Navigating the minefield of dietary no no’s during pregnancy is a time-consuming gig. When I talk to other mums about food during pregnancy, the two biggest questions that usually come up are: ‘what foods are safe to eat?’ and ‘how much extra food do I need to consume to keep the baby healthy?’.

While food plays a huge role in nourishing your baby it can be the furthest from your mind during early pregnancy. Morning sickness can make you extra sensitive to smells, tastes, textures and keeping anything down is oh so difficult.

In my recent pregnancy I vomited throughout the entire first trimester – to the point where I couldn’t even keep water down most days. My diet consisted mainly of salted crackers and ice cubes for the first three months. 

As I eased into the second trimester my appetite returned with a vengeance. I was ravenous and wanted to eat when I wasn’t sleeping, and sleep when I wasn’t eating. It was as if my body was making up for lost time. 

Unfortunately there are certain foods you should avoid to keep certain bacteria away. And yes, they are probably the ones you end up craving the most. You want what you can’t have right?!

Below is a list of foods to steer clear of so you don’t end up hugging the toilet bowl.

FOODS TO AVOID

If you are a lover of cured meats or soft cheeses, they are on the long list of foods to steer clear of while pregnant.  The New South Wales Government Food Authority says other foods you should to avoid include: processed meats such as salami, raw meat, cold chicken, pate, raw seafood, store-bought sushi, soft and semi-soft cheese, soft serve ice-cream, unpasteurized milk, raw eggs in food such as mayonnaise and cake batter, and pre-prepared store-bought salads.

So why can’t pregnant women eat the aforementioned foods?  

Dietician and mother to three, Annika Buwalda, says food safety is a huge concern for pregnant women as they are 20 times more likely than other healthy adults to get Listeria Monocytogenes, a pathogenic bacteria that causes listeriosis infection.

“Listeria infection is usually a result of eating contaminated foods of animal origin or raw vegetables that have come into contact with the soil borne organism,” says Annika. 

In serious cases the infection can be transmitted to the foetus and cause miscarriage. So, if in doubt about certain foods you should probably err on the side of caution and avoid eating whatever you are having second thoughts about. 

And rest-assured, there are ways you can reduce your risk of contracting Listeria. Maintaining good hygiene when preparing and eating food will decrease your chances of food poisoning. This includes washing hands, as well as using separate cutting boards when chopping raw meat and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Annika goes on to say there is no “one size fits all diet” for pregnant women.

“You can have a perfectly healthy pregnancy whether you are a vegetarian, have dietary restrictions, or just don’t like eating sprouts!”.

WHAT YOU SHOULD EAT

It’s important to eat a wide variety of foods to meet your increased needs for both vitamins and minerals while pregnant and breastfeeding. Annika says this should include (depending on your own dietary requirements and preferences of course):

  • A variety of vegetables, legumes and beans. 
  • Fruit
  • Wholegrain foods and high fibre varieties of cereals, breads, rice, pasta, quinoa, polenta, cous cous, oats and barley.
  •  Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.
  • Milk, yogurt, cheese.

It is also important to include good sources of folic acid in your diet prior to pregnancy and while pregnant.

Around 400 micrograms of folic acid per day can reduce the risk of your child having neural tube defects, says Annika. This can be obtained through a folic acid supplement or through dietary sources that contain high levels of folate. These include green leafy vegetables, oranges, bananas and legumes.

A woman’s thyroid gland is more active during pregnancy, so requirements for iodine increases.

“Most bread sold in Australia is fortified with iodized salt, and you can check the label of table salt to ensure that it is iodized,” says Annika.

“Dairy and seafood are also good dietary sources of iodine”.

You also need to increase your water intake from 2 litres to 2.3 litres, so have your water bottle on hand at all times!

CAN YOU DOUBLE THE PORTION?

The age-old myth that you are eating for two, so can double up on servings is unfortunately untrue (*insert frown here).

Annika says in general your metabolism increases by around 15% if you are pregnant with just one child. This means an increase in energy requirements of around 350 calories (or 1400 kilojoules) a day in the second trimester. This will increase to 500 calories (2000 kilojoules) per day in the third trimester. 

“It should be noted though that these increased requirements may be reduced with changes in physical activity as the pregnancy advances,” Annika adds.

FOOD CRAVINGS

I have always been fascinated by stories of women who craved bizarre foods while pregnant. I only had a few cravings, which were quite tame in comparison to women who longed for sardines and milk.

Each time I was newly pregnant I would crave a kebab – probably because I knew I wasn’t supposed to eat one. My other cravings were for anything really cold – like grape slushies, ice cubes (I could’ve chewed on those bad boys all day) and salad rolls. The most adventurous I got was pickles and ice-cream, and after trying it once, my cravings for that combo were short lived.

While my cravings were fairly boring, some pregnant women do actually experience cravings for non-typical foods. This condition in known as Pica where the individual craves and/or eats non-nutritive substances such as soil or clay.  

“A diagnosis of pica can be associated with a number of factors including nutritional deficiencies,” says Annika. 

So, if you have a hankering for chalk or dirt you are not alone. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the most common pica cravings in pregnant women include clay, soil, and laundry starch. Other cravings include sand, coal, coffee grounds and even mothballs.

What should you do if you have weird cravings? Instead of reaching for a lump of coal or going for a sneaky dig in the garden, talk to your doctor. They’ll be able to check if you are deficient in any vitamins or minerals.  

Cheers for now. I’m going to make the most of this one-on-one time with Augie while the kids are at school. By that I mean cuddle, have a nap, and write my next article so I can avoid doing any of the housework.

Your friend and baby obsessed peer,

Cherie x

** RESOURCES **

Here are some resources if you want more info about food safety or dietary guidelines while pregnant: