If you’ve just announced to family and friends that you’re expecting, you have probably already received enough well-intentioned advice to last a lifetime. There istruth in what you’re hearing—pregnant women and their unborn children areparticularly susceptible to more severe foodborne illness. The key culprit is the listeria bacteria that can be found on fruits and vegetables; in unpasteurized milk or soft cheeses; in raw or undercooked meat, poultry or shellfish; and in prepared refrigerated meats. If listeriosis is passed through the placenta, it can cause pregnancy complications, such as premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth or serious health problems for the newborn.
Here are the dos and don’ts to protect you and your baby against food-born illness during pregnancy:
Don’t drink unpasteurized milk.
Do wash produce thoroughly. Although most listeria infections are caused by contaminated foods, the bacteria can be found in soil and sometimes on plants.
Don’t eat soft cheeses, such as feta, Brie, Camembert, blue-veined cheeses, and Mexican-style cheeses, such as queso blanco, unless they clearly state that they are made from pasteurized milk. Hard cheeses, semi-soft cheeses and pasteurized processed cheeses are safe to eat.
Do cook your meats until well done (juices should run clear and there should be no pink inside). This includes reheating processed meats before eating—foods like hot dogs, luncheon and deli meats and refrigerated smoked seafoods—should be reheated until steaming.
Don’t eat fish known to be high in mercury, including shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Albacore tuna is also higher in mercury; choose “light” tuna instead. The type of mercury found in these fish can be harmful to the developing fetus.
Do include two servings of various other fish and shellfish in your diet each week. Salmon is a particularly good choice because it is high in Omega-3 fatty acids required by the developing fetus. Other safe choices include tilapia, halibut, Pollock and catfish.
Don’t drink alcohol during pregnancy. Although not associated with foodborne illness, alcohol is dangerous for your baby. Contrary to what you might hear, there is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink at any time during your pregnancy.
In addition to listeriosis, pregnant women are also more susceptible to parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis. The keys to preventing toxoplasmosis are:
Wash your hands with soap and water after touching raw meat, unwashed vegetables, soil and sand. Cats can spread this parasite, so have someone else change the litter box, if possible. If you have to do it, wear disposable gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. Wear garden gloves when working in the yard and wash your hands when you’re finished.
Cook meat, poultry and seafood to the minimum safe internal temperature. Buy a meat thermometer and check out these guidelines from the USDA.
Avoid drinking untreated water, particularly in less developed countries.
Foodborne illness is just one, albeit important, dietary consideration during pregnancy. Read more in the Wellness Journal about healthy weight gain and caffeine consumption or learn more about our obstetric services. Contact a Woman’s Healthcare Associates office to schedule your first prenatal visit >
Check these resources for more information:
- Nutrition During Pregnancy, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- Listeriosis and Pregnancy, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Choose My Plate – Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women, US Department of Agriculture
Sources: Images – Words on Wellness, Iowa State University