be harmful to a developing baby, so if you were previously taking supplements, you should stop for the duration of your pregnancy. Foods such as liver also contain high levels of vitamin A, so it would be advisable for you to restrict your intake of liver, or any foods containing it.
Certain types of fish
Fish such as tinned tuna, swordfish and shark contain high levels of mercury, which will affect the development of the baby’s nervous system. While oily fish such as salmon, fresh tuna and mackerel are safe to eat, you should restrict your intake to two portions a week.
Shellfish should be eaten cooked, rather than raw, as they can lead to food poisoning, due to the bacteria and viruses they contain.
Caffeine is found in many different foods and drinks, but you do not need to cut it out completely. You should, however, be aware that high levels of caffeine in the diet lead to a low birth weight, and an increased risk of miscarriage. These risks are extremely low, but you would be advised to cut down on the amount of tea, coffee, cola and energy drinks that you consume. Chocolate also contains caffeine, as do some cold and flu remedies. If you need more advice about the level of caffeine intake that is advisable during pregnancy, speak to your doctor or midwife.
While it is perfectly safe to eat the varieties of sushi that contain cooked fish or are vegetarian, you may be more concerned about the types that contain raw fish. If the fish has been frozen, however, then it is fine to eat even while pregnant, as freezing kills the parasitic worms that can cause food poisoning. Sushi containing smoked salmon is also safe, as this process kills off any parasites that may be in the fish.
If you are at all unsure about what is safe to eat during your pregnancy, then speak to your doctor or midwife who will be able to advise you. Make sure all of your food is thoroughly cooked, even if you normally prefer rare meat or lightly cooked eggs, and this eliminates most of the risks.