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Other Foods to Be Cautious of During Pregnancy

During pregnancy it is important to be aware of all of the substances you put into your body as each has potential to harm your unborn baby. These include:

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Caffeine

Facts

    • Caffeine is a chemical found in many foods and drinks, including coffee, tea, cola and chocolate.
    • It affects the nervous system and can cause irritability, nervousness and sleeplessness.
    • While having large amounts of caffeine does not appear to cause birth defects, it may make it more difficult to become pregnant and may increase risk of miscarriage, premature delivery or having a baby with low birth weight.

Tips

    • It is best to limit your daily amount of caffeine to 200 mg or avoid it altogether.
    • If you choose to continue to consume caffeine during pregnancy aim to limit your daily intake to a maximum of one of the following options:
      • 1 regular espresso style coffee, OR
      • 3 cups of instant style coffee, OR
      • 4 cups of tea, OR
      • 4 cans of cola drinks
    • To work out how much caffeine is in drinks and foods see the table below:

Type

Amount of caffeine (mg/250mL)

Instant coffee (prepared to instructions)

80-100

Espresso coffees (e.g. cappuccino, flat white)

100 to 200

Percolated coffee

100-150

Brewed/ plunger coffee

Decaffeinated coffee

100-500

2-4

Energy drinks

80

Tea – amount depends on the brew (both black and green tea contain caffeine)

8-90

Cola

30

Hot chocolate or cocoa

50-70

Chocolate bars

20 mg per 20 g bar

Table adapted from King Edward Memorial Hospital nutritional fitness in pregnancy (external) pamphlet

    • Decaffeinated drink varieties are an option as they contain negligible amounts of caffeine. However, safe levels of decaffeinated products for pregnant women are unknown due to the chemicals used in the decaffeination process.
    • Energy drinks are not recommended during pregnancy as they may contain very high levels of caffeine, and other ingredients (e.g. guarana).
    • More about the caffeine content in food and drink (external), FSANZ
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Alcohol

Facts

    • Maternal alcohol intake in pregnancy is linked to an increased risk of impaired development of babies’ motor coordination, information processing, reasoning and intelligence. It can also lead to premature delivery and even stillbirth. 
    • When large amounts of alcohol are consumed during pregnancy the baby can be born with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome which has major detrimental impacts on the baby throughout life. See alcohol - effects on unborn children (external)  

Tips

    • Alcohol is best avoided at any stage of pregnancy as it crosses the placenta and affects your baby.
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Mercury Content of Some Fish

Facts

    • Mercury affects the nervous system and sufficient exposure during pregnancy can slow the baby’s development in infancy and early childhood.
    • Mercury occurs naturally in air, water and soil. It is usually low in foods but accumulates more so in large predatory species of fish
    • Levels are highest in larger predatory species of fish because mercury, in the form of methylmercury (external), is absorbed by algae at the start of the food chain.  Algae is then eaten by smaller fish who are eaten by larger fish, and so the process goes on.
    • Fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, important for the development of your baby's central nervous system, as well as being a good source of protein, vitamin B12, iodine and other minerals therefore choosing the safest fish to eat may be beneficial.

Tips

    • The Australian recommendations for fish intake during pregnancy are:
      • To eat two to three serves per week of a variety of fish. 
      • To limit the types of fish that are higher in mercury (shark/ flake, broadbill, marlin, and swordfish) to one serve per fortnight and consume no other fish during this time
      • To limit the intake of fish with a slightly raised mercury level (orange roughy/ sea perch and catfish) to one serve per week and consume no other fish during this time.
      • All other fish can be consumed as much as you like (e.g. canned or fresh tuna, salmon, snapper) as long as you are not consuming the higher mercury types mentioned above.
    • Nearly all of the canned tuna in Australia is now made from a smaller (and more sustainable) species of tuna called 'Skipjack' caught mainly in the Western Central Pacific Ocean. Being smaller in size and shorter-lived than other tuna makes them significantly lower in mercury and safe to consume on a regular basis by pregnant women. Do make sure to check the packaging on the tuna products you purchase as a small number of brands do still use the larger (and less sustainable) tuna species, such as 'yellowfin', which can be higher in mercury.

 

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>> Health Eating on a Budget and other useful links >>

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More on Pregnancy

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