During pregnancy we are literally bombarded with information. How we should not become too stressed. How we should get more exercise, eat more vegetables, read a pregnancy book. We should take vitamins, get more rest, take a breastfeeding class. We should do this and that to promote this thing and avoid another.
It’s enough to send a girl cuckoo bananas.
So as if we didn’t have enough to think about during pregnancy, there are also certain foods should be avoided for various reasons. The main three nasties being:
Certain foods have a higher than average risk of being infected with listeria, the bacteria that causes listeriosis (Listeria poisoning). Listeriosis is quite rare according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), but it kills 1 in 5 people, so it poses a serious health risk. Due to hormonal changes, women who are pregnant are 20 times more likely to develop listeriosis. Listeriosis can cross the placenta and cause miscarriage, alarmingly without the mother even feeling any ill effects.
This is an illness cause by a parasite which can be contracted by eating raw or rare meat. The parasite can be found in raw and cured meats such as salami or proscuitto, also in soil and cat faeces. Again toxoplasmosis is very rare, but because it is a very serious illness that can also cross the placenta and harm your baby, pregnant women are warned to avoid eating meat rare or cured meat unless cooked. It causes the most harm within the first trimester.
If you’ve already contracted toxoplasmosis once, you can’t get it again, and if you’ve had cats in your life you’ve probably already had it. There is a test which your doctor will carry out that will tell you for sure whether or not you’ve had toxoplasmosis in the past.
Certain types of seafood contain high levels of mercury, which can cause brain damage and developmental delays. While fish is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which actually promote brain development in your baby, there are certain fish that are high in mercury you should avoid completely when pregnant.
Fish to avoid during pregnancy include Mackerel, Shark, Marlin, Swordfish, Bigeye and Ahi Tuna. Fish that are safe to eat (at a rate of around twice a week) include Anchovies, Herring, Oysters, Perch (Ocean), Salmon (Canned), Salmon (Fresh), Sardines, Scallops, Shrimps, Trout (Freshwater) and Whiting.
See the following guide to Mercury Contamination in Fish provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for more information.
Being 22 weeks pregnant, foods to avoid during pregnancy is a topic that is always close to my heart. I’ve met a lady who lost a baby through listeriosis, so I take what I eat during my pregnancy with my precious cargo on board very seriously. I think about everything I consume, as the best way to avoid listeria poisoning is to take special care with food that may be contaminated with the bacteria.
Keeping the following in mind will help you avoid these nasties
Don’t eat or drink anything unpasteurized
Pasteurization is when food such as dairy products is superheated to ensure bacteria is destroyed. Pasteurization slows the growth of bacteria long enough to lengthen the life of the product, as long as they are consumed before their expiration date. Avoid unpasteurized milk, juice or dressings made with unpasteurized eggs.
Avoid all soft cheeses during pregnancy
Soft cheeses containing unpasteurized milk can carry food-borne illness. These include feta, blue vein or those with a rind such as Camembert and Brie. Other soft Mexican style cheeses made with unpasteurized milk should also be avoided. Hard cheeses are fine. So are mozzarella, cottage cheese, cream cheese and pasteurized, processed cheese spreads and slices. Unless these cheeses specifically say they are made with pasteurized milk, avoid them during pregnancy. To be sure, check cheese labels to ensure the milk the cheese is made with is pasteurized.
Heat all deli meat to piping hot before consumption
Contamination may occur in cold deli meats such as ham, luncheon, sliced roast beef and hot dogs after they are cooked but before they are packed. If you would like to eat hot luncheon or ham during pregnancy that is fine, but cook it very well, such as in a sauce for pasta, or on top of well grilled cheese.
Don’t eat refrigerated pate during pregnancy
Meat spreads and pate in cans are safe.
Avoid smoked fish when pregnant
In the US pregnant women are advised not to eat smoked fish due to the risk of listeria. In the UK pregnant women are not given this advice as the risk is relatively low. It’s still there however, so it’s advised you cook smoked fish before consumption. Canned smoked fish is fine.
Don’t eat raw seafood, anything with raw, unpasteurized eggs or rare meat:
- Uncooked seafood can contain parasites or bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
- Store bought dressings should be made with pasteurized eggs, but avoid home made dressing made with raw eggs due to the risk of listeria.
- Cook meat until it is well done to avoid the risk of toxoplasmosis and salmonella.
Handle food safely
- Wash all fruit and veges thoroughly before eating
- Don’t eat food that is past it’s use-by date
- Keep your fridge at a safe temperature of no warmer than 4 degrees Celsius or 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure you clean your fridge regularly.
- When cooking and storing food, take measures to avoid cross contamination, such as colour coded cutting boards. Don’t let meat juices drip into other food, especially those from deli meats, fish or chicken.
If you do have the misfortune of coming into contact with food contaminated with listeria or toxoplasmosis, early detection and treatment can save your baby. Toxoplasmosis can cause mild, flu-like symptoms.
The severity of the symptoms of listeriosis may vary. Watch for a sudden onset of fever like when you have the flu, complete with chills, muscle aches, an upset stomach and sometimes diarrhea. If it spreads to your nervous system, the symptoms may include stiff neck, headache, convulsions, loss of balance or confusion.
If you have any of these symptoms, contact your health provider immediately.
Even though I try to explain the risks, I’m constantly hearing from older relatives (who are never backwards in coming forwards with pregnancy advice) that “oh they ate such and such when they were pregnant and so and so came out alright.” You have to take such advice with a grain of salt. When I crave forbidden foods I think to myself, what if I lost this baby, just for the few gratifying seconds it takes to enjoy that food. Would that be worth it? How stupid would I feel, lying in my hospital bed if that happened?” I know this seems morbid, but it’s the life of my child we’re talking about here. This is no time to be squeamish!
I know this all sounds very serious, but I think it is worth the effort for the few months you are pregnant to avoid food poisoning. Due to the face your immune system is suppressed when pregnant, you just don’t deal with bugs as well as you normally would. Contracting a fever in the first trimester can be harmful or fatal to your baby, and food-borne illness such as salmonella can be very risky for you both when pregnant. Having developed food poisoning after eating chicken from a well known fast food restaurant twice when I was younger ( I know, you think I’d have learn my lesson!), I avoid chicken and fish unless I cook it myself and I’m wary of anything I eat out.
But think of how lovely it will be after a break from all your favorites to have them again. I’m so looking forward to celebrating the birth of my bouncing second baby with a glass of wine complete with crackers, soft cheese, salami and pate.
My mouth is watering already!