Pregnancy and food safety

What to eat

A healthy diet


The best way to meet you and your baby’s nutritional needs is to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods and be as healthy as possible as early as possible.

These foods should include:

  • Bread, cereals, rice, pasta and noodles—preferably wholegrain or wholemeal
  • Vegetables and legumes
  • Fruit
  • Milk, yoghurt, hard cheese—preferably low fat
  • Meat, fish, poultry, cooked eggs and nuts


The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating from the Commonwealth Government Department of Health and Ageing recommends:

  Try to consume each day 1 serving =
Breads & Cereals

(including rice, cereals, pasta, noodles)
8 1/2  servings*

(preferably wholegrain or wholemeal)
1 slices of bread
1/2 medium bread roll or flat bread
1 1/3 cups of breakfast cereal
1 cup cooked rice, pasta, noodles, cous cous or quinoa
Vegetables & legumes 5-6 servings 1/2 cup cooked vegetables
1 cup of salad vegetables
1/2 cup cooked dried beans, peas, lentils or canned beans
1/2 medium starchy vegetable (potato, sweet potato or taro)
Fruit 2 servings 1 medium apple or banana
2 items of smaller whole fruits (apricots, kiwi fruit, plums)
1 cup canned fruit (no added sugar)
Protein

(meat, fish, poultry, cooked eggs, legumes, nuts)
3 1/2 servings
90-100g raw weight of cooked meat (beef, lamb, pork)
115g raw weight of cooked fish fillet or one small can of fish
100g raw weight of cooked lean poultry (chicken or turkey)
30g of nuts, seeds or peanut butter
2 large eggs
170g tofu
Calcium (milk, yoghurt, hard cheese and dairy alternative) 2 1/2 servings** 250ml of milk
250ml of soy, rice or other cereal drink fortified with at least 100mg per 100mL calcium
40g (2 slices) of cheese
200g of yoghurt


Weight gain during pregnancy varies between women. It is normal to gain 12-14kg during pregnancy. So it is important not to diet or skip meals while youre pregnant your baby grows every day and needs you to maintain a balanced, healthy diet.

*8 serves per day for women 18 years or under

** 3 1/2 serves per day for women 18 years or under

Vitamins, nutrients and minerals

During pregnancy your body needs extra vitamins, minerals and nutrients to help your baby develop. The best way of getting these vitamins is through your diet.

Folate

Folate is a B vitamin and is added to food or supplements as folic acid. Folate is important for your baby’s development during early pregnancy because it helps prevent birth abnormalities like spina-bifida.

The best way to make sure you get enough folate is to take a daily folic acid supplement of 400 to 600 micrograms (μg) one month before becoming pregnant and during the first three months of pregnancy. If you have a family history of neural tube defects you may need even more folate, so you should consult your doctor.

It is also important to eat foods that have added folic acid or are naturally rich in folate. Foods with folic acid added to them (fortified) include most breads, some breakfast cereals, and fruit juices. Check the nutrition information panel on the package to find out how much folate is present.

Foods naturally rich in folate include green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and salad greens, chick peas, nuts, orange juice, some fruits and dried beans and peas.

Iron

Pregnancy increases your need for iron. Your baby draws enough iron from you to last it through the first five or six months after birth so it’s vital that you consume more iron while pregnant. The recommended daily intake (RDI) of iron during pregnancy is 27mg per day. Taking a supplement may help to meet this recommended intake but you should only take iron supplements under your doctor’s advice.

Good sources of iron include:

  • lean beef and lamb 
  • poultry
  • fish and shellfish 
  • breakfast cereals fortified with iron
  • eggs
  • cooked legumes such as chick peas, lentils, kidney and lima beans
  • dried fruits
  • green vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and spinach

Eating foods high in vitamin C will also help you to absorb iron if you consume them at the same time. Try drinking a glass of orange juice when eating green vegetables or legumes. You also need to watch out for tea, coffee and cola because caffine reduces the body's absorption of iron.

Calcium

Calcium is essential to keep bones healthy and strong. During the third trimester of pregnancy, your baby needs a large amount of calcium as they start to develop and strengthen their bones. If you’re not getting enough calcium in your diet, the calcium needed by your baby will be drawn from your own bones. To prevent this and the risk of osteoporosis later in life make sure you are getting enough calcium in your diet for both of you.

The recommended daily intake of calcium during pregnancy is 1000mg to 1300mg per day. Two serves of dairy foods, such as milk, hard cheese, yoghurt and calcium–fortified soy milk, should meet your daily requirements.

Iodine

Iodine is important for everyone, but particularly for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Mild to moderate iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in the baby having learning difficulties and affect the development of motor skills and hearing.

In Australia, most breads, except organic varieties, are fortified with iodine which will help to address the iodine needs of most of the population. However, pregnant and breastfeeding women have higher requirements for iodine so some women may need to take a supplement. Talk to a doctor, midwife or accredited, practising dietitian for advice.

If you think you are not getting enough vitamins or nutrients please speak to your doctor.

What to avoid

Click to view foods to avoid

Use this handy guide to assist in making decisions about what to eat and what to avoid during pregnancy.

It highlights some foods that are not recommended for pregnant women.

Food poisoning

When you're pregnant, hormonal changes in your body lower your immune system which can make it harder to fight off illness and infections. Preventing foodborne illness and protecting yourself from other food risks during pregnancy is extremely important.

Remember the golden rules of food safety:

Keep it cold

  • Keep the fridge below 5oC
  • Put any food that needs to be kept cold in the fridge straight away
  • Don’t eat food that’s meant to be in the fridge if it’s been left out for two hours or more
  • Defrost and marinate food in the fridge, especially meats
  • Shop with a cooler bag, picnic with an esky

Keep it clean

  • Wash and dry hands thoroughly before starting to prepare or eat any food, even a snack
  • Keep benches, kitchen equipment and tableware clean
  • Separate raw and cooked food and use different cutting boards and knives for each
  • Don’t let raw meat juices drip onto other foods
  • Avoid eating food made by someone sick with something like diarrhoea

 

Keep it hot

  • Cook foods until they’re steaming hot
  • Reheat foods until they’re steaming hot
  • Make sure there’s no pink left in cooked meats such as mince or sausages
  • Look for clear juices before eating freshly cooked chicken or pork
  • Heat to boiling all marinades containing raw meat juices before serving

Check the label

  • Don’t eat food past the use-by date
  • Note the best before date
  • Follow storage and cooking instructions
  • Ask for information about unpackaged foods


Salmonella

Salmonella can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, fever and headache. Pregnant women are not at an increased risk of contracting salmonellosis, but in rare cases it may trigger miscarriage.

It’s advisable to avoid foods that contain raw egg and always cook meat, chicken and eggs thoroughly. In addition, the NSW Food Authority recommends that pregnant women do not eat any type of sprout including alfalfa sprouts, broccoli sprouts, onion sprouts, sunflower sprouts, clover sprouts, radish sprouts, snowpea sprouts, mung beans and soybean sprouts, when raw or lightly cooked.

 

Listeria

Listeria is a type of bacteria found in some foods which can cause a rare but dangerous infection called listeriosis. It usually takes about 30 days for the flu-like symptoms to occur, but it can take much longer. If Listeria is transmitted to your unborn baby it can lead to miscarriage, premature labour or stillbirth.

Some foods may contain Listeria even when they’ve been stored correctly so the best way to avoid listeriosis is to follow these guidelines:

  • Try to eat only freshly cooked food and well washed, freshly prepared fruit and vegetables. Leftovers can be eaten if they were refrigerated promptly and kept no longer than a day
  • Avoid any foods that may have been made more than a day in advance, for example pre-made and pre-packaged salads, sandwiches and wraps

For more information on the risks involved see: Listeria and pregnancy - The foods you should avoid and why

Other food risks

Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis, while uncommon in pregnant women, can occur if you eat undercooked meats, or unwashed fruit and vegetables, particularly from gardens with household cats. Most commonly, however, infection is caused by touching cat faeces when cleaning the cat litter tray or contaminated soil in the garden. It is particularly important to avoid toxoplasmosis during pregnancy because it can lead to brain damage or blindness in your unborn child.

Tips for avoiding toxoplasmosis:
  • Don't eat undercooked or raw meat
  • Don't eat raw oysters, clams or mussels
  • Don't drink unpasteurised goats milk
  • Don't handle cat litter or animal faeces where possible (if necessary, always wear gloves)
  • Don't swallow water, if swimming in a lake
  • Don't drink tap water when travelling overseas
  • Always wear gardening gloves when gardening
  • Always wash your hands after touching animals, especially cats
  • Always thoroughly wash fruit and vegetables


Eating fish safely

Fish are rich in protein and minerals, low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the development of the central nervous system in babies, before and after they are born.

Although it’s really important to eat fish during pregnancy and breastfeeding, you need to be careful about which fish you choose. That’s because some fish may contain mercury levels that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system.

The following table will help you safely include fish as an important part of a balanced diet.

 

Pregnant & breastfeeding women & women planning pregnancy
1 serve equals 150g
Children up to 6 years
1 serve equals 75g
Eat 2-3 serves per week of any fish and seafood not listed below
OR
Eat 1 serve per week of these fish and no other fish that week:
Catfish or Orange Roughy (Deep Sea Perch)
OR
Eat 1 serve per fortnight of these fish, and no other fish that fortnight:
Shark (Flake) or Billfish (Swordfish, Marlin)

Click to open mercury in fish wallet card

Also watch out for...

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth or your baby could be born with foetal alcohol syndrome (slow growth before and after birth, and mental disabilities).

As it is not known whether there is a safe level of drinking during pregnancy, the National Health and Medical Research Council advises women that it is best not to drink during pregnancy.

Caffeine

Small amounts of caffeine are safe during pregnancy but excessive volumes may increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth. Caffeine is in coffee, tea, chocolate and cola (and some other soft drinks).

NSW Health recommends that pregnant women limit themselves to 200mg of caffeine daily. That amount would be obtained from about 1-2 cups of espresso style coffee, 3 cups of instant coffee, 4 cups of medium strength tea, 4 cups of cocoa or hot chocolate, or 4 cans of cola. Avoid double shots of espresso coffee and drinks marked as sports or energy drinks that contain caffeine.

Smoking

Smoking is dangerous for your baby. Smoking increases the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, respiratory problems and SIDS. There is no safe level of smoking. For help to quit smoking call the Quitline on 13 18 48.


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