Over the years the consensus as to what is or is not safe for pregnant women has changed dramatically. For example, it has recently become apparent that many fish contain high levels of mercury that can cause serious damage to a child’s development. So too can deli meats that may contain Listeria, a bacteria that can cause miscarriages or lead to meningitis in a newborn. Here are a number of foods and drinks that pregnant women should always avoid.
All alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy and while breast feeding. The negative effects of alcohol are widely documented—alcohol has been shown to significantly increase the risk for fetal alcohol syndrome, developmental disorders like mental retardation, and miscarriages. Alcohol is still a danger to children while breast feeding: discernible amounts of alcohol are present in breast milk. Alcohol should continue to be avoided throughout the time that child is breast fed. To be clear, there is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy and breast feeding.
Salmonella is a serious illness, particularly in the very old and very young. Foods with the potential to carry salmonella should be avoided. Eggs and shellfish are known carriers of salmonella. Make sure to cook eggs thoroughly and avoid undercooked or raw shellfish altogether. Avoid deserts with raw eggs in them, such as meringues. Salmonella is most commonly found on the shells of eggs, so wash hands carefully after handing eggshells and rinse off eggs thoroughly before even cracking them open.
Listeria is a type of bacteria that can be devastating to a baby in the womb. Listeria can easily pass through the placenta. The bacteria can cause infection, premature delivery, or miscarriage. According to the CDC, 22 percent of listerosis (infection due to Listeria) cases in pregnant women result in the death of the unborn child. Foods in which Listeria is often present include processed lunch meats such as bologna and salami, smoked salmon, and soft cheeses such as brie, camembert, and feta. Unpasteurized milk and milk products should also be avoided as they are more likely to carry Listeria. In general, women who are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant should avoid foods that may carry Listeria.
While small amounts of caffeine may be okay to ingest during pregnancy, doctors generally suggest avoiding caffeinated beverages especially during the first trimester. Caffeine in extremely large amounts has been linked to miscarriage and developmental disorders.
Mercury and Other Pollutants
Mercury and pollutant buildup in larger and older fish has become a health risk not only for pregnant women, but for healthy adults as well. The American Heart Association recommends that fish with high mercury content be avoided by pregnant or nursing women, as well as children under the age of seven. According to the FDA, fish that include high levels of mercury and other pollutants that should be avoided by pregnant women and children include swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish. Small fish such as sardines or anchovies do not have high mercury content, and are full of beneficial nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids for heart health. If you do not care for fish, it may be appropriate to take an omega-3 fatty acid supplement, as omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to be beneficial to the development of the brain in the fetus.
While it is perfectly safe to eat honey while pregnant, honey should not be given to small children due to the risk for developing botulism. Honey may contain the botulinum spore which is easily neutralized by adults, but that can flourish a baby’s digestive tract. As a rule, never give honey to newborn babies.