Alcohol: Alcohol crosses the placental barrier and can cause fetal alcohol syndrome and permanent birth defects, especially if consumed in high quantities. Most organ development is completed a few weeks after the first trimester. Brain development continues throughout pregnancy and after birth. Exposure to alcohol any time during pregnancy will affect the baby’s brain. The harmful effects of alcohol vary with the stage of pregnancy and the amount consumed on each occasion. However, research does show that all types of alcoholic beverages have the same negative effects during pregnancy. Abstain from all alcoholic beverages if you are planning a pregnancy and while you are pregnant.
Nicotine: Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of a baby being born prematurely and underweight. Stop smoking if you are considering getting pregnant; if you are pregnant, never smoke. Because of the health risks associated with second-hand smoke, avoid any smoky environments.
Caffeine: Caffeine crosses the placental barrier into the baby’s blood when you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Not only is caffeine toxic to the baby’s developing nervous system but it also interferes with iron absorption and the body’s ability to effectively use insulin. It’s best to quit caffeine completely but, if you must drink it, limit your caffeine intake to less than 300 mg in one day. (One cup of coffee contains about 150 mg of caffeine, one cup of strong black tea contains about 100 mg of caffeine, and one 355 mL can of cola contains 36 to 46 mg of caffeine.) Watch out for so-called “energy” drinks – that are high in caffeine. Energy drink manufacturers are not required to list caffeine on the drink label unless the caffeine is added as a separate ingredient. However, caffeine in energy drinks can be from natural sources, such as guarana or yerba mate, so the label may not tell the whole story about how much caffeine is in the drink. If you need a soothing cup of something warm, choose citrus, raspberry leaf, nettle or lemon herbal teas (two or three cups per day), soup or miso broth.
Medications: Illicit drugs, inhalants, prescription and over-the-counter medications, and even certain herbal products affect the unborn baby. Check with your midwife or pharmacist before using medications and herbal products. Buy prenatal vitamins from a reputable health food store and do not take more than the recommended daily amount of Vitamins A, C. and E.
Some artificial sweeteners: Aspartame, sucralose, and acesulfame-potassium are used in many foods such as soft drinks, desserts, yogurt, fruit spreads, salad dressings, chewing gum, and candy. The latest research shows that these products are very harmful to human health.
Fish and shellfish: Certain fish may contain high levels of mercury, which can affect the baby’s developing nervous system. Avoid swordfish, marlin, and shark. Limit your intake of tuna or salmon to two medium-sized cans of salmon or light tuna, one medium-size can of albacore tuna, or one fresh tuna steak per week. Avoid raw (e.g. sushi) or undercooked shellfish such as oysters, mussels, prawns (shrimp), and crab. These may cause severe food poisoning if contaminated by bacteria.
Milk and milk products: Avoid unpasteurized milk and cheese. This includes soft cheeses such as feta, brie, Camembert, blue cheeses, and goat cheese. These foods may contain bacteria called listeria, which are harmful and can be deadly to unborn babies.
Raw sprouts and unpasteurized juices: Use caution with store bought raw vegetable sprouts (such as alfalfa, clover, and radish) and unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices, as these may contain bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli. These bacteria can cause serious illness in pregnant women and the unborn baby.
Raw or undercooked meats, poultry or eggs: Undercooked meat, poultry, and eggs can contain bacteria and parasites that can harm an unborn baby. Be sure to cook ground beef and pork to at least 160° F (71° C), roasts and steaks to 145° F (63° C), whole poultry to 180° F (82° C), and eggs until the yolk and white are firm, not runny. Buy organic meat and eggs, they are worth the extra money.
Certain meats: Avoid meat patés, and all liver products because of the risk of listeria.
Prepared foods: Avoid ready-to-eat meats such as deli meats, patés, and hot dogs. Also avoid ready-to-eat dressed salads (e.g., potato salad or coleslaw) and packaged salads. These foods may contain listeria, a deadly bacteria. Monosodium glutamate, (MSG) used to season deli foods is a known neurotoxin.
Become an avid label reader in pregnancy and continue this practice throughout your child’s life in order to protect him/her.