If you've recently become pregnant for the first time, you no doubt have a million and one questions to ask about the experience that lies ahead. However, if we had to guess the single most common query amongst mothers-to-be, it would probably be this:

Which foods should I avoid while I'm pregnant?

It's only natural to worry about the ways in which your diet might adversely affect the child you're carrying, but there is a lot of misinformation out there regarding this topic. Since we've already tackled the topic of whether or not a pregnant woman should imbibe alcohol, today we'd like to talk about food; not only will this short guide tell you which foods to steer clear of during pregnancy, it will also bust a few myths and highlight the foods that, in spite of what some people say, you can safely consume without putting your unborn baby at risk.

Foods to avoid

First of all, here's a quick list of foods that you definitely shouldn't eat when you're pregnant:
  • Raw eggs (and dishes that contained raw/undercooked eggs). Eggs should be cooked thoroughly before consumption to prevent salmonella.

  • Raw or undercooked meat. This includes cured meats (unless they have been cooked beforehand), as well as rare steak. Do not eat meat if any part of the meat is still pink, or if there is any trace of blood.

  • Certain soft cheeses. Anything with a white rind (e.g. brie) or blue veins (e.g. gorgonzola) should be avoided, unless the cheese has been cooked thoroughly before consumption.

  • Certain types of fish (the NHS recommends that pregnant women avoid eating shark, marlin and swordfish).

  • Raw shellfish. Ensure that any shellfish you consume during your pregnancy has been cooked properly first.

  • Unpasteurised milk.

  • Pâté (even if it doesn't contain any meat).

  • Liver (and dishes that contain liver).

  • Unwashed fruit/vegetables. Make sure that any soil has been washed off your fruit/veg before you eat it.

  • Certain vitamin supplements. Be sure to avoid fish liver oil supplements and vitamin A supplements in particular.

Foods you can eat

Listed below are some foods that are often said to be potentially harmful if consumed during pregnancy. All of them are, in fact, safe to eat when pregnant; however, please pay careful attention to the advice given alongside each item, as some of these foods can cause problems for you and your baby if prepared incorrectly or eaten too regularly.
  • Most types of fish and shellfish are OK to eat if they have been cooked properly. You can eat uncooked fish too, as long as it has been frozen before consumption (this will generally include sushi sold at supermarkets - if in doubt, stick to sushi that contains only cooked fish and vegetables). Tuna and other oily fish can be enjoyed in moderation; we recommend visiting the NHS Choices website for more information on how much tuna/oily fish you can safely eat while pregnant.

  • Yoghurt is safe as long as it was made using pasteurised milk. The same is true of ice cream.

  • Venison and other game should only be avoided if the animal was shot using lead bullets. Speak to the supplier if you're unsure where the meat came from.

  • Liquorice may be eaten freely during pregnancy.

  • Caffeine may be consumed during pregnancy; however, it is recommended that you do not exceed 200g of caffeine a day.

  • Green tea can be enjoyed in moderation - limit yourself to no more than 4 cups a day, and bear in mind that each cup will count towards your daily caffeine limit too (see above).

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Wine glasses

Drinking during pregnancy is a something of a grey area when it comes to prenatal health. There is no well-defined limit for expectant mothers to follow, and so it can be difficult to establish how much alcohol - if any - it's safe to consume while pregnant. While there are some guidelines to assist women in their decision, the final choice can only be decided by the individual, based on the facts provided by healthcare professionals:

Risks

  • Alcohol is able to rapidly reach your baby through the placenta, which can lead to miscarriage, premature birth and stillbirth.
  • Drinking can also damage the baby's cells, impacting the developing organs and facial features.
  • Another risk posed by alcohol is the development of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which can cause a number of issues from learning difficulties to birth defects.
  • Foetal alcohol syndrome is the most severe of all alcohol-related disorders that can occur during pregnancy, causing babies to be born and remain small throughout their lives, often with facial defects. This can also effect muscle tone, coordination and behaviour, causing children to have learning and mobility difficulties throughout life.

Contributing Factors

  • Binge Drinking - This refers to a large number of units, consumed over a short space of time. Even if you maintain a largely alcohol-free pregnancy, the occasional heavy-drinking session can still prove to be extremely harmful to your baby. In fact, evidence has shown that babies of binge drinkers are more at risk of developing FAS than the children of drinkers who consumed the same amount of units over a longer period of time.

  • Drinking During the Last Trimester - This is the period when your baby is growing more and the brain is developing. For this reason, some experts have suggested that drinking during this period is related to learning difficulties and memory problems.

  • Drinking Early in Pregnancy - Experts advise mothers not to consume alcohol during the first three months of pregnancy, due to the fact that so little is known about the potential damage this could cause the developing foetus.

  • Heavy Drinking - Of all the factors, this is unsurprisingly the most damaging, due to the large amount of toxins being absorbed by mother and child. If you are a heavy drinker or have problems with alcohol, it is advised that you cut down before becoming pregnant, or seek help if you are already pregnant and are having trouble cutting down. 
While some experts suggest that it is acceptable to drink one to two units a week without impacting the health of your baby, there is too substantial a divide in opinion to provide a definitive answer as to whether or not light drinking is bad for your unborn child. In conclusion, it is safe to say that the best course of action is to avoid the consumption of alcohol altogether, as it is far simpler to remove the risk instead of wondering whether you are doing the right thing.

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