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What to Avoid Eating and Doing When You’re Pregnant

Before you order your favorite Greek pita wrap or freshen up your cat’s litter box, you might want to pause and reconsider. It’s well-known that pregnant women need to avoid alcohol and sushi, but what is not as widely understood is why those items, and others, are off-limits. Knowing what you should avoid can help you prevent serious infections and make healthy, lower-risk choices. 

One of the greatest threats to pregnant women in the U.S. is listeria. Pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get a listeria infection, and for Hispanic women, the rate is 24 times above the average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Becoming infected with listeria poses a significant danger because the infection can be passed from mother to fetus and cause miscarriage, stillbirth and preterm labor. 

Steer Clear of These Foods and Drinks 

  • Undercooked meat and fish. These can carry pathogens usually destroyed by cooking. Avoid sushi, ceviche and raw shellfish.

  • Undercooked eggs. These are associated with salmonella, which can infect the fetus, membranes and amniotic fluid, leading to premature delivery. So skip the eggs Benedict, Caesar salad dressing, tiramisu, raw batter and any other foods that contain raw or undercooked eggs. 

  • Unpasteurized milk and dairy products. This includes many popular cheeses, such as brie and feta, and can cause maternal and fetal infections. 

  • Fish and seafood. Some fish (shark, swordfish and tilefish) have too much mercury to be considered safe during pregnancy. 

  • Premade ham salad, chicken salad or seafood salad. This also includes refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads, which can contain listeria.

  • Luncheon meats. If not properly stored or handled, these can carry listeria and other pathogens.

  • Raw or undercooked sprouts. Alfalfa, radish or clover sprouts may contain E. coli or salmonella.

  • Alcohol. There is no safe level of alcohol consumption established for pregnancy.

  • Unpasteurized juice and cider. Even fresh-squeezed juice can cause foodborne illness. 

A handy food safety guideline is available for download from this federal government website. 

Other Tips to Remember

  • Avoid foods with empty calories; they can lead to excess weight gain and fluctuating blood sugar levels, which can cause dizziness and lightheadedness.

  • Don’t try intermittent fasting, which could increase nausea in the early months of pregnancy and lead to low blood sugar, dizziness and fainting.

  • Say no to carbonated beverages or sodas, which have no nutritional benefit. 

  • Drink fruit juice and milk in moderation. It’s easy to drink too much, leading to excess calories.

  • Include fresh vegetables in your diet.

  • Replace sweets with fresh fruit for a snack.

  • Forget fad diets. Pregnancy is not the time to eliminate a particular food group because a well-balanced diet is needed for optimal health of mom and baby. During pregnancy, diets such as Keto and Atkins are dangerous. The primary fuel for the fetus is glucose, and eliminating carbohydrates to induce ketosis puts the baby at risk. Ketosis causes the only energy source available to the baby to be ketones, which can lead to mental retardation. 

Can Pets Be Hazardous?

Exposure to certain animals can be risky. For example, pregnant women should not change a cat’s litter box. Cats can carry toxoplasma in their urine, which causes birth defects in the fetus. 

Reptiles such as snakes, turtles and lizards can carry salmonella, so make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after handling or avoid the reptiles. If your 8-year-old has been begging for a pet snake, now you have a great excuse not to get it!

Other Healthy Tips

Exercise is strongly recommended. Labor is like running a marathon: You wouldn’t do it without training, and you shouldn’t go into labor without any physical conditioning. Exercise builds cardiovascular strength and endurance, shortens the length of labor and lowers the risk of gestational diabetes and hypertension. Just be sure to avoid activities that put you at risk of injury.


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