Being pregnant means that whatever you eat, your baby eats also. In addition to helping you stay well, a healthy diet during pregnancy is an important part of your baby’s development and growth.
How do you know which foods are best — and which might be harmful?
Immune system changes during pregnancy place women and their babies at increased risk of foodborne illness. These illnesses can be worse during pregnancy and affect the fetus or newborn.
Certain foods have a higher risk of containing harmful bacteria and other things that can cause food poisoning, such as listeria, E. coli, salmonella and toxoplasmosis. Pregnant women and their newborns, for example, are much more likely to get a listeria infection from foods contaminated with this bacterium, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Understanding which foods to avoid during pregnancy can help you make smarter choices for you and your baby,” Dr. Dunn says. “You don’t want to run the risk of accidentally eating something that might be contaminated.”
Look for your doctor to provide you with specific guidelines about foods that you should and should not eat.
Fish can often be a great source of iron, protein and good fats, such as omega-3 fatty acid. However, high levels of mercury in fish can harm your baby. Avoid eating swordfish, shark, king mackerel or tilefish.
Eating low mercury fish during pregnancy is okay. Ask your doctor which fish are safe and healthy to eat during your pregnancy.
Avoid raw fish, especially raw shellfish, as they can contain parasites and bacteria that can make you sick. This includes raw fish in sushi. Make sure any seafood you eat is well cooked.
Eating undercooked or raw meat increases the risk of infection from several bacteria and parasites.
Processed meats, such as hot dogs or deli meats, may surprise some as foods to avoid, but they have been known to be contaminated with listeria. They should not be consumed unless they’ve been reheated until steaming hot.
Raw meats, including burgers, pork and poultry, should be well cooked until there is no trace of pink or blood. If not, avoid them altogether.
Eggs should be well cooked until the whites and yolks are firm. Foods containing raw eggs, such as homemade Caesar dressings and homemade ice cream, should be avoided.
Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, are important during pregnancy as they are packed with nutrients.
Be careful to avoid unpasteurized products. This includes unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses, such as brie, camembert, feta and blue cheese. Many other types of cheese are okay to eat, but make sure they’re made from pasteurized milk. Also, stay away from unpasteurized juices, such as apple cider or fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Liver can have too much vitamin A, which can harm your baby. Liver in small quantities is acceptable.
Caffeine has been associated with low birth weight at delivery. Caffeine in moderation (200 mg) is fine.
Talk with your doctor about how much caffeine is safe for you and your baby. Remember caffeine can be found in other beverages as well, such as tea, cocoa and some soft and energy drinks.
Alcohol during pregnancy has been shown to have damaging effects on an unborn baby, including facial defects, heart problems, low birth weight and miscarriage or stillbirth. There is no safe level of alcohol that you can drink while pregnant.
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can occur during pregnancy. If you develop this, your diet may be more restricted to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
A healthy diet can help reduce your risk of developing this type of diabetes.