A healthy diet is important for everyone, especially pregnant women. It is recommended that women watch that they eat even before they get pregnant, as the early stages of pregnancy are crucial for the neural development of the foetus, and ensuring that the womb is a healthy environment for its development.
While food aversions will tell each woman what not to eat in her pregnancy, and there are many old wives' tales about foods that pregnant women should not eat, registered nutritionist Shannon Grant tells which foods pregnant women should be wary of, especially in the early stages of pregnancy, where a miscarriage is most likely to occur.
While fish is a great source of protein, Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids, which are great nutrients for mother and foetus, some fish may also contain mercury, which can have adverse effects on development in-utero.
“Mercury turns into methylmercury, which is a neurotoxin found in most fish in at least small amounts. However, in high quantities, methylmercury can be toxic to the nervous system. Shark, swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel should be avoided while pregnant or breastfeeding,” Grant said.
Raw or undercooked fish
Even when consuming low-mercury fish, there is still the risk of consuming harmful bacteria if it is not properly prepared.
“Raw or undercooked fish and shellfish are likely to contain bacteria and parasites that are potentially harmful,” Grant cautioned. “Pregnancy leads to changes in a woman's immune system, so her body is more susceptible to foodborne illnesses like salmonella.”
Not only fish can carry bacteria that may harm the developing foetus. Meats may contain a harmful parasite that can lead to serious birth defects, Grant says.
“Toxoplasmosis is an infection that can be caused by a parasite. It is predominantly found in cat faeces and undercooked meat such as lamb, pork and venison. Contaminated water can also be a carrier of this parasite.”
Soft cheeses and unpasteurised milk
Grant says that soft cheeses like brie, camembert, and mould-ripened soft cheese made with goats' milk are less acidic and contain more water than hard cheeses. “This means they provide the ideal environment for harmful bacteria such as listeria to proliferate. Listeriosis is a rare infection caused by listeria and can be particularly harmful to pregnant women,” she said.
“Similar to soft cheeses and unpasteurised milk, deli meats and hot dogs can become contaminated with listeria,” Grant warned.
Listeriosis, caused by listeria, increases the risk of miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth and infection to the newborn at birth, says the American Pregnancy Association. They add that vegetables can become contaminated with listeria from the soil, but the bacteria are killed by proper washing, cooking and pasteurisation.
Grant said that, “excessive alcohol consumption can lead to foetal damage and mental retardation and could lead to miscarriage or complications.”
The US Centers for Disease Control says there is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. “There is also no safe time during pregnancy to drink. All types of alcohol are equally harmful, including all wines and beer. When a pregnant woman drinks alcohol, so does her baby,” it states.