Pregnancy News

A Guide to Nutrition in Pregnancy

by Nikki Goldbeck, CDN

Pregnancy News

Note from Nikki Goldbeck, author of As You Eat, So Your Baby Grows/A Guide to Nutrition in Pregnancy:

The following information comes directly from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and represents their current advice on fish consumption for pregnant women in regard to mercury contamination. This message does not address other issues of fish safety, including other toxic metals and pollutants. Comprehensive information on fish safety recommendations for all groups, not just pregnant women, can be found at the sources at the end of this document.

CONSUMER ADVISORY from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition


Seafood can be an important part of a balanced diet for pregnant women. It is a good source of high quality protein and other nutrients and is low in fat.

However, some fish contain high levels of a form of mercury called methylmercury that can harm an unborn child’s developing nervous system if eaten regularly. By being informed about methylmercury and knowing the kinds of fish that are safe to eat, you can prevent any harm to your unborn child and still enjoy the health benefits of eating seafood.


Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and it can also be released into the air through industrial pollution. Mercury falls from the air and can get into surface water, accumulating in streams and oceans. Bacteria in the water cause chemical changes that transform mercury into methylmercury that can be toxic. Fish absorb methylmercury from water as they feed on aquatic organisms.


Nearly all fish contain trace amounts of methylmercury, which are not harmful to humans. However, long-lived, larger fish that feed on other fish accumulate the highest levels of methylmercury and pose the greatest risk to people who eat them regularly. You can protect your unborn child by not eating these large fish that can contain high levels of methylmercury:

King mackerel

While it is true that the primary danger from methylmercury in fish is to the developing nervous system of the unborn child, it is prudent for nursing mothers and young children not to eat these fish as well.


Yes. As long as you select a variety of other kinds of fish while you are pregnant or may become pregnant, you can safely enjoy eating them as part of a healthful diet. You can safely eat 12 ounces per week of cooked fish. A typical serving size of fish is from 3 to 6 ounces. Of course, if your serving sizes are smaller, you can eat fish more frequently. You can choose shellfish, canned fish, smaller ocean fish or farm-raised fish – just pick a variety of different species.


There is no harm in eating more than 12 ounces of fish in one week as long as you don’t do it on a regular basis. One week’s consumption does not change the level of methylmercury in the body much at all. If you eat a lot of fish one week, you can cut back the next week or two and be just fine. Just make sure you average 12 ounces of fish a week.

Some kinds of fish are known to have much lower than average levels of methylmercury and can be eaten safely more frequently and in larger amounts. Contact your federal, state, or local health department or other appropriate food safety authority for specific consumption recommendations about fish caught or sold in your local area.


There can be a risk of contamination from mercury in fresh waters from either natural or industrial causes that would make the fish unsafe for you or your family to eat. The Environmental Protection Agency provides current advice on fish consumption from fresh water lakes and streams. Also check with your state or local health department to see if there are special advisories on fish caught from waters in your local area.

For information about the risks of Mercury in Seafood call toll-free 1-888-SAFEFOOD

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food Information Line, 24 hours a day or visit FDA’s Food Safety Website

Further information is also available from Environmental Protection Agency or state or local health departments. (A list of contacts is available at Click on Federal, State and Tribal Contacts for fish advisories.)

CONSUMER ADVISORY from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition


Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can cause a serious infection in humans called listeriosis, and causes an estimated 2,500 serious illnesses and 500 deaths each year. Foodborne illness caused by L. monocytogenes in pregnant women can result in miscarriage, fetal death, and severe illness or death of a newborn infant. Others at risk for severe illness or death are older adults and those with weakened immune systems.

Because L. monocytogenes can grow at refrigerator temperatures and is found in ready-to-eat foods, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising all consumers to reduce the risk of illness by:

  • Using perishable items that are precooked or ready-to-eat as soon as possible;
  • Cleaning their refrigerators regularly; and
  • Using a refrigerator thermometer to make sure that the refrigerator always stays at 40 degrees F. or below.

Since pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for listeriosis, FDA provides the following advice to those at-risk consumers of foods that have a greater likelihood of containing L. monocytogenes:

  • Do not eat hot dogs and luncheon meats unless they are heated until steaming hot.
  • Do not eat soft cheeses such as feta, Brie and Camembert, blue-veined cheeses and Mexican-style cheeses such as “queso blanco fresco.”

Cheeses that may be eaten include hard cheeses; semi-soft cheeses such as mozzarella; cream cheese; and cottage cheese.

  • Do not eat refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads. Canned or shelf-stable pâtés and meat spreads may be eaten.
  • Do not eat refrigerated smoked seafood unless it is contained in a cooked dish, such as a casserole. Refrigerated smoked seafood, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, cod, tuna, or mackerel, is most often labeled as “nova-style,” ”lox,” “kippered,” “smoked,” or “jerky.” This fish is found in the refrigerated section or sold at deli counters of grocery stores and delicatessens. Canned or shelf-stable smoked seafood may be eaten.
  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk or eat foods that contain unpasteurized milk.

To keep foods safe from harmful bacteria, follow these four simple steps:

  • Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often
  • Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate
  • Cook: Cook to proper temperatures
  • Chill: Refrigerated promptly.

For more information on handling foods safely call toll-free 1-888-SAFEFOOD

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food Information Line, 24 hours a day or visit FDA’s Food Safety Website


Protect Your Unborn Baby: Important Food Safety Information for Pregnant Women

Safe Plates: Healthy Eating for Pregnant Moms

Eating nutritious foods is important during pregnancy. But some foods can carry harmful bacteria and parasites that can make you and your baby sick. It is easy to take steps to protect yourself from food poisoning while nourishing yourself and your baby.

Listeria monocytogenes (Listeria)

Listeria is a bacterium most often found in soft cheeses, unpasteurized milk products, and ready-to-eat or undercooked meat, poultry, or seafood. Listeria can grow even in refrigerated foods.

Listeriosis causes mild to severe flu-like symptoms in pregnant women, who can pass the illness to their unborn child. Infection of the fetus can result in miscarriage, premature birth, blood poisoning, and birth defects. Listeriosis can be treated with antibiotics.

Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii)

T. gondii, a parasite carried by cats, can also contaminate food. Most often, toxoplasmosis results from eating undercooked meat and poultry or unwashed fruits and vegetables, from cleaning a litter box, or from handling contaminated soil.

Toxoplasmosis usually causes no symptoms or only mild flu-like conditions in pregnant women, but can be passed to a developing baby, resulting in miscarriage, disability, and retardation. The severity of effects in the fetus can sometimes be reduced with antibiotic treatment.

The Path to Safe Eating During Pregnancy

The following steps can help protect you and your developing baby from listeriosis, toxoplasmosis, and other foodborne hazards. Pregnant women are susceptible to all food poisoning, but Listeria and T. gondii pose a particular threat to fetuses.

  • Wash your hands before preparing food, before meals, after handling raw meats, and after using the bathroom. · Use hot, soapy water and scrub well.
  • Avoid cross-contamination. · Separate raw meat from other food. · With soap and hot water, immediately wash all knives, cutting boards, and dishes that contact raw meat, poultry, and seafood. · Always put cooked foods onto clean plates and use clean utensils. · Double wrap raw meat and poultry in your refrigerator to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods.
  • Cook raw meat and poultry until well-done. · Cook hamburgers and pork to an internal temperature of 160°F, cook steaks to 170°F, and cook chicken to 180°F. · Do not sample meat while cooking.
  • Reheat leftovers and ready-to-eat foods like hot dogs and deli meats until they are steaming. · Reheat these foods to at least 165°F. · Do not eat these foods if they cannot be reheated.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water.
  • Do not eat fresh refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads.
  • Do not eat products made from unpasteurized milk. · Avoid soft cheeses such as Mexican-style (queso blanco), blue-veined, feta, Brie, and Camembert. You can eat hard cheeses, mozzarella, yogurt, YoChee, cottage cheese, and cream cheese. · Avoid dishes containing raw eggs and drink only pasteurized juices.
  • Store and maintain food properly. · Refrigerate leftovers within two hours. If food is left sitting out, throw it away. · Cover stored food to keep out all insects, rats, and pets. · Discard foods past their expiration dates; discard leftovers after a few days.

Further Safety Measures

· Avoid cleaning cat litter boxes.

If you do clean the litter box, wear gloves and wash your hands afterwards.

· Wear gloves when gardening and for activities that involve dirt, and wash your hands afterwards.

· Talk to your doctor about Listeria, T. gondii, and other food safety matters.

If your doctor suspects an infection, he or she can perform a blood antibody test for Listeria or T. gondii.

If you may have eaten hazardous foods, own cats, or have been gardening, you are at greater risk for infection.

Hazardous Foods for Pregnant Moms and Young Children

To assure a safe pregnancy, it is important to avoid these foods, unless they have been thoroughly heated.

  •  Unpasteurized Milk and Milk products
  • Soft Cheeses (Mexican-style, feta, Brie, Camembert, and blue-veined)
  • Raw Shellfish
  • Rare Meat and Poultry
  • Pâtés
  • Cold Ready-to-Eat Meats (hot dogs, sausage, ham, bologna, etc.)
  • Cold Ready-to-Eat Seafood Products (smoked salmon, etc.)
  • Cold Leftovers
  • Unwashed Fruits and Vegetables
  • Raw Eggs and Raw Egg Products (homemade ice-cream, mayonnaise, eggnog, Caesar salad dressing, raw cookie dough, and raw cake mix)
  • Unpasteurized Fruit Juices and Ciders

For more information on T. gondii, Listeria or other bacterial risks to pregnancy:

Organization of Teratology Information Services (OTIS);

Pregnancy Riskline


United States Department of Agriculture

Food Safety and Inspection Service

(202) 720-7943

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition


Click the Add to Cart button to add As You Eat, So Your Baby Grows to your PayPal cart