What is Safe to Eat During Pregnancy?

Most conscientious pregnant women wonder what is safe to eat during pregnancy — now that there's a baby onboard, you have someone besides yourself to worry about. For the most part, most of your regular diet will be safe, with the exception of a few things. Some foods will be easy to avoid while you're pregnant, while others, such as coffee, alcohol and fish may be more difficult to abstain from. The following is a list of some foods that are safe to eat during pregnancy, and foods that you should stay away from. When in doubt, ask your doctor if it's safe to eat during pregnancy, or consult a resource like the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS).

Safe to Eat During Pregnancy

  • Coffee: For those women who would not be the same without their cup of morning joe, take heart — coffee is considered safe during pregnancy. Because caffeine can cross the placenta and affect your baby, it is smart to limit your coffee to 2 to 3 cups per day, maximum. Pregnancy hormones and metabolism can wreak havoc on your digestive system, so coffee may make you a bit more jittery than usual. If you find yourself having a hard time dealing with coffee, try to cut back even more, or go half-decaf.
  • Caffeinated Soda: The same rules dealing with coffee pertain to caffeinated soda — moderation is key, so try to limit your intake of soda to no more than 24 ounces (680 g) per day. Since it has no nutritional value, try replacing it with water, milk or a healthy juice.
  • Diet Soda: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and Splenda® safe to eat during pregnancy. However, it is artificial, and Splenda® hasn't been around long enough to research long term effects. Unless you're diabetic, it may be worth just splurging on an occasional non-diet soft drink, and avoid artificial sweeteners altogether.
  • Tea: A cup of tea can be a relaxing part of your day, and some teas can have added health benefits as well. Doctors advise pregnant women to avoid blue or black cohosh due to the fact that it can stimulate contractions of the uterus.
  • Chocolate: Some women who fear consuming too much caffeine while pregnant and limit their intake of chocolate will be happy to know that because the amount is negligible, they can indulge in this favorite craving. Beware — chocolate during pregnancy is a notorious cause of heartburn!
  • Vegetarian or Vegan Diet: because these diets tend to be very well balanced and healthy, most doctors will not advise against a vegetarian or vegan diet. However, studies have shown that pregnant women on these types of diets may suffer from a B12 deficiency which can lead to serious anemia. Be sure to get extra calcium and protein if on these diets.
  • Fish: while women should avoid certain types of large fish that contain high levels of mercury, there are many other types of fish and shellfish that will give them the benefits of omega-3s. Shrimp, flounder, scallops, catfish and crab are all examples of fish that are safe to eat during pregnancy. Just be sure that they are fully cooked.
  • Spicy Foods: Don't let old wives tales keep you from your favorite spicy foods during pregnancy. While spicy foods may wreak havoc on your digestion, and cause searing heartburn, it's safe to eat during pregnancy. Interestingly enough, certain strong tastes can cross the placenta and babies learn to have a taste for what their mom likes.
  • Livestock with antibiotics: Because the levels of antibiotics in livestock are so minute, red meat is safe to eat during pregnancy. If you're concerned, it can't hurt to eat organic, free-range meat to ease your worries.

Foods that Aren't Safe to Eat During Pregnancy

  • Alcohol: Alcohol in any amount is unsafe for the health and development of your baby.
  • Un-pasteurized Juices: Un-pasteurized juice can harbor bacteria that can affect you and your baby. Unless you've washed, squeezed and bottled the juice yourself, you have no idea how it was handled before it got to you. The process of pasteurization should kill all bacteria, making it a safe during pregnancy.
  • Smoked/Cured Meats and Deli Meats: Cold cuts and smoked meats can harbor bacteria like E. coli and listeria, which can be very dangerous for a pregnant woman and her baby. Avoid them during pregnancy, as well hot dogs — even the ones you make at home.
  • Fish: although fish is generally safe to eat during pregnancy, certain large fish which prey on smaller fish may have unsafe levels of mercury in their flesh. Avoid shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel during pregnancy. Limit tuna to smaller types of tuna, and canned tuna, to about 6 ounces (170 g) per week.
  • Soft Cheeses: Certain soft cheeses can harbor bacteria as well — stick with hard or pasteurized cheese.
  • Sushi: Raw fish and shellfish are definitely not safe to eat during pregnancy. They can harbor hepatitis, bacteria and parasites, all dangerous to women and their fetuses. If you love your sushi, plan to have some delivered to the hospital room after you've given birth as a reward for depriving yourself for the last nine months!

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