Eating for two, wisely

Tasha Jennings, Naturopath, Nutritionist, Natural Fertility Specialist

Plus other things you shouldn’t take during pregnancy

As the saying goes, you are what you eat.  This statement couldn’t be more true than when it comes to creating a new life.  Whether you are currently pregnant or trying to conceive, the nourishment you are providing through diet and lifestyle, is already having a significant impact on the lifelong health of your future child. Here’s what to avoid, what to eat more of, as well lifestyle factors and common household products which may be potentially harmful during this important time.

Enjoy more

Eggs: cooked well (no runny bits) to avoid any potential infections, eggs are an excellent source of choline, which is vital for healthy brain development.

Plenty of greens: greens like broccoli, spinach and kale are excellent sources of folate, which is important to promote healthy egg and sperm development and to fuel the rapid growth and development occurring during pregnancy.

Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables: variety is the spice of life!  Especially when it comes to supporting the development of a new life. A good variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables provides good sources of antioxidants and key nutrients to fuel healthy growth and development.

Whole foods: organic is even better. Whole foods come with all their natural cofactors to promote healthy nutrient absorption minus the artificial preservatives, colours and flavours. By going organic you also get rid of the fertility hindering pesticides.


Soft cheese: it can contain listeria bacteria which causes an infection called listeriosis. Pregnant women are at greater risk of infection from listeria bacteria due to the hormonal changes during pregnancy. Although rare, infection can cause miscarriage or serious harm to an unborn baby.

Large fish: large fish, such as flake, swordfish and tuna steaks as they contain higher levels of mercury.  Mercury can potentially affect the baby’s developing nervous system. Fish is a great source of essential fatty acids during pregnancy but smaller fish such as salmon are your best source,

Rare and cold cured meats: many cured/deli meats are not actually cooked. Consuming meat, rare or uncooked, comes with a risk of toxoplasmosis which is caused by a parasite found in raw or undercooked meat. Toxoplasmosis is very rare however it can have harmful effects on an unborn baby so all meat should be well cooked.

Caffeine: when it comes to caffeine intake, less than 300mg is the current recommended maximum intake per day for women who are pregnant or trying to fall pregnant. This equates to around 2 cups of regular coffee or 3 – 4 cups of regular black tea. However, the exact safe limit is debatable. Research has linked high caffeine intake to both male and female fertility issues and increased risk of miscarriage with researchers questioning whether current ‘safe’ recommendations are too high. And we do know that caffeine crosses the placenta and is passed on to your baby. And remember that caffeine is also found in soft drinks and chocolate.

Alcohol: with regards to alcohol, the same applies. Whilst some doctors say that a glass of alcohol per week is perfectly fine, National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines recommend that women who are pregnant or trying to fall pregnant should abstain from alcohol as a ‘no effect’ level has not been established.

Harsh household cleaners: common household cleaners contain a cocktail of nasty chemicals which can harm fertility and potentially harm an unborn baby. I always recommend choosing natural alternatives – and it becomes especially important during this important window.

Insecticides: insecticides are designed to kill life! These should be avoided in all forms especially products which spray a continual blast of harmful chemicals into the environment or leave residue on surfaces. Choose natural alternatives, the old fly swat or, a favourite with my family, paper and a glass jar to get rid of harmless bugs and spiders!

Perfumes and perfumed cosmetics and skin care: perfumes contain harmful chemicals called phthalates.  Phthalates are endocrine disruptors which have been shown to negatively affect fertility. Phthalates have also been linked to increased risk of miscarriage and may harm an unborn baby. Choose natural unscented or ‘phthalate-free’ options.

Paracetamol: paracetamol has long been recommended during pregnancy and has been used for many years without any obvious harm. However new research last year suggests that paracetamol may in fact be harmful to an unborn baby, particularly to the brain and reproductive organs.  Therefore although acute, low dose, intake should not be cause for concern, ongoing intake should be avoided.

Ibuprofen: the active ingredient in non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like Nurofen and Advil should be avoided during preconception and pregnancy. Intake during early pregnancy has been linked to miscarriage and birth defects. Paracetamol is the preferred painkiller for acute issues, however natural pain relief alternatives are always preferred. Always speak with your healthcare professional before using any over the counter pain relief medications.

The overall message for optimal preconception and pregnancy health is to enjoy a good variety of whole foods, avoid processed foods and chemicals where possible, avoid caffeine and alcohol and opt for natural alternatives for household and cosmetic products.

Tasha Jennings is a Naturopath, Nutritionist, Natural Fertility Specialist and Author of The Fertility Diet and The Vitamins Guide. She has an information hub Conceive Baby, which provides expert information, articles, webinars and podcasts from leading fertility specialists from across the globe. She also has a free ‘5 days to Improving your Fertility’ eCourse and a forthcoming ‘Your Fertile Pantry’ course.

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