What To Avoid During Pregnancy

Dining Out

In general, it is recommended to be cautious about dining out while you're pregnant. As you might imagine, the risk of food poisoning takes on a whole new meaning when eating for two, as harmful bacteria threatens a pregnancy. Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can cause serious infections in humans. This food-borne illness, known as Listeriosis, can result in severe health implications for the pregnant mother, the unborn fetus, and even the nursing infant.

The FDA and EPA provide the following advice to pregnant women about foods that may contain Listeria monocytogenes or may otherwise be unsafe:

  • Do not eat refrigerated pate or other meat-spreads.
  • Avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk or juice, and avoid foods that contain unpasteurized milk or juice.
  • Avoid hot dogs and luncheon meats unless they are reheated until steaming hot.
  • Avoid soft cheeses like Brie, Feta, Camembert and "blue-veined" cheeses.
  • Raw vegetable or bean sprouts.
  • Avoid refrigerated smoked seafood. Cooked or canned is safe.
  • If possible, avoid preparing raw meat, poultry, eggs, and fish. Never eat raw meat, poultry, eggs or fish during pregnancy.

Eating Fish During Pregnancy

Fish and shellfish can be part of a healthy diet and are a great source of protein and heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids. However, many fish and shellfish contain mercury, a harmful heavy metal that can affect neurological development at high levels. The risk of mercury contamination in fish and shellfish depends on the amount and type you eat and where the fish lived.

Use the following guidelines to get the healthy protein and Omega 3 fatty acids from fish while avoiding mercury:

  • Avoid refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna or mackerel. These types of smoked seafood are most often labeled as "nova-style," "lox," "kippered," or "smoked."
  • Do not eat Atlantic salmon, tilefish (also called golden or white snapper), king mackerel, shark, swordfish or sea bass, as these may contain high levels of a form of mercury that may harm an unborn baby's developing nervous system.
  • Also avoid eating fish that may contain high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Such fish include blue fish, striped bass, salmon, pike, trout, and walleye.
  • Avoid shellfish such as oysters and clams as they are bottom feeders and may accumulate environmental toxins. Never eat raw shellfish during pregnancy.
  • Even after your baby is born, you will also want to avoid these fish during breast-feeding.
  • Choose shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish, or "light" tuna as they contain less mercury.

Visit the Environmental Protection Agency's fish consumption advisory at www.epa.gov/ost/fish, or www.ewg.org for further information.

Beef or Chicken Liver During Pregnancy

Although a good source of protein, iron, B vitamins and other nutrients, liver is the detoxification organ of the body. Livers also store Vitamin A and may contain high amounts that could be dangerous to your developing baby. It is recommended to limit consumption of liver during pregnancy.

Avoiding Alcohol

There is no safe time during pregnancy for you to drink alcohol. There is also no known safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy. When you are pregnant and you drink beer, wine, hard liquor, or other alcoholic beverages, alcohol gets into your blood. The alcohol in your blood is shared with your baby across the placenta and through the umbilical cord. Alcohol can slow down the baby's growth, affect the baby's brain, and cause birth defects.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) is a term describing a range of effects that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Some people with FASD have abnormal facial features and growth, and central nervous system problems. People with FASD may have problems with learning, memory, attention span, communication, vision, and/or hearing. These problems often lead to difficulty in school and social problems. The effects of FASD last a lifetime and cannot be reversed. If you are pregnant and have been drinking alcohol, stop now and talk to your doctor. Avoiding alcohol will help keep you and your baby healthy. If you need help to stop drinking, talk with your doctor or nurse. Find out more about the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Avoiding Cigarette Smoke

Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to many problems as serious as miscarriage and infant death. Smoking and exposure to second hand smoke may increase the risk of complications such as abnormal bleeding, placental detachment, premature labor and delivery, and low birth weight. Smoking also increases the risk of your newborn experiencing apnea and dying from SIDS. Children of smokers are at greater risk for respiratory disease. Choose to quit smoking now for the health of you and your baby. If you need help to quit smoking, speak with your doctor or nurse midwife now. Avoid exposing yourself and your baby to second hand smoke.

The Caffeine Question

Caffeine is a stimulant found in colas, coffee, tea, chocolate, cocoa, some supplements, and some over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Large quantities of caffeine can cause irritability, nervousness and insomnia as well as low birth-weight babies. Caffeine is also a diuretic and can rob your body of valuable water. Some studies show that drinking caffeine during pregnancy can harm the fetus, while other research suggests that small amounts of caffeine are safe. Talk to your doctor before drinking caffeine during pregnancy. Since caffeine is an ingredient in many over-the-counter and prescription drugs, always talk with your doctor or nurse midwife before taking any supplements, drugs or medications while pregnant.

Animals to Avoid During Pregnancy

In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued the recommendation that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid contact with rodents. Rodents such as mice, rats, squirrels, hamsters and guinea pigs may carry a virus called lymphocytic choriomeningitis that may cause hydrocephalus (excess fluid in the skull), developmental issues, blindness, or death. Most infections seem to be caused by wild rodents, not household pets.

Cat feces can harbor a parasite that can cause Toxoplasmosis. If a pregnant women contracts this parasite there is a 50% chance that it could pass to the baby. Toxoplasmosis can cause problems with vision and hearing, mental retardation, and other problems in the fetus. Toxoplasmosis exposure can occur from contact with raw and undercooked meat or cat feces. Have someone else change the cat litter during pregnancy. Be careful while gardening that there are not cat feces in the soil.

Hazardous Substances to Avoid

Solvents, paints, cleaners, and pesticides all may contain chemicals which are hazardous to the health of your baby or can potentially cause a miscarriage. Minimize your possibility of exposure. Have someone else paint the nursery. Choose healthier, low-environmental impact paints and household cleaners. Consider not spraying pesticides, getting your hair dyed, or nails polished during pregnancy. Heavy metals such as lead and mercury are environmental toxins that may be found in soil, air, water, or food that can affect your brain and nervous system development. Have someone else dispose of broken thermometers or fluorescent light bulbs. Unless necessary, do not have mercury (silver) fillings placed or removed during pregnancy and lactation. For more information, ask your doctor or nurse midwife or go to www.ewg.org.

Herbs and Natural Supplements

Although natural, herbs and herbal teas can contain substances which can be harmful to your developing baby. It is best to avoid any use of herbs during the first trimester. The use of herbs, herbal teas, and essential oils (such as tea tree, peppermint, and lavender) during the second and third trimester should first be discussed with your doctor or nurse midwife, or another qualified health care practitioner.