Eating Safely in Pregnancy


 

During pregnancy, you can eat the same things that you normally ate when you were not pregnant. But especially in the first few months of your pregnancy, your baby can be hurt by toxins (poisons) or bacteria (germs). For this reason, you need to be aware of these food dangers and learn how to choose and prepare your food safely.

What Foods Might Be Harmful to My Baby During Pregnancy?

The foods of most concern are certain fish, meat, milk, cheese, and raw foods. Because these are important parts of most diets, you will want to learn to choose the right foods.

What’s the Problem With Fish?

Fish that are large, eat other fish, and live a long time have mercury in them. Too much mercury can cause problems with the development of your baby’s brain and nerves. Some fish may also have dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Too much of these toxins may cause problems with the development of your baby’s brain and may cause cancer.

So Should I Just Stop Eating Fish?

No! Fish is a wonderful food. It has lots of good protein and omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3s). Omega-3s are important to your baby’s brain and eye development. You should not eat some types of fish, but should eat two meals of low mercury fish every week to give you the benefits of omega-3s. Raw fish should not be eaten as it may contain parasites (germs) that could harm you or your baby. Fish that are considered safe to eat during pregnancy are listed on the back of this page.

What Meat Is Dangerous?

In the United States, most of our meat is safe to eat. However, meat that has not been kept cold or that has not been prepared properly may have bacteria or parasites. Raw meat may contain toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that can damage your growing baby’s eyes, brain, and hearing.

What Do I Need to Know About Milk and Cheese?

Some cheese may contain bacteria called Listeria. These bacteria can cause a disease called listeriosis which may cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or serious health problems for your baby. To avoid listeriosis, you should not eat soft cheeses like Mexican-style queso blanco, queso fresco, feta, Camembert, blue cheeses, or Brie if the cheese is made with unpasteurized milk. Read the label and do not eat the cheese if the label says it is made with raw milk or unpasteurized milk. If it is made with pasteurized milk and kept in the refrigerator at 40 F or less, it is safe to eat.

What Do I Need to Know About Raw Foods?

Uncooked meats and fish may contain toxoplasmosis and listeriosis and other bacteria that can be harmful during pregnancy. Raw fish like that found in sushi, and raw shellfish like clams and oysters should not be eaten during pregnancy. Raw alfalfa and bean sprouts and unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices have lots of vitamins but can also contain disease-causing bacteria. Pregnant women should drink only pasteurized juices. Raw and undercooked eggs may have bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Do not eat food with raw eggs like Hollandaise sauce and homemade Caesar salad dressing.

How Do I Prepare Food Safely?

  • Wash your hands and cooking surfaces often
  • Keep raw meat away from fruit and vegetables and cooked meat
  • Cook your food until it is steaming hot
  • Cook meats until no pink remains
  • Keep uneaten food cold or frozen
  • Keep your refrigerator at 40 F or less
  • Keep your freezer at 0 F or less
  • Throw away food that is left at room temperature for 2 hours or more
  • Do not eat foods if they are past the expiration date on the label