Eating safely during pregnancy
Eating safely during this time is more important than ever.
Pregnancy is an amazing time in your life. But it’s also a time when your body’s making big changes. So maintaining your wellbeing is important, for you and your baby. There are certain foods you’ll need to help adjust, while others you should avoid completely. And knowing how to eat safely is just as important. Here’s a helpful overview of what we know.
Making food safety a priority
During pregnancy your immunity is slightly lower than normal. This means the chances of developing food-borne illness are not just higher, but they can affect you more seriously. In rare cases, these illnesses can cause miscarriages, still or premature births. But don’t worry; we’ve got some simple tips to help keep you and your baby safe and healthy during pregnancy.
- Don’t cross-contaminate – it’s a simple rule of thumb. And the best way to avoid doing so is by washing your hands in between the preparation of uncooked meat, ready-to-eat foods and raw foods. Also, use a separate chopping board and utensils for raw meat and chicken, and foods such as salad.
- Cook thoroughly – it’s a good idea to cook foods such as meat until the juices run clear. And to eat them as quickly as possible after cooking. Otherwise, put the food in the fridge once it has cooled to room temperature. When it comes to reheating, do it once only, and until your food is piping hot (above 70°C).
- Don’t wait around – eat foods before the use by or best before date. Make sure you eat canned food straight after its opened, otherwise transfer the contents immediately into a covered non-metal containing and placed in the fridge. Most milk products sold in New Zealand are pasteurised, a process which greatly reduces the risk of bugs which can make you ill. It is important that milk and milk products are stored properly chilled and consumed before the “use by” date, but any risk would be further reduced if consumed within two days of opening, or they can be used as an ingredient in cooked foods.
- Keep it clean – simple and easy to remember. Make sure you wash and dry any raw fruit, vegetables or herbs before using them.
- Fish – some fish that are longer living tend to have higher levels of mercury. It is best to choose fish that are low in mercury while you are pregnant. Visit the NZ Foodsmart for a full list of fish that may be suitable.
When you’re pregnant, it’s recommended not to eat foods that put you at a higher risk of listeria and other bacterial contamination. Here’s a list of foods to avoid:
- Processed meats such as pâté, salami, ham or luncheon
- Cold pre-cooked meat such as chicken or corned beef
- Raw (unpasteurised) milk and milk products
- Soft pasteurised cheese such as brie, camembert, feta, blue, mozzarella and ricotta
- Pre-prepared or unrefrigerated salads
- Hummus and other dips containing tahini
- Raw eggs and any foods containing them such as mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, and mousse
- Raw, smoked or pre-cooked fish or seafood such as sushi, smoked salmon and marinated mussels
- Soft serve ice cream, cream and custard
It’s normal to crave and avert foods
Cravings and aversions during pregnancy are completely normal. You might develop a strong liking or an even stronger dislike for one or more foods – in particular, taste and food preference changes which in turn can affect your appetite.
We’ve found that the most common foods craved during pregnancy are dairy products, sweet tasting foods, fruit and protein rich foods. The most common foods people don’t like during pregnancy are those with a strong taste or flavour such as alcohol, caffeinated drinks, certain meats and vegetables, eggs or fatty foods.
So if you’re craving or averting a particular food, don’t worry too much – especially if you have a healthy, balanced eating plan that includes each of the four food groups. However, if you’re excessively craving unhealthy foods, and it’s becoming difficult to maintain a balanced eating plan, then you should speak to your health professional for advice. You should also seek out help if you’re craving non-food items such as soil, washing power, soap, sand, chalk, or paper. This behaviour is known as Pica, and can be harmful to you and your baby.
Managing morning sickness
Pregnancy’s an incredible ride. But the morning sickness that often comes with it? Not so fun. Despite its name, the nausea, vomiting and quick dashes to the bathroom can happen any time of day. If you’re experiencing morning sickness, you’re not alone. It affects up to 90% of mums-to-be, and the symptoms range from mild to severe, and can even cause hospitalisation.
Although the reasons for morning sickness are still unclear, the mild to moderate symptoms have shown no negative effects on pregnancy. However, some women experience severe and persistent vomiting (Hyperemesis gravidarum). While this is less common, and only affects around 0.3 – 3% of women, it can result in more than 5% loss of pregnancy weight, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances – which combined, can lead to hospitalisation.
The good news? There are easy ways to manage your symptoms. Here’s a list of helpful tips:
- Eat dry, bland food rich in easily digestible carbohydrates (crackers and biscuits) before getting out of bed in the morning
- To avoid gastric distension, only having small amounts of liquid or food at a time, at frequent intervals
- Avoid foods high in fat – they tend to stay in the stomach longer
- Try and decrease or avoid spicy foods if they make any symptoms worse completely
- Avoid an empty stomach
- Avoid foods with strong odours and tastes
- Keep the fluids up at all times
- Try eating foods with ginger or ginger-based herbal tea
- Some women have found wearing sea-bands work well
Even though morning sickness is common, sometimes managing the nausea and vomiting can just be too much. If it’s affecting your overall wellbeing, then you should speak to your health professional.
Your changing body
With so much happening in your body during pregnancy, it’s not only normal for you to gain weight – it’s healthy. And while there’s the belief that you should be ‘eating for two’, it’s actually not accurate when we’re talking about calorie intake. What really matters is the quality of the foods you choose. In reality, your energy needs per day are only increased by a relatively small amount during pregnancy – zero calories in the first trimester, 300 calories in the second, and 450 calories in the third.
We know it’s not always easy, but unhealthy levels of weight gain can have harmful effects for you and your baby. It can result in:
- developing high blood pressure or diabetes
- having a larger baby (which can increase their risk of obesity later in life)
- higher risks of needing a caesarean
- difficulty in managing your weight after your baby’s born
Your body and your health is a priority during pregnancy. And it’s important to remember that gaining the right amount of weight is a good thing. It simply means your baby’s growing inside you. And the thing is, you’ll need the extra weight to support their growth – such as the development of the placenta, fluid around their body, increased circulating blood volume, and the storing of nutrients such as protein and fat.
Every pregnancy is different. And the amount of recommended weight you gain depends on your body. Things like the weight you were at your baby’s conception, and whether you’re having a multiple-birth pregnancy. Here’s a table of the recommended weight gains for single birth pregnancies:
Pre-Pregnancy BMI (kg/m2)
Recommended Weight Gain
12.5kg – 18 kg
Healthy weight (18.5 – 24.9)
11.5kg – 16 kg
Overweight (25.0 – 29.9)
7kg – 11.5 kg
5kg – 9 kg
When it comes to safe eating during pregnancy, there’s definitely a lot to think about. So if you have any concerns or questions, or simply need some more guidance, seek out the help of your health care professional. You can also find some useful information by jumping onto the NZ Foodsmart website.
Ministry of Health. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women – A Background Paper. 2006.
Ministry of Health. Morning Sickness. Accessed 30th November 2015.
Ministry of Health. Eating for Healthy Pregnant Women 2014.
Ministry of Primary Industries. Pregnant Women. Accessed 01st December 2015.
Ministry of Health. Healthy weight gain during pregnancy. Accessed 30th November 2015.