Building healthy babies

Cute pregnant brunete woman relaxing on sofa and enjoying a vegetable salad.She's in late 20's.Wearing beige pregnancy pants and pink sleeveless tank top

What to eat and what to avoid during pregnancy

With close to 300,000 babies born each year Australia-wide, making healthy babies is a major concern for hundreds of thousands of parents. Can we eat this cheese or that meat product? Navigating the healthiest route possible is a minefield for would-be parents.

Generally healthy foods most likely to provide mother and baby with nutrients during pregnancy include wholegrain or wholemeal varieties of bread, cereals, rice, pasta and noodles.  It should also include fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes with full cream milk, yoghurt, and hard cheese.  And (if you’re not vegan), then meat, fish, poultry and well-cooked eggs.

The bad bugs

However despite a diet rich in nutrients, hormonal changes during pregnancy can affect the immune system making it harder to fight off illness and infections.

Listeria which causes the serious invasive ‘listeriosis’ infection is an example of these infections, with about ten per cent of the 65 reported annual cases occurring in pregnant women, and pregnant women up to 13 times more likely to contract listeriosis than other healthy adults. And sadly, one in five cases of listeria in pregnant women results in foetal death.

Avoidance of foods that increase the infection risk is critical throughout the pregnancy. The foods to avoid that could potentially contain listeria are ones that contain unpasteurised milk or raw or smoked meat or seafood.

In the unpasteurised milk category are soft mould ripened cheeses which contain a lot of water which can grow the bacteria, like Camembert, Brie and blue vein cheeses.

However soft cheese made from pasteurised milk like mozzarella, feta, cottage, halloumi, goats’, processed and cream cheese, paneer and ricotta and hard cheeses like cheddar, parmesan and Stilton, are all considered safe to eat.

In the raw or smoked meat or seafood category are

  • all types of pâté including vegetable pâtés which should be avoided
  • cured or fermented cold meats such as salami, pepperoni, Parma ham and chorizo avoided, although if these types of meat are then cooked – such as on a pizza – then that’s ok
  • risk can also be minimised by ensuring pork, poultry and minced meats are well cooked
  • uncooked fish and shellfish should be avoided, including oysters, sushi, sashimi and refrigerated uncooked seafood labelled nova style, lox, kippered, smoked or jerk.

Keep it clean!

While well-washed vegetables during pregnancy are obviously a good source of nutrients, sprouts should be avoided due to their potential for bacteria like E-coli and salmonella. These include alfalfa, onion, clover, radish, snow pea, broccoli and sunflower sprouts.

Pre-made and pre-packaged salads, sandwiches and wraps made a day before should also be avoided.

Another risk is salmonella from products that contain raw and undercooked eggs. Whites and yolks should be cooked until no longer liquid, to prevent the risk of salmonella which is unlikely to affect the baby, but could cause vomiting and diarrhoea. Food like homemade mayonnaise with raw egg should be avoided or pasteurised liquid egg used as a replacement.

Another risk to mothers-to-be is toxoplasmosis, a parasite that comes from cat’s faeces. It can be a problem if you grow your own vegetables as cats can contaminate your garden. Simple thorough washing of freshly grown vegetables is all that’s needed to prevent this.

Seafood during pregnancy including fish and shellfish can be a great source of protein, iron and zinc – all critical for foetal  growth while omega-3 fatty acids including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can promote brain development.

Swordfish, marlin and shark, and tuna steaks or canned tuna should however, be limited due to high levels of mercury that can accumulate in the bloodstream and damage the developing foetal brain and nervous system. One to two serves per week is the maximum recommended number.

Seafood that’s low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, trout and mackerel are suitable while other safe choices include prawns cod and catfish.

It’s easy to eat nutritious food during pregnancy, with only a small number of items to avoid. Perhaps keep a list of ones to avoid on your phone so you can easily call it up while at the supermarket. A well balanced diet, and regular exercise like walking, will go a long way to promoting good health for both mother and baby.

_____________________________________________________________________Sydney Adventist Hospital delivers more than 2200 babies each year. Dr Peter Wood is one of over 35 obstetricians and gynaecologists at the Hospital.

Leave a Reply