Krisha McCoy, MS
What you eat during your pregnancy has a direct effect on the growth and development of your baby. It is important to eat a well-balanced diet that includes lean meats or meat alternatives,
whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and plenty of
fruits and vegetables. In addition to increasing your consumption of healthy foods, there are certain foods you need to limit or avoid. Some foods contain substances that can affect your baby’s development, while others put you at risk of developing an infection that can be passed to your baby.
Mercury is naturally found in the environment and is also released by industrial pollution. When mercury settles into water, it is converted into methylmercury, a more dangerous form. Methylmercury can build up in the fatty tissue of fish. Most fish contain trace amounts of methylmercury, which is unlikely to cause harm. But, large, predatory fish can contain high levels of methylmercury.
The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provide these recommendations for women who may become pregnant, are pregnant, or are nursing:
Pregnant women should also avoid raw and undercooked fish, especially shellfish, such as oysters or clams, because they can contain disease-causing organisms. Cook fish until it is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.
Unpasteurized soft cheeses and ready-to-eat meats should be avoided during pregnancy because they may contain bacteria that causes listeriosis, a form of food poisoning
that is especially harmful to unborn babies. Listeriosis is associated with
miscarriage, premature delivery or stillbirth, and serious illnesses in newborn babies.
To avoid listeriosis:
Undercooked meat, including poultry and eggs, should be avoided during pregnancy. These foods can increase your risk of a number of foodborne illnesses, including listeriosis,
E. coli, Campylobacter infections, salmonellosis, and
To ensure your meat is well-cooked, use a meat thermometer. Follow these temperature guidelines when cooking food:
Pregnant women should also avoid eating raw vegetable sprouts, such as alfalfa, clover, or radish, and unpasteurized fruit or vegetable juices. These can carry disease-causing bacteria.
In addition, pregnant women should limit their consumption of liver, since it contains high levels of vitamin A, which could potentially cause harm to a developing baby.
When preparing and handling foods, the March of Dimes recommends you take the following precautions to avoid foodborne illnesses:
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
Women's Health Matters
Food safety for moms-to-be: safe eats—meat, poultry, and seafood. US Food & Drug Administration website. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/HealthEducators/ucm082294.htm. Updated July 2, 2014. Accessed April 26, 2017.
Foodborne illnesses: What you need to know. US Food & Drug Administration website. Available at:
https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm103263.htm. Updated February 26, 2016. Accessed April 26, 2017.
Handling food safely. March of Dimes website. Available at:
http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/handling-food-safely.aspx. Updated August 2012. Accessed April 26, 2017.
Listeria and pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at:
http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/listeria. Updated March 10, 2017. Accessed April 26, 2017.
Nutrition in pregnancy. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113983/Nutrition-in-pregnancy. Updated March 23, 2017. Accessed April 26, 2017.
Produce: selecting and serving it safely. US Food & Drug Administration website. Available at:
https://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/buystoreservesafefood/ucm114299.htm. Updated April 6, 2016. Accessed April 26, 2017.
What you need to know about mercury in fish and shellfish. US Food & Drug Administration website. Available at:
https://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/metals/ucm351781.htm. Updated June 6, 2014. Accessed April 26, 2017.
Why should I avoid some foods during pregnancy? NHS Choices website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/917.aspx?CategoryID=54#close. Updated January 4, 2015. Accessed April 26, 2017.
Last reviewed April 2017 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
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