Teratogens: Harmful to the unborn baby

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.

6 thoughts on “Teratogens: Harmful to the unborn baby

  1. Hey Gloria!

    What about preservatives? Artificial colors? There’s evidence that that stuff will really mess a baby up.

    Also… there’s a definite cultural bias to this list.

    The unpasteurized dairy thing, I take huge issue with. As they say in France when the US tried to force the WHO to make that particular recommendation, “They’re trying to turn us into velveeta-eaters!”. Throughout Europe, they eat unpasteurized/raw dairy with no ill effects. So the idea that they’re problematic is countered by a whole heap of experience.

    If you’re gonna make that jump… just ban *all* dairy, which can play havoc with calcium, magnesium, and iron levels, and has all kinds of other badness associated with it.

    And the sushi thing also is cultural. Women in Japan do not stop eating sushi while pregnant, and they don’t have issues. Oddly, though, Americans do. Perhaps we have more random vicious bacteria here? Probably because of the egregious use of antibiotics…

    So, what do you think about cultural bias in diet advice?

  2. I must confess, Laureen, that I wrote that list for the worst eaters that I encounter. Cultural bias, yes. I do have the Weston Price people as clients and they are right on the ball with their raw milk and grain fed beef. I worry that us city folk are too far from the actual cow or goat to keep the milk at the proper temperature consistently. I worry that people who handle raw food of any kind might not be washing their hands properly after going to the toilet. More and more, I am eating only food I’ve prepared myself at home because restaurants are using so much canola oil which I consider a toxin.

    We have a big Asian population here in Vancouver and my Japanese clients keep eating sushi but they take the warning and don’t go to any of the cheap, fast-food sushi joints. The high end sushi restaurants cost more but are clean as a whistle. If you’ve ever made sushi at home, it’s alarming how much white sugar is in the rice with the vinegar–that’s why it’s so yummy.

    I am working with a Malaysian woman right now and we’re working on her diet all the time. Finding things she likes but that are also wholesome and can be purchased here. Tried to change her over to brown rice and she ended up donating the bag of rice to my pantry after her first bowl.

    I have a friend who is an expert on Crohn’s disease and colitis. Some think there’s a milk link there. Those diseases are almost unheard of near the Equator (world wide) and most common in the Northern Hemisphere. I assumed that was because of the higher levels of Vit D from the sun but she pointed out that equatorial people boil their milk before using it. I don’t think milk is an essential of a good prenatal diet and think N. Americans are far too dependent on wheat and dairy.

    I wonder if young women are taught by their moms and grandmothers how to keep food fresh and safe while getting the most nutrition possible. I agree about the food coloring being toxic but if I made that list it would be a whole book. Thanks for commenting. For those who don’t know it, Laureen’s my “online presence” coach who got me into blogging. Be sure to visit her blog by clicking “Elemental Mom” on my blogroll.

  3. Gloria, my doctor, karen who you know I adore, lost twins at 14 weeks after eating some Brie. It was her last pregnancy, the only daughter she never had was one of them. I know of a couple of tragic losses as a result of listeria, and I’ve heard that in france there is awareness of avoiding raw cheeses during pregnancy as well. Listeria is harmless to most people, but a pretty easily prevented tragedy in pregnancy, it’s a risk people should be informed about really. Just like drinking in pregnancy, which is also common in France.

  4. I just googled
    pregnancy listeria france
    and lots came up, they have it there too. They have become extremely dedicated to monitoring their food supply industries for the bacteria, and as I mentioned, pregnant women are made aware of it there as part of their pregnancy care.

    I’d drink raw milk products if I was pregnant and knew the cow, I wouldn’t if I was pregnant and buying my food from stores or unknown farmers.

    It’s also a matter of how risk averse people are, Listeria is an easily avoided deal for risk averse people. Though it also has been found on lettuce and fruit, which many don’t know.

  5. what about inhalants what do they do. U do know what inhalants are right? They are aerosols or other canned air and such like rush, ram, locker room,Hi tech,Gaz,ETC…

  6. If you come in contact with a chemical you are concerned about while you are pregnant or breast feeding you can call the Texas Teratogen Pregnancy Risk line (you don’t have to live in Texas) at 1-800-733-4727. This is a free service! The Teratogen Center is a non-profit state funded group that will do the research and give you the information you need to assess the risk to your child. Learn more at: http://www.ttis.unt.edu/

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