Eating right during your pregnancy
Your tummy rumbles and you’re looking to quell those hunger pangs. You pick out eggs and some seafood, hoping to whip up something quick. But wait, could some foods be bad for your growing foetus? Can they affect your unborn child’s development?
Well, simply put, yes. Eating right during pregnancy is very important as your immune system is suppressed and your body is more susceptible to parasites and other food-borne bacteria.
While the list of food you can not eat may seem long and restricting, there are few absolute rules. So if you had these foods some days ago, don’t go rushing to the emergency room. Your baby should be fine. But try to limit the intake of these foods in future because they often contain harmful bacteria or environmental pollutants that may adversely affect the health of your baby.
Dairy products like skim milk and mozzarella cheese can be a healthy part of your diet. But unpasteurised products are usually made from raw milk should be avoided. When the process is not performed properly, the milk may become infected with the bacteria, listeria. The bacteria, known to cause about 2,500 illnesses every year, and up to 500 deaths a year, may cause stillbirth, miscarriage or severe illness in newborn babies.
High levels of listeria are occasionally found in the following foods:
- Soft and blue-veined cheese such as camembert, brie, feta and stilton
- Potato salad or coleslaw
- All pâtes (including vegetable ones)
- Unpasteurised juice
- Deli meat
Another bacteria that may prove harmful to your unborn baby is salmonella. It causes a type of food poisoning and is found in unpasteurised milk, raw eggs, raw poultry and raw meat. Although salmonella food poisoning is unlikely to harm your baby, it is advisable to take the following precautionary measures:
Avoid any food containing raw or partially cooked eggs. Eat eggs only when cooked until the egg white and yolk are solid
Ensure meat and poultry are cooked thoroughly until there is no pink meat left
Take precaution against meats found at buffets and barbeques because bacteria can breed quickly in uncovered food placed in a warm environment
Avoid processed meats such as burgers, hotdogs and deli meats (unless they are well-cooked)
Always wash your hands after handling raw meat, and keep them separate from foods ready to eat
Seafood is known to be a good source of iron, protein and omega-3 fatty acids. It is also believed to promote a baby’s brain development. In addition; studies have shown that not having enough seafood in your diet during pregnancy may lead to your child experiencing poor verbal skills and other developmental problems.
Although seafood is generally good for you, steer clear of some fish and shellfish that may contain high levels of mercury. Mercury may damage your foetus’ nervous system. As a general rule of thumb, the older and bigger the fish, the more mercury it is likely to contain.
The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advise women to avoid the following during pregnancy:
- King Mackerel
If you are concerned about your seafood intake, the FDA says that you can safely consume up to 12 ounces a week (which is about two average meals) of:
- Canned light tuna
Avoid raw fish and shellfish, and refrigerated smoked seafood as well. This means try and keep away from sushi through the course of your pregnancy. Remember to cook seafood to a temperature of about 60 degrees Celsius. Fish is well-cooked when it separates into flakes and looks opaque. As for shrimps, lobster and scallops, cook them until they turn a milky white. Cook clams, mussels and oysters until their shells open.
“Vitamin A is necessary in normal health but one has to ensure that excess quantities are not taken during pregnancy as it will harm the baby if high levels build up,” advises Dr James Lee, Associate Consultant from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at National University Hospital, Singapore.
High doses of Vitamin A have been shown to cause damage in the development of fetuses. Foods that contain liver or liver products (including fish liver oil) are known to have high levels of Vitamin A and should be avoided. Also check with your doctor if your multivitamins contain a safe level of Vitamin A.
If you’re a caffeine junkie, don’t worry because you can have coffee through your pregnancy. “No more than 300mg of caffeine a day is directed. This is because high levels of caffeine can result in babies having a low birth weight, or even miscarriage. Caffeine also affects the way the body absorbs iron, which is very important for baby's development,” according to Dr Lee.
300mg of caffeine is roughly equivalent to:
three mugs of instant coffee,
three cups of brewed coffee,
six cups of tea,
eight cans of regular cola, or
eight standard bars of chocolate.
What about pineapples, durians and papayas?
You might have been warned about the horrible effects of some fruits deemed unsafe by urban myths and legends. How true is it that these seemingly harmless sources of dietary fibre be unsafe for your foetus?
Well, although there is no hard evidence, some doctors would suggest you cut down on your intake of pineapples and papayas. It is believed that these fruits can cause abortions. Durians are believed to result in an overweight foetus in some cases. Doctors sometimes recommend that a pregnant mother have more durians if the foetus is smaller than expected.
To err on the side of caution, eat everything in moderation and seek the advice of your gynaec if in doubt during pregnancy. As every woman’s body is different, reaction to certain types of foods may vary.
But always remember; eat a well-balanced and nutritious meal. You can have a safe and carefree pregnancy despite dietary restrictions.
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