Pregnancy No-nos

Raw food

Sushi, uncooked seafood, rare or medium rare poultry and beef are likely to be contaminated with the parasite toxoplasma gondii and bacterias such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli. Symptoms of food poisoning (vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps) may occur with ingestion of such foods.

Certain types of fish

Shark, swordfish, and king mackerels are prone to contain accumulated levels of mercury in their fatty tissues. Consumption of fish with large amounts of mercury can result in brain damage of the baby, which later often manifests as developmental delays in the child’s ability to learn how to walk and speak.

Salmon and trout from lakes and rivers contaminated by an industrial pollutant (polychlorinated biphenyles) should be avoided as its consumption during pregnancy has been linked to a decrease in attention span, memory and IQ of the baby.

*Check with the Ministry of Health to determine which fish in your area is safe to eat

Soft Cheeses

Imported soft chesses such as Brie, Roquefort, Feta and Mexican style cheeses may contain the bacteria Listeria which is known to cause miscarriage and it crosses the placenta to infect the baby. Only consume soft cheeses made from pasteurised milk (always check the label on the packaging!)

Unpasteurised milk

May contain Listeria

Unwashed vegetables

It is essential that you make sure all the vegetables you eat have been washed to avoid toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis may spread to the baby and cause brain damage and blindness.


Past studies of the correlation between caffeine intake and pregnancy have pointed to various complications such as stillbirths, heart defects and other congenital problems. However, current research has shown that a moderate intake (approximately 3 cups of coffee per day/ 300-400mg of caffeine) will not do any harm to the developing fetus.


There is no level of alcohol consumption that experts consider safe. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy can cause fetal alcohol syndrome in which the baby is affected both physically and mentally. Physically, there will be a distortion in physical features such as sunken nasal bridge, short nose, flattening of midface with the cheekbones and a smooth, thin upper lip; mentally, there will be mild mental retardation.


A pregnant mother under the influence of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, ecstasy pills, LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide also known as lysergid), is physically unfit to care for the baby in her womb. Intravenous drug abuse carries with it the risk of acquiring HIV, which can also infect the baby.

The drug isotretinoin (commercially known as Accutane) is used to treat chronic ache but if taken by pregnant women, it can cause birth deformities.

Anticonvulsants such as phenytoin and carbamazepine, which are used in the prevention of epileptic seizures, are associated with physical defects in the heart and face, as well as mental retardation.

Antimigraine drugs (ergotamine and methysergide) which are used to ward off migraine attacks, carry with them the risk of premature labour.

Anticoagulant drugs such as heparin and coumarin, prevent the clotting of blood and are used in the treatment of heart disease and stroke. These drugs if taken early in the pregnancy are associated with facial defects and mental retardation of the baby. Later in pregnancy, these drugs raise the risk of uncontrolled bleeding during childbirth.

Herbal tea

Studies have shown that large amounts of herbal tea, such as the red raspberry leaf may induce premature contractions and chamomile tea, which contains ragweed, can cause severe allergic reactions.

*Be sure to consult your doctor before consuming any kind of herbal tea

Avoid tea that contains herbs such as:
  • Coca (also known as mate de coca): contains small amounts of cocaine
  • Comfrey, kava root, skullcap, valerian, and woodruff: may damage your liver
  • Lobelia: contains nicotine
  • Mate (or yerba mate): contains as much caffeine as coffee

Herbal teas considered safe during pregnancy:
  • ginger                     
  • barley
  • lime                       
  • peppermint
  • thyme

Artificial Sweeteners

Aspartame (found in NutraSweet and Equal) consists of two amino acids; phenylalanine and aspartic acid. It has not been shown to cause birth defects, although there have been concerns raised about its safety. It is advised that pregnant women consume aspartame in moderation. If you have phenylketonuria (PKU--a rare, inherited disease in which the body cannot metabolise phenylalanine) or high levels of phenylalanine in your blood, you must avoid aspartame altogether. Excess of phenylalanine in the body damages the central nervous system and can cause mental retardation.

Saccharin (found in Sweet 'N Low) should be avoided by all pregnant and breast-feeding women. Although studies linking saccharin to bladder cancer have been dismissed, it has been shown that it crosses the placenta and may remain in fetal tissue, which is detrimental to the unborn child.