Your Pregnancy Matters

Coffee, sushi, and wine: What’s safe during pregnancy?

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Most foods women enjoy every day are safe during pregnancy, in moderation.

Every day, at least one pregnant patient tells me she’s tired or grumpy after giving up coffee, sushi, or another favorite food or drink to protect her growing baby. While such sacrifice is a noble gesture, it’s unnecessary for most women.

In fact, there is just a handful of foods and drinks we recommend that women totally avoid during pregnancy. With a little common sense, women can enjoy a wide menu without endangering their own health and the health of their babies. 

3 common food and drink concerns during pregnancy

The following are general guidelines for the three foods and drinks my patients ask about most often. Every woman and every pregnancy is different, so I encourage women to talk to their doctor about dietary-related questions or concerns.

1. Caffeine

Moderate caffeine consumption – less than 300 mg per day, or right around two 8-ounce cups of coffee – is considered safe during pregnancy for most women. However, women who are breastfeeding during pregnancy might want to cut back on coffee, tea, and soda if the child becomes fussy or has trouble sleeping.

2. Alcohol

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be a touchy topic. Moderate to heavy drinking can contribute to pregnancy complications and birth defects, but the risks associated with low alcohol consumption are less understood. Because we can’t be sure whether alcohol is safe or in what quantities, it should be avoided all together.

3. Fish

Eating seafood that is high in omega-3 fatty acids is healthy during pregnancy when prepared properly. The current guidelines suggest that pregnant women can safely eat three servings a week (up to 12 ounces total) of shrimp, salmon, catfish, and other fatty fish. It’s even safe for most pregnant women to eat sushi in the U.S., provided it’s prepared in a clean environment. However, some fish is high in mercury, including king mackerel and swordfish. It’s not safe to consume mercury in high amounts during pregnancy because it increases the risk of birth defects. 

While most foods and drinks are safe during pregnancy, a handful of foods should be avoided to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses, or diseases caused by toxins, viruses, and bacteria. Below are tips to reduce the risk of three foodborne illnesses that harm pregnant women and their babies.

3 common foodborne illnesses and how to avoid them

1. Food poisoning

Food poisoning often is caused by consuming foods that are contaminated by viruses, toxins, or bacteria, such as salmonella. While diarrhea and vomiting are unpleasant for anyone, food poisoning during pregnancy also can cause headache, fever, and dehydration, which can result in hospitalization.  

2. Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite that can be carried in raw or undercooked meats. Some pregnant women experience mild symptoms; others experience none. However, toxoplasmosis can cause pregnancy complications such as miscarriage or stillbirth or health problems for the baby, including blindness or cognitive issues.

3. Listeria

Pregnant women are more susceptible than the general public to infection from Listeria, a bacterium found most frequently in deli meats, hot dogs, unpasteurized milk products such as soft cheeses, and unwashed produce. Regional outbreaks also have linked Listeria to less likely foods, such as hummus and ice cream. Symptoms of infection, if any, are often vague and flu-like. Untreated Listeria infection can increase the risk of premature delivery, miscarriage, and stillbirth.

Common sense food safety can help pregnant women avoid foodborne illnesses. Follow these tips to reduce the risk:

● Be aware of foodborne outbreaks in your area

● Clean food preparation surfaces and utensils before and after use

● Fully cook all meat dishes

● Keep cold food cold, and hot food hot

● Wash raw fruits and vegetables before cutting or eating them

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