During pregnancy your unborn baby relies solely on your dietary intake to grow fast and healthily. While deficiencies in any part of the diet are dangerous for the fetus’ health, there are some foods that should be avoided because they either contain substances that are poisonous to such a young being, or they contain too much of a certain vitamin or mineral.
We all know that pregnant women should avoid alcohol (one glass of red wine every now and then is said to be okay), cigarettes, too much caffeine and certainly drugs, but one food not many people know about that can harm an unborn child is pâté. Pâté (especially liver) contains high levels of vitamin A, which is needed, but not in such high amounts. Also, pâté contains the bacteria called ‘listeria’, which is not harmful to adults and older children, but it can certainly harm an unborn infant. Cheese is a confusing area for pregnant women as some types are fine to eat, but others can be bad for the unborn child. In general, hard cheeses such as cheddar and parmesan are good to eat, as is feta, ricotta, mozzarella, mascarpone, cottage cheese and processed cheese and processed cheese spreads. On the other hand, unpasteurized cheeses, soft blue cheeses, brie and chevre should always be avoided as they contain listeria just like pâté. Be careful with things that could contain these cheeses such as cheesecake; it is possible to make them with cheese that isn’t harmful, but many restaurants don’t.
Similarly, uncooked eggs have the potential to carry the bacteria salmonella which causes food poisoning and so should be avoided at all costs during pregnancy. Even half cooked eggs (as found in homemade chocolate mousses and soufflés) can be harmful, so it’s best to choose something different. Raw and undercooked meat are advised against during pregnancy as they can also carry salmonella and e. coli bacteria and cause food poisoning that is life threatening to an unborn child. Fish is okay to eat as long as it is cooked through and you never eat raw seafood or shellfish (this includes sushi). Do bear in mind, however, that some fish contains high levels of mercury which can harm both you and your baby on a short term and long term basis. Tuna, swordfish and shark are all high in mercury and while you don’t have to cut them out completely, it’s best not to eat them on too regular a basis.
While you are pregnant, remember to be vigilant and check that certain foods and drinks don’t contain too much caffeine. Chocolate being one and of course fizzy drinks the other. It’s well worth switching to decaf until after birth and breastfeeding (caffeine in milk can make babies very restless). While you are checking for caffeine, have a look for sources of phenylalanine and aspartame in things like squash that is diluted, bottled drinks, chewing gum and sweets. Both substances are harmful to young infants and aspartame has even been shown to cause seizures in young babies. If possible, choose the alternative that doesn’t contain them.
Don’t panic if you do accidentally eat some soft cheese, a little too much caffeine or something containing raw egg as stress can also harm the baby. Simply take note of how you feel and if you do feel ill then contact your doctor. You should be fine if it’s just a one off, but use your common sense and don’t make eating food that’s unsafe during pregnancy a habit.