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Foods Not to Eat During Pregnancy

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Foods You Should Avoid

Learn which foods to avoid in pregnancy.

Even though you are eating for two now, you can't just consume everything you used to. There are some precautions you have to take to ensure the safety of your unborn baby. Certain foods may be perfectly fine for you but may damage the sensitive system of your little one.

It's important to learn which foods are safe to eat and which ones you should avoid. By doing this, you are providing the best possible environment for your baby to grow and develop.

Raw Meat

It is very important in pregnancy to avoid consuming raw or uncooked meat. This includes sushi and beef Carpaccio. Raw or undercooked meats can contain dangerous bacteria, such as toxoplasmosis and salmonella.

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that you can get after consuming raw or undercooked meat that has been contaminated. The most common ways you become infected include working in the garden without gloves, changing the cat litter box, and eating raw undercooked meat or fish.

If your growing baby becomes infected with toxoplasmosis, he/she may not have any symptoms at birth but can develop serious disabilities, such as blindness or mental disability later in life. In some circumstances, a newborn can display serious brain and eye damage at birth.

Deli Meats

Prepared meats, like those available at a deli counter, should be avoided when you are pregnant, unless you reheat them until they are steaming hot. These include hot dogs, smoked seafood, and luncheon meats (such as turkey, beef, and chicken). These deli meats can be contaminated with bacteria called listeria—which can cause miscarriage or stillborn births.

Imported Soft Cheeses

Imported or unpasteurized cheeses can also be contaminated with listeria, so avoid cheeses such as Brie, Camembert, blue cheese, or feta. If you are a cheese fanatic, don't worry! You can still consume soft cheeses pasteurized with milk. Be sure to read package labels to find out if a product is pasteurized or not.

Undercooked Eggs

Consuming raw or unprepared eggs can be dangerous to your baby. Raw eggs may contain the bacteria salmonella. Like listeria, salmonella can cause miscarriage and occasionally, stillbirths. Raw eggs can be found in a variety commercial products such as Caesar salad dressing or Egg Nog. Remember to read package labels carefully before consuming any of these products.

If you love eggs, remember to always keep your eggs refrigerated; don't use eggs that are cracked; wash all your utensils that have had contact with raw eggs; eat eggs immediately after you cook them; foods that contain eggs should always be refrigerated; and don't eat foods made with raw eggs, like Hollandaise Sauce. Signs of salmonella food poisoning include fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea.

Fish

Eating fish and shellfish can be important to a healthy and balanced diet, because they are good sources of high-quality protein and other nutrients. But certain kinds of fish should be avoided due to their high mercury content, which can harm your baby's nervous system. These include shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. You should also avoid canned tuna, which may contain high levels of mercury contamination.

It is generally safe to eat up to 12 ounces of other fish (two to three meals) a week, but vary the type of fish and shellfish you consume. It is safe to eat one or two servings of salmon, sardines, herring, or bluefish every month.

Caffeine

Although a small serving of caffeine can provide a much-needed boost for a tired mom-to-be, caffeine in general should be avoided. Excessive amounts of caffeine during pregnancy have been linked to an increased risk of birth defects, or miscarriage.

Because caffeine is added to everyday food items—such as chocolate, tea, and soda—you may want avoid caffeine completely during the first trimester of your pregnancy. Daily caffeine intake of more than 5 cups of coffee (500 mg) per day has been proven to double the risk of miscarriage.

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be harmful to your baby's development. The degree of harm depends on how much alcohol you have consumed.

Alcohol has the greatest effect during early pregnancy when many of the baby's organs are forming, but drinking at any point in the pregnancy can also cause problems.

If you had a drink or two before you realized you were pregnant, most likely, you did not harm your baby. But stop drinking now. Every time that you drink, your baby does too. Although no studies have proven a safe level of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, daily alcohol use during early pregnancy may cause fetal alcohol syndrome—a disorder that causes growth, physical, and mental problems in the baby.

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