5 Nutrition and Food Safety Pregnancy Myths

5 Nutrition and Food Safety Pregnancy Myths

Pregnancy can be both an incredibly exciting and nerve-racking time. And as the logistical reality of pregnancy sets in, women who are expecting often swiftly come to understand all the ways they may not be able to eat exactly as they did before—particularly when it comes to the safety of many foods and beverages. But not to worry: If you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant, there are a wealth of resources to help you eat well during this special stage of life. In this article, we round up and debunk some of the most common myths surrounding nutrition and food safety during pregnancy so that you can feel more confident about your food choices and eating patterns over the next 9 months.

Myth 1: You need more calories during all stages of pregnancy.

Ever heard the phrase “eating for two”? It can be a little misleading. You might be surprised to learn that you don’t need any extra calories to feed a growing baby until the second and third trimesters of your pregnancy. For the first trimester, you can eat about the same amount as you did before you were pregnant. Then, in the second trimester, your calorie needs will increase by about 340 calories per day—about the amount in two tablespoons of hummus, one pita bread and raw veggies or about five ounces of yogurt, one fourth cup granola and one cup berries. In the third trimester, you should aim for about 500 extra calories per day. Note that these calorie needs may differ depending on your pre-pregnancy weight, activity level and if you are carrying multiples, and it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider about your specific needs.

If counting calories makes your head spin, try focusing on tuning into your hunger and fullness cues. Your body is smart, and it’s especially helpful to listen to its signals as you undergo the many physical changes of pregnancy.

Myth 2: Caffeine is not safe for pregnant women.

In fact, caffeine may be enjoyed by healthy pregnant women—but the amount should be regulated. Pregnant women metabolize caffeine more slowly than people who are not pregnant, and there has been some concern that caffeine may cross the placenta and enter the growing baby’s bloodstream. For this reason, professional health organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) state that pregnant women can safely consume up to but not exceeding 200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per day, or about the amount typically found in two eight-ounce cups of coffee.

Myth 3: Say goodbye to seafood.

Expecting mothers are often concerned about consuming fish during pregnancy, but it’s a myth that you cannot eat seafood at all during this time. However, you should be cautious of one important aspect of seafood during pregnancy: its mercury content. Higher mercury levels in certain fish can be dangerous to a developing baby. Although all seafood contains a small amount of mercury because it’s often present in natural bodies of water, many popular types of fish, including salmon, canned tuna, cod, and tilapia, are very low in mercury and are therefore safe to consume during pregnancy. In fact, the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that women who are pregnant or lactating should consume eight to 12 ounces of low-mercury seafood per week. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are seven types of fish that should be avoided during pregnancy due to their higher mercury content: bigeye tuna, tilefish, shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy, and king mackerel. In addition, all raw fish should be avoided during pregnancy because expecting mothers have slightly weakened immune systems, which could increase their risk for foodborne illness.

Myth 4: Cheese is off-limits.

Most cheeses, especially hard and pasteurized cheeses like Parmesan, Romano, and cheddar, are safe to eat during pregnancy. However, you should avoid unpasteurized cheeses (as well as unpasteurized milk and other dairy products) and soft ripened cheeses, including brie, gorgonzola, and camembert. Unpasteurized cheeses and soft ripened cheeses (as well as deli meats and undercooked poultry) have a higher risk of containing potentially harmful bacteria that could lead to listeriosis, and because pregnant women have a higher risk of foodborne illnesses, they should take precautions with cheeses that are more prone to bacterial growth.

Myth 5: Morning sickness only happens in the morning.

Morning sickness is technically a misnomer, because the nausea and vomiting that characterize it can happen at any time during the day (although it does tend to be more severe in the morning for many women). While the cause of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy is not completely understood, it’s thought to be related to low blood sugar and/or the rise in pregnancy hormones, including human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), or estrogen. If you find yourself struggling to eat due to nausea, here are a few strategies you can try:

  • Eat a few crackers as soon as you wake up to curb the hunger you may feel first thing in the morning
  • Opt for five to six smaller meals throughout the day, instead of three larger ones
  • Prioritize protein in your meals and snacks
  • Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day
  • Take your prenatal vitamins with a snack
  • Make tea with ginger or lemon
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Take a walk in the fresh air

We know pregnancy can be an overwhelming yet exhilarating time of your life, and we hope these facts about eating and drinking safely and nutritiously during pregnancy can help ease some of your concerns. For more information about healthy eating during pregnancy, check out this IFIC resource.