Eating for Two? Do it Safely
Anna W. refers to herself as “a healthy-eating beer enthusiast.” When she found out she was pregnant, the toughest thing to part with in her diet was her favorite beer and the occasional deli lunch meat. “I've been aware of food safety and have tried to inform myself of possible dangers, but my diet was already fairly healthy and safe before I became pregnant, so I haven't had to change much.”
Knowing how to eat safely during pregnancy is one of the biggest steps an impending mother can take to keep herself and her baby healthy during those nine important months. But at a time when cravings run rampant, it’s important to be mindful of some food no-nos. “In general, you want to keep up a well-balanced diet and avoid diets that can lead to nutritional deficiency and inadequate weight gain - and no smoking, alcohol, or illicit drugs,” starts Virtua OB/GYN Michael Minoff, MD. As a generalization, obstetricians like to see women take in about 350 extra calories daily – although if you’re pregnant with twins you’ll need to increase your calories even more, and up that to 450 in the third trimester.
“The first trimester is always the biggest concern, as fetal development occurs rapidly at this time,” he says. “This includes the critical time before many women have even confirmed pregnancy, but early fertilization has happened.”
So what foods are off limits or need to be eaten carefully?
Dr. Minoff says caffeine is safe in moderation, and should be reduced or avoided in first trimester.
- Meats, fish, poultry, and eggs
These must be eaten only when fully cooked.
- Unpasteurized dairy or fruit and vegetable drinks
This doesn’t mean women should avoid fresh fruits and veggies; rinsing them helps get rid of potential bacteria and without removing beneficial vitamins and fiber.
Along with avoiding uncooked fish and seafood – sorry, sushi lovers – pregnant women may want to limit their options at the seafood counter, as certain types of fish tend to have higher levels of mercury.
“The main mercury fear is from what are called ‘bottom feeders,’ like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish,” Dr. Minoff explains. “Mercury risks to the fetus are extremely minimal but can include neurological damage."
However, some fish in your diet can very beneficial – containing docosahexanoic acid or DHA – which many women take in their prenatal vitamins to promote proper fetal brain and eye development.
“Most common fish can be consumed in moderation, as in twice a week. These include shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, and catfish,” says Dr. Minoff.
- Unpasteurized cheese
If you love cheese, you’ll need to curb your cravings for Camembert, Brie and other soft unpasteurized cheeses, which may be made from raw milk. They can carry bacteria, such as Listeria, which may cause devastating effects to you or your baby. Check the packaging on your cheese to make sure it’s made from pasteurized milk if you’re not sure.
Pregnant women who get food-borne illnesses such as E. coli, listeriosis, and toxoplasmosis from contaminated food or drinks can be at risk for pregnancy complications and even miscarriage, so moms-to-be should make sure to avoid certain foods – and plan on enjoying them again once that baby is safely in their arms. If you’re concerned that you may have contracted a food-borne illness, contact your doctor. These can often be diagnosed with a blood test and treated with antibiotics.
As for vitamins and supplements, a good diet should be bolstered with a prenatal vitamin – these are tailored for pregnancy, with not-too-high doses of Vitamin A and the added calcium and iron a pregnant woman and her baby needs.
Updated September 2, 2021