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What foods or substances should I avoid?

Caffeine: Caffeine crosses the placental barrier into the baby's blood when you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Limit your caffeine intake to less than 300 mg in one day. Watch out for the new "energy" drinks – while some contain only as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, others may contain much more. Energy drink manufacturers are not required to list caffeine on the drink label unless the caffeine is added as a separate ingredient. However, caffeine in energy drinks usually comes from natural sources, such as guarana or yerba mate, so the label may not tell the whole story about how much caffeine is in the drink. If you need a soothing cup of something warm, choose citrus, ginger, or lemon herbal teas (no more than two or three cups per day), soup, warm milk, or the occasional cup of hot chocolate. Consume caffeinated beverages in moderation, and drink them between meals, as they may interfere with the absorption of iron at meals.

Alcohol: Alcohol crosses the placental barrier and can cause fetal alcohol syndrome and permanent birth defects, especially if consumed in high quantities. The Motherisk Program states that most organ development is completed a few weeks after the first trimester. Brain development continues throughout pregnancy and after birth. Exposure to alcohol any time during pregnancy can affect the baby's brain.

The Canadian Health Network states that researchers are unsure if a "safe" level of alcohol consumption exists during pregnancy. The harmful effects of alcohol vary with the stage of pregnancy and the amount consumed on each occasion. However, research does show that all types of alcoholic beverages have the same negative effects during pregnancy. Avoid all alcoholic beverages if you are planning a pregnancy and while you are pregnant.

Nicotine: Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of a baby being born prematurely and underweight. Stop smoking if you are considering getting pregnant; if you are pregnant, never smoke. Because of the health risks associated with second-hand smoke, avoid any smoky environments. The use of nicotine replacement therapies may be considered for some pregnant women; speak to your doctor to determine if it is appropriate for you. Do not start using nicotine products without first consulting a health care professional.

Medications: Illicit drugs, inhalants, prescription and over-the-counter medications, and even certain herbal products can affect the unborn baby. Check with your doctor or pharmacist before using any medications and herbal products.

Some artificial sweeteners: Aspartame, sucralose, and acesulfame-potassium are used in many foods such as soft drinks, desserts, yogurt, fruit spreads, salad dressings, chewing gum, and candy. Although evidence shows that these artificial sweeteners are safe for pregnant women, use them moderately. Avoid using saccharin or cyclamates.

Fish and shellfish: Certain fish may contain high levels of mercury, which can affect the baby's developing nervous system. Limit fresh/frozen tuna, escolar, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy, and shark to no more than 150 grams per month, and canned albacore (white) tuna to no more than 300 grams per week. Avoid raw or undercooked shellfish such as oysters, mussels, prawns (shrimp), and crab. These may cause severe food poisoning if contaminated by bacteria.

Milk and milk products: Avoid unpasteurized milk and cheese. This includes cheeses such as feta, brie, Camembert, blue cheeses, and goat cheese. These foods may contain bacteria called listeria, which are harmful to unborn babies.

Raw sprouts and unpasteurized juices: Avoid raw vegetable sprouts (such as alfalfa, clover, and radish) and unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices, as these may contain bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli. These bacteria can cause serious illness in pregnant women and may also be passed on to the baby.

Raw or undercooked meats, poultry or eggs: Undercooked meat, poultry, and eggs can contain bacteria and parasites that can harm an unborn baby. Be sure to cook ground beef and pork to at least 160° F (71° C), roasts and steaks to 145° F (63° C), whole poultry to 180° F (82° C), and eggs until the yolk and white are firm, not runny.

Certain meats: Avoid meat patés, and all liver products because of the risk of listeria. Liver and liver products are rich in vitamin A, and high levels of vitamin A may also be harmful during pregnancy.

Prepared foods: Avoid ready-to-eat meats such as deli meats, patés, and hot dogs (straight from the package). Also avoid ready-to-eat dressed salads (e.g., potato salad or coleslaw) and packaged salads. These foods may contain listeria.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

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