During pregnancy, what should mothers avoid eating?

Nutrition during pregnancy is crucial for the development of the fetus in the womb. There are certain foods and beverages that expecting mothers should either avoid or limit during this time as they might pose risks to the baby. This article by The Pregnancy Care aims to provide information to address the concerns of pregnant women about what not to eat during pregnancy.

During pregnancy, what should mothers avoid eating?
During pregnancy, what should mothers avoid eating?

What should you avoid eating while pregnant?

During pregnancy, everything a mother eats is shared with the growing baby inside the womb. Every mother wishes to provide the best for their child, so understanding what not to eat during pregnancy is a top concern for many.

A balanced and nutritious diet is vital during the pregnancy period. While most foods are safe, there are some foods that mothers should avoid to ensure both the mother’s health and the baby’s development. These include:

Fish with high mercury content

Seafood can be an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which can promote the development of the baby’s brain and eyes. However, some types of fish and shellfish contain dangerous levels of mercury. The developing fetus is most sensitive to the effects of mercury, especially during the third and fourth months of pregnancy. Accumulation of mercury can harm the developing nervous system of the baby.

The levels of mercury vary in different types of fish, depending on various factors such as habitat, species, size, and diet. Predatory fish tend to have higher mercury levels as they are at the top of the food chain. Examples of fish high in mercury that pregnant women should avoid include swordfish, shark, king mackerel, tilefish, and tuna.

Instead of consuming large predatory fish, pregnant women can opt for smaller fish such as anchovies, salmon, tilapia, sardines, carp, and trout in their diet. According to recommendations, pregnant women should consume between 8-12 ounces of fish/seafood per week during pregnancy.

Raw or undercooked food

Raw or undercooked food is not recommended in the diet of pregnant women. Women during pregnancy who consume raw or undercooked foods are at risk of bacterial contamination such as coliform, toxoplasmosis, and salmonella.

Toxoplasmosis, caused by the Toxoplasma parasite, is an infection that can affect the baby if the mother contracts it for the first time during pregnancy. This infection could potentially cause brain damage or blindness in the fetus.

Processed foods, cold cuts

Processed foods and cold cuts have several conveniences such as time-saving, easy consumption, and usage. However, these foods fall into the category of what not to eat during pregnancy.

Cold cuts are known to contain Listeria bacteria, which can lead to miscarriage. Listeria has the potential to cross the placenta and infect the baby, causing infection or blood poisoning, posing a threat to the baby’s life. If you are pregnant and considering consuming cold cuts, remember to heat the meat until it is fully cooked.

Raw Eggs

Consuming raw or undercooked eggs can harbor bacteria like Salmonella, which can cause food poisoning. During pregnancy, the immune system of a woman is temporarily weakened, making her more susceptible to foodborne illnesses.

If a pregnant woman contracts Salmonella, she may experience symptoms such as high fever, nausea, diarrhea, and dehydration. In severe cases, this illness can lead to preterm birth or miscarriage. Therefore, it’s crucial to only consume thoroughly cooked eggs during pregnancy to ensure that bacteria are destroyed.

Organ Meats

Organ meats like liver, heart, kidneys, and intestines from animals are common food items in our country. These meats are a great source of nutrients such as iron, vitamin B12, vitamin A, copper, etc. However, excessive consumption of organ meats can lead to vitamin A toxicity and abnormally high copper levels, resulting in congenital defects and liver poisoning. Physicians advise against consuming organ meats more than once a week during pregnancy.

Raw Sprouts

Eating raw bean sprouts while pregnant is safe only if these foods are thoroughly cooked, such as stir-frying or boiling them. This also applies to all other types of sprouted vegetables.

Bacteria like Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli can infiltrate sprouts through cracks in the seed coat. Once inside the seeds, these bacteria thrive in the warm, moist conditions necessary for sprout growth. To be cautious, experts recommend that pregnant women, along with other vulnerable individuals, avoid eating raw sprouts.

Literature documents several outbreaks of foodborne illnesses associated with contaminated sprouting seeds. Illnesses caused by bacteria found in raw sprouts pose significant risks, especially to pregnant women. Listeriosis can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth, and life-threatening infections in newborns. Salmonella and E. coli can cause severe illness and even death.

Even homegrown or homemade sprouts are not safe to eat raw because these foods can be contaminated with bacteria that are not visibly discernible. Therefore, raw sprouts are foods that pregnant women should avoid.

Unwashed Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are recommended during pregnancy as they contain essential vitamins and minerals for both maternal health and fetal development. However, pregnant women should avoid unwashed fruits and vegetables as these may carry the risk of Toxoplasma, Norovirus, Hepatitis A virus, and Listeria monocytogenes.

Therefore, fruits and vegetables for pregnant women need to be thoroughly washed by scrubbing the peel under running water if the produce permits. To ensure further safety, using food-safe disinfectants when washing fruits and vegetables is advisable. To minimize the risk of cross-contamination, thoroughly washed fruits and vegetables should be kept separate from unwashed ones and any dirty animal products or surfaces.

Unpasteurized Dairy Products

Pregnant women have a 20 times higher risk of contracting listeriosis compared to normal individuals. Dairy products made from unpasteurized milk, such as certain types of cheese, may contain Listeria – the bacterium responsible for listeriosis. To be safe, pregnant women should avoid unpasteurized cheese products.

Certain Fruits and Juices (Green papaya, Pineapple, Lychee, etc.)

Some types of juices and fruits are recommended to be avoided during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, such as green papaya and pineapple.

Green papaya is often mentioned when discussing foods pregnant women should avoid. It contains high amounts of latex that can induce premature contractions and potentially lead to miscarriage. Green papaya also contains a significant amount of papain, which can cause early labor. Additionally, about 4% of latex is found in papaya, which is a common allergen that can cause symptoms like a runny nose, swelling around the mouth, skin rashes, and in some cases, severe allergic reactions that may result in difficulty breathing and anaphylactic shock, requiring immediate medical attention. Therefore, pregnant women should avoid consuming green papaya or papaya smoothies containing papaya seeds.

Pineapple is commonly used for juicing or in dishes; however, this fruit is not suitable for pregnant women. Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that breaks down proteins. One of the side effects of bromelain is that it can soften the cervix, leading to premature delivery.

Alcohol, Beer

Alcohol consumption during pregnancy is always advised against by experts. Alcohol can be harmful to both the mother and the baby in the womb, and there’s no safe limit for alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Drinking alcohol while pregnant can affect the baby’s development and long-term health. Excessive alcohol consumption during pregnancy can result in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

In some cases, cooking with alcohol may not affect the fetus if the alcohol is added at the early stages of food preparation, and the food is thoroughly cooked. This ensures that the added alcohol will be evaporated, and the longer the cooking time, the more alcohol evaporates.


Limiting caffeine intake as much as possible during pregnancy is advisable as high levels of caffeine can lead to complications during pregnancy. Caffeine is found in many foods and beverages like coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks, chocolate, etc. Excessive caffeine intake can increase the risk of miscarriage and the likelihood of the baby being underweight or experiencing slow development.

Contaminated Drinking Water

The body needs to absorb enough water to limit dehydration and ensure the body’s vital functions. Water supports digestion, helps form amniotic fluid around the baby, aids nutrient circulation in the body, and helps eliminate waste products from the body.

However, one of the potential health risks for pregnant women and their babies is drinking contaminated water. Pregnant women using contaminated water sources may harm the fetus, leading to low birth weight or premature birth.

Contaminated water sources can be reservoirs for dangerous bacteria like E.coli, Coliforms, heavy metals, chemicals, persistent toxic substances, etc. Pregnant women experience significantly reduced immunity, making them more vulnerable to attacks and harm from these bacteria and toxins.

Fresh Bamboo Shoots

“What should pregnant women avoid eating?” The answer lies in fresh bamboo shoots. Fresh bamboo shoots are commonly used in daily Vietnamese meals. Bamboo shoots contain a high amount of fiber, aiding in preventing constipation. However, within bamboo shoots, there exist compounds like glucozit that, when absorbed into the body, convert into a substance capable of causing poisoning called cyanhydric acid. If not adequately prepared before consumption, pregnant women might suffer from poisoning symptoms like vomiting, difficulty breathing, severe headaches, and in severe cases, it could be fatal.

Bitter Melon

Bitter melon or bitter gourd, if not consumed correctly, poses risks for pregnant women, including poisoning, indigestion, diarrhea, and potentially premature birth or miscarriage. Bitter melon contains a high level of alkaloids capable of stimulating the gastric mucosa and causing food poisoning symptoms.

For pregnant women sensitive to irritants, it’s advised to avoid bitter melon due to its histamine content, which can cause allergic reactions like rashes, itching, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. In severe cases, histamine can lead to airway constriction, eye mucosal swelling, and even heart spasms.

Consuming unripe bitter melon or its seeds could elevate the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, low birth weight, and congenital abnormalities. Therefore, in the first trimester of pregnancy, pregnant women should avoid bitter melon, and in the later stages, if consumed, it should be in moderation, ideally not more than 2 fruits per week.

Water Spinach

Water spinach contains a high amount of papaverine, which relaxes smooth muscle in blood vessels, potentially alleviating pain and lowering blood pressure. Based on guidance from Vietnam’s National Drug Formulary issued by the Ministry of Health, pregnant women should avoid eating water spinach or consuming papaverine unless medically necessary. Additionally, water spinach contains glucocorticoid compounds that hinder calcium and phosphorus absorption in pregnant women.

What is a good diet for pregnant women?

Nutrition plays a crucial role in ensuring the health of both the mother and the comprehensive development of the fetus. A balanced diet involves the right proportion of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, various vitamins, etc.

To promote the healthy physical and mental development of the fetus, mothers need to ensure a scientifically balanced diet during pregnancy. Supplementing adequate folic acid, iron, calcium, protein, zinc, and vitamin D is essential. Additionally, mothers should be well aware of the “foods pregnant women should avoid” and “foods to eat during pregnancy” to best prepare for this nine-month journey.

Studies have proven that nutrition during pregnancy not only impacts the mother’s health but also influences the formation, growth, and development of the fetus into adulthood. Inadequate nutrition during this period can increase the risk of obstetric complications, premature births, and low birth weight.

Some Notes on the Diet of Pregnant Women

– Diverse and adequate food intake: Avoid relying on only a few types of food as it may lead to nutritional deficiencies for both you and the fetus.

– Consume less salt and sugar: Excessive salt intake can increase the risk of pregnancy-related hypertension or edema, while excessive sugar consumption may lead to gestational diabetes.

– Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables: Clean vegetables can be consumed daily to prevent constipation. Pregnant women should also consume fruits, but it’s advisable to limit very sweet varieties.

– Supplement essential vitamins and minerals.

– Avoid alcohol and stimulants.

– Limit consumption of spicy seasonings like pepper, chili, and garlic.

What Should Pregnant Women Do?

Apart from knowing what not to eat during pregnancy, understanding what pregnant women should do is crucial. There are several things pregnant women should consider doing:

– Engage in gentle exercise: This provides numerous benefits for both the mother and the fetus. Exercise helps manage weight, improves blood circulation, prevents back pain, constipation, swelling, and allows for more comfort and relaxation. Suitable exercises for pregnant women include yoga, walking, and swimming.

– Regular prenatal check-ups: These check-ups are crucial for monitoring the baby’s development and screening for fetal abnormalities. Pregnant women should remember these appointments and follow the recommended schedule for check-ups.

– Vaccination: Vaccination during pregnancy is essential to protect both the mother and the baby from preventable, potentially dangerous diseases. Nowadays, vaccination can be administered at hospitals or vaccination centers.

– Educating the baby in the womb: Educating the child from an early stage stimulates the baby’s brain development. In an environment where the mother is relaxed and comfortable, the fetus also feels at ease. Therefore, during this period, it’s essential for mothers to experience joy, reduce negative worries to avoid adverse effects on the baby. Around the fifth month, the baby’s brain and nervous system develop significantly, and the baby can hear sounds and voices. Hence, during this time, parents can play music, have gentle conversations, and show affection to the baby.

– Choosing a reputable healthcare provider and safe childbirth location: Couples should research and choose a trusted place for childbirth, prioritizing expert doctors with ample experience capable of handling emergencies. They should look for modern facilities, clean and comfortable rooms, and services for prenatal care and delivery.

These actions provide insight into what pregnant women should not eat. Adhering to a healthy and scientific dietary regimen is crucial for a healthy pregnancy. A well-maintained diet contributes to a healthy pregnancy and ensures the optimal development of the baby. Therefore, mothers should be cautious when selecting their daily food intake.


What should I eat to avoid pregnancy?

To avoid unwanted pregnancy, it’s crucial to use reliable birth control methods or contraceptives recommended by healthcare professionals. Eating certain foods doesn’t prevent pregnancy; rather, it’s essential to follow proper contraceptive methods and consult a healthcare provider for advice.

What should be avoided in the first trimester of pregnancy?

During the first trimester of pregnancy, it’s advisable to avoid certain foods that may pose risks to the developing fetus. Some foods to avoid include:

– Raw or undercooked meats, eggs, and seafood due to the risk of bacterial contamination.

– Unpasteurized dairy products and soft cheeses to prevent exposure to harmful bacteria like Listeria.

– Certain types of fish high in mercury, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, as mercury can affect the baby’s nervous system.

– Alcohol and caffeine, as excessive consumption can harm the developing fetus.

Which foods should the expectant mother reduce or avoid during pregnancy?

Expectant mothers should consider reducing or avoiding certain foods to ensure a healthy pregnancy:

– High-mercury fish: Limit consumption of fish high in mercury and opt for low-mercury alternatives like salmon, shrimp, and canned light tuna.

– Deli meats and unpasteurized cheeses: Avoid these foods due to the risk of Listeria contamination.

– Raw or undercooked seafood, meats, and eggs: Cooking these foods thoroughly helps reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

– Excessive caffeine and alcohol: Reduce intake or avoid these substances altogether during pregnancy.

What can not eating while pregnant do?

Not eating adequately during pregnancy can lead to various complications for both the mother and the developing baby. Insufficient nutrition may result in:

– Restricted fetal growth and development.

– Low birth weight or premature birth.

– Increased risk of birth defects or congenital abnormalities.

– Health issues for the mother, such as weakness, fatigue, anemia, and compromised immune function.

It’s crucial for pregnant women to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet to support the health and proper development of the fetus while ensuring their well-being during pregnancy. Consulting a healthcare provider or nutritionist for personalized dietary recommendations is advisable.


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