Foods to Avoid While Pregnant

Pregnancy is one of the most exciting times for a woman. But it’s also one of the most nerve-racking. Many women spend a lot of time and energy researching how to stay safe and healthy while pregnant. Everything from household chemicals and medications to environmental toxins and food can be a danger to a mom-to-be and her developing fetus.

And while some of the more common dangers can be avoided or at least minimized, eating cannot be put on hold for nine months. That’s why it’s important to know which foods are safe to consume and which ones to avoid when pregnant.

Food Poisoning During Pregnancy

Food poisoning is very common, with the Centers for Disease fControl estimating around 48 million people become sick from a foodborne infection each year. Thanks to an altered immune system during pregnancy, moms-to-be are at an increased risk of contracting harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause these foodborne illness. Contracting a foodborne illness while pregnant can lead to miscarriage or premature delivery, so it’s important to ask your doctor for the most up-to-date food safety guidelines.

While there are many pathogens that can cause food poisoning, experts have identified five key pathogens to be concerned about during pregnancy:

  • Campylobacter
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli)
  • Listeria (listeriosis)
  • Salmonella
  • Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii – toxoplasmosis)

The symptoms for each vary and can produce health problems during the pregnancy or also pass on health issues to the baby. The effects can be mild, such as fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. However, in some cases, these pathogens can cause life-threatening illnesses, such as a low birth weight for the unborn baby and the possibility of paralysis later. It can also increase the risk of injury during childbirth.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) highlights all the potential pathogens along with their potential symptoms and health impacts. It’s important to contact your doctor or healthcare provider immediately if you experience any symptoms related to a foodborne illness.

Most Common Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet is one of the most important things a mom-to-be can do for herself and her baby. This includes getting plenty of foods with Omega-3 fatty acids to facilitate beneficial brain development as the baby grows.

Although most foods are safe to eat during pregnancy, there are some that you should definitely avoid at all costs because they are more prone to contain one of the dangerous pathogens. In general, this includes dairy products made from unpasteurized milk and juices, any foods that contain raw eggs, and any kind of raw meat, fish or poultry.

Most Common Foods to Avoid While Pregnant

FoodsPossible Pathogens
Soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, including Brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, queso blanco or queso frescoE. coli or Listeria
Raw cookie dough or cake batterSalmonella
King mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish, and tunaHigh levels of mercury
Raw or undercooked fish, such as sushiParasites or bacteria
Unpasteurized juice or cider, including fresh squeezedE. coli
Raw milk (unpasteurized)Campylobacter, E. coli., Listeria, or Salmonella
Salads made in a store, such as ham salad, chicken salad, and seafood saladListeria
Raw shellfish, such as oysters and clamsVibrio
Undercooked or raw sprouts, such as alfalfa, clover, mung bean, and radishE. coli or Salmonella

Others Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

In addition to foods you should always avoid, there are foods you need to be careful consuming while pregnant. Part of the concern comes from eating at restaurants or purchasing pre-made food at a grocery store or deli.

The way a food is prepared can make it more susceptible to contamination. Certain foods, like egg salad, homemade ice cream or hollandaise sauce, can become contaminated because they are undercooked or contain raw ingredients. That’s why it’s best to prepare food at home as much as possible while pregnant.

Foods to Limit While Pregnant

FoodsPotential Danger
Hot dogs, luncheon meats, cold cuts, fermented or dry sausage, and other deli meat and poultryListeria
Raw eggs, undercooked eggs, and pasteurized egg productsSalmonella
Homemade eggnogUndercooked eggs
Fish (especially raw fish)Parasites or bacteria
Homemade ice creamUndercooked eggs
Raw or undercooked meat (“tartare”), including beef, veal, lamb and porkE. coli
Unpasteurized meat spread or refrigerated patesListeria
Smoked seafoodNot safe unless cooked to 165ºF

You might also want to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about the use of caffeine, alcohol, certain herbal teas, wheatgrass (commonly added to smoothies), soft drinks, and fresh-squeezed juices. The FDA has also developed a chart that goes further into detail about which types of fish pregnant women, as well as children, can safely consume.

Staying Healthy While Pregnant

Overall, though it may be difficult to avoid some of your favorite foods that may be on the “do not eat” list, taking precaution while pregnant is important for your and your baby’s health. Be sure to speak with your doctor about your dietary concerns and needs, including additional vitamins you may need to take as your baby grows. By simply avoiding some of these foods, you can help ensure you have a happy, healthy pregnancy.