Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Avoiding Dangerous Foods in Pregnancy

By Natalie Torres

For the CAPPA Quarterly
Volume 12, issue 4
Autumn 2010

A mom wants only the very best for her baby, so during pregnancy eating nutritious foods is especially important. Equally critical, though, is understanding which foods she should avoid. While pregnant women are especially susceptible to the hazards in our food supply, the threat is even greater to the fetus. Among these risks are:

*Listeria (Listeria monocytogenes)- bacteria that can cause from mild to quite severe flu-like symptoms in the pregnant woman. The fetus, though, is in the most danger. It can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, blood poisoning, birth defects.

-Listeria is most commonly found in

-cold deli meats (deli ham, turkey, etc., hot dogs…),

-soft cheeses ( such as Brie, Camembert, Feta, Mexican-style cheeses like queso blanco, and blue-veined cheeses like gorgonzola and roquefort,

-unpasteurized milk and dairy products, and unpasteurized juices,

-any undercooked meat

*Toxoplasmosis (Toxplasma gondii)- a parasite that may cause no symptoms to mild flu-like symptoms in mom, but can be devastating to the unborn baby. This parasite crosses the placenta; this can result in miscarriage, or a number of physical conditions and disabilities. Mental retardation, seizures, blindness, deafness, and cerebral palsy can be long lasting effects of fetal exposure.

-The most common food sources of Toxoplasmosis are

-undercooked meat and poultry

-unwashed fruits and vegetables

-raw eggs

-unpasteurized milk

*Mercury (methylmercury)- a natural element, bur also released into our air via industrial pollution. It falls from the air and accumulates in the water system (streams, lakes, oceans, etc.) where it turns to methylmercury, affecting freshwater fish and seafood. The fetus is especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of mercury. It can damage the baby’s developing nervous system, resulting in lower IQ, delayed mental development, and other neurotoxic effects.

-Fish/ seafood to eliminate

-king mackerel, shark, swordfish, tilefish, marlin

-especially avoid raw oysters and clams

-Fish/seafood to restrict (or eliminate)

-ahi and bigeye tuna, orange roughy, walleye, largemouth bass, and northern pike

-In general, fish-eating fish and older fish have higher levels of methylmercury than smaller and/or herbivorous fish (like herring and tilapia).

Another food category you may want to be careful of is soy products. Soybeans contain isoflavones and phytoestrogens, which affect multiple hormonal actions in the body. So an excess of soy may have a negative effect on the development of certain body systems. It can impact the way the baby’s reproductive organs and cells grow, the way the immune system develops, and even influences the organization of the brain. It also increases the risk of future problems such as behavioral issues, learning disabilities, and increased risk of developing severe allergies.

Research continues in all these areas, it is important that childbirth professionals remain current concerning foods expectant women need to avoid.  While keeping in mind the above precautions, expectant women can also protect themselves with these further hints for food safety…

1. Wash your hands well, scrubbing with hot, soapy water before eating, before preparing food, after handling raw meat, and after using the restroom.

2. Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables, preferably using a fruit and vegetable wash when possible (homemade or store bought).

3. Avoid cross-contamination by separating raw meats from all other foods, double- wrapping stored meat so that the juices do not get on other foods. Any dish, utensil, etc., that touches raw meat should immediately be washed in hot soapy water.

4. Cook raw meat and poultry until well done. Cook hamburger and pork until the internal temperature is 160 F. (71.1 C.) Chicken should reach at least 180 F. (82.2C.), and steak 170 F. (76.7C.) Most fish should be cooked to about 145 F. (63 C)

5. Heat ready-to-eat foods (like deli meat and hot dogs) and leftovers until steaming hot, approximately 165 F. (73.9C.), or avoid them completely.

6. Don’t buy raw meat that’s been pre-stuffed. (i.e. stuffed chicken breast)

7. Do not eat dishes containing raw or partially cooked eggs (i.e. homemade ice cream, raw cookie dough, eggnog, and hollandaise sauce)

8. Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm.

While most of these things should always be done, it becomes even more important during pregnancy, because expectant women and their babies are more vulnerable to the dangers hiding in our food supply. Expectant women can safeguard themselves by eating a variety of healthy, nutritious foods at the same time as avoiding dangerous foods in pregnancy.

(These are general guidelines only and should not take the place of your own personal care provider.)

About the author:
Natalie Torres, CLD, CAD, CPD, is the former Assistant Director of CAPPA Publications. She provides antepartum doula, labor doula, and postpartum doula services to families within Bozeman, Montana. Natalie is also a volunteer labor doula for Operation Special Delivery, and a birth photographer.

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