Pregnancy comes with a lot of diet changes, including what you eat, how often you eat, and what you want to eat (and what you think you’ll never want to eat again).

Pregnant woman holding groceries - Harmful Foods to Avoid in Pregnancy After Loss

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But perhaps the biggest diet change is knowing what harmful food to avoid in pregnancy, and what to limit, no matter what you are craving. Pregnancy changes your immune system (and your baby’s immune system is not developed yet) which puts you both at a higher risk of food-borne illness[1]“People at Risk: Pregnant Women,” FoodSafety.gov, April 1, 2019, https://www.foodsafety.gov/people-at-risk/pregnant-women. And as pregnant-after-loss mamas, we are all about reducing risk however and whenever we can.

According to the latest research, here is a comprehensive list of food to avoid in pregnancy:

  • Unpasteurized milk. Before you grab that big white jug at the store, check the label to be sure it is pasteurized. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), raw or unpasteurized milk carries the risk of Listeria, a type of bacteria that can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labor, and death of a newborn[2]“Listeria: People at Risk – Pregnant Women and Newborns,” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, reviewed December 12, 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/listeria/risk-groups/pregnant-women.html. (Raw milk is rarely sold in a traditional grocery store, but you can often get it at a farmer’s market or direct from the farm[3]“State Milk Laws,” National Conference of State Legislatures, August 29, 2016, https://www.ncsl.org/research/agriculture-and-rural-development/raw-milk-2012.aspx. Get more info here if you want to know if your state allows raw milk sales.)
  • Cheeses made from unpasteurized milk. Imported soft cheese can be made from unpasteurized milk and therefore can contain Listeria[4]“Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy,” American Pregnancy Association, https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/foods-to-avoid-during-pregnancy/. These include Feta, Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, and Gorgonzola. It also includes Mexican cheese such as queso fresco, queso blanco, queso blando, queso cotija, queso panela, queso ranchero, and cuajada en terrón. Cheese that is non-imported and is made with pasteurized milk is safe to eat. If you are at a restaurant and are ordering a meal with any of the above cheese, ask the server or chef to check the label for you. If you still can’t know for sure, it’s safest to abstain.
  • Unpasteurized juice or cider. Sense a theme? When it comes to your juice or cider, always check that label. This sadly includes abstaining from freshly squeezed juice. If you still want to partake in unpasteurized juice, be sure to bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute to prevent a possible E. coli infection.
  • Raw or undercooked egg (including raw cookie dough). Unless they are pasteurized or cooked all the way through (yolk and white included), eggs can cause you and baby to get Salmonella poisoning. You’ll also need to avoid raw cookie dough, both for possible contaminants in the egg and in the raw flour. This doesn’t mean, though, that you must forego all your favorites. Here’s how you can still have some of the egg dishes you love …
    • Buy pasteurized eggs to create your favorite dishes at home. If the label does not say “pasteurized” or if it has safe-handling instructions listed on the carton, it is not safe to use unless you are fully cooking both the yolk and white of the egg.
    • Buy pre-made. Anything that you can buy in a regular grocery store that is pre-made such as ice cream, cookie dough, Caesar dressing, or eggnog must be made with pasteurized eggs. Total win-win for you: Less work and cleanup for you. And safe eggs for you and baby.
    • You can still bring that delicious egg casserole over for a holiday meal. Just be sure it’s heated up to 160°.
  • Raw or undercooked meat. So that sushi craving? Sadly, not going to happen for a while. All meat, including seafood and shellfish, must be cooked to the appropriate food temperatures. (And if you need a refresher, here is a quick primer on food temps[5]“Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart,” Food Safety, https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/safe-minimum-cooking-temperature.)
  • Refrigerated meat spreads and pre-made meat salads. In case pâté is your thing, avoid it from the deli counter or the refrigerated section on your grocery store as it may contain Listeria[6]“People at Risk: Pregnant Women,” FoodSafety.gov, April 1, 2019, https://www.foodsafety.gov/people-at-risk/pregnant-women. Also do not buy any type of pre-made meat salads, like tuna or chicken salad. If the meat spread is canned, sealed and shelf-stable (or the meat salads are homemade), you are welcome to bust out the crackers and spread away. (Just be sure to toss it back in the fridge as soon as you’re done.)
  • Raw sprouts. Avoid all raw sprouts, such as bean sprouts, alfalfa, radishes, and more. They are fine to eat as long as they’ve been cooked.
  • Alcohol. According to the CDC, “There is no known safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant. There is also no safe time to drink during pregnancy. Alcohol can cause problems for a developing baby throughout pregnancy, including before a woman knows she’s pregnant. All types of alcohol are equally harmful.” [7]Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs): Basics of FASDS,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 29, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/facts.html Alcohol crosses the umbilical barrier and can result in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. These disorders can significantly impact the health and quality of life for your child. Do not drink if you could be pregnant. If you already had some alcohol in pregnancy, the best thing you can do is to abstain from alcohol starting today. (Also, be sure to follow safe alcohol practices while breastfeeding as alcohol does get into breast milk.)
  • Fish with mercury. Fish can be an excellent source of nutrients for you and your baby. However, some fish may put you at a higher risk of health issues due to mercury levels. Avoid all high-mercury fish like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and more. To find out the full list of fish to eat, and fish to avoid, get the FDA guide here.

Foods to take extra precaution with:

  • Coffee (and other sources of caffeine). There’s nothing like a cup of joe for a pick-me-up. But some studies have shown an increased risk of miscarriage with caffeine consumption (although, admittedly, other studies found no correlation). According to the American Pregnancy Association, if you do consume caffeine, make sure it is no more than 200 mg per day[8]“Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy,” American Pregnancy Association, https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/foods-to-avoid-during-pregnancy/. And you may want to consider avoiding caffeine entirely in the first trimester.
  • Deli meats and hot dogs. All deli-style meats, hot dogs, and refrigerated smoked seafood need to be cooked thoroughly before consumption. Just pop them in the microwave or under the broiler until the meat is steaming.
  • Shellfish. You may want to limit shellfish. While cooking oysters and clams will prevent most bacterial infections, it will not prevent an infection from the algae from red tides[9]Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy,” American Pregnancy Association, https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/foods-to-avoid-during-pregnancy/.
  • Wild fish. If you are going fishing and want to partake in your catch, call your local health department to determine if the fish in that area are safe to eat or if they are from contaminated water.
  • Vegetables. Fruit and vegetables should be a regular part of your diet. Just be sure you are properly washing your fruit and veggies before eating.

I know eating while pregnant is complicated already, even before we add on this list of harmful food to avoid in pregnancy. And this list might feel daunting. But once you find the foods and brands that are safe and enjoyable, it will get easier to purchase, cook and eat foods that you love.

And if you find you’ve accidentally eaten something on this list – do not panic. These are foods that might get you sick – not foods that are guaranteed to cause problems at the first bite. Simply let your doctor know during normal office hours, and they can offer assurance and let you know when and if you need to come in.

(Need an easy way to remember this list? We got you covered. Print out this infographic from the FDA or save it to your phone.)

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