Food and pregnancy
When you're pregnant your levels of immunity are lower than usual, so you're more at risk of getting diseases carried by food. Find out how to protect yourself from foodborne illness – food poisoning – when pregnant.
Foodborne illness can affect your baby
To protect you and your developing baby's health, it's important to eat safely during pregnancy. Foodborne illness can make you and your baby unwell, and in extreme cases can cause:
- serious illness
- premature or stillbirths
- the death of newborn babies.
You can minimise your risks of food poisoning by:
- knowing which foods are high risk, and avoiding them
- following basic food safety guidelines when preparing and storing food. This helps prevent pathogens (bugs) getting in your food.
Information on this page covers:
- High-risk foods during pregnancy
- Food safety when eating out
- Travelling overseas
- Be aware of foodborne infections
Most foods sold in New Zealand are safe. But some have a higher risk of causing illness and should be avoided while you're pregnant. Others need to be prepared carefully to minimise the growth of bugs.
Other foods to watch out for during pregnancy
Some foods can contain chemicals that may affect you or your baby. You should avoid all alcoholic drinks and you may need to limit other types of food during pregnancy, like coffee, tea, cola and chocolate – which contain caffeine.
Find out more
When you eat out or buy takeaways, avoid the same high-risk foods you would at home.
To minimise risk during pregnancy, choose restaurant and takeaway food that is:
- well cooked and prepared just before it's served to you
- served steaming hot.
Avoid eating food from buffets, smorgasbords, salad bars or street vendors, as risks are harder to manage.
Don't eat these foods at restaurants or from takeaway outlets:
- raw eggs or foods containing raw eggs (such as mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, Caesar dressing, some desserts)
- unwashed fruits and vegetables, raw sprouts and raw herbs
- pre-prepared cold foods such as salads, unrefrigerated sandwiches or sushi
- undercooked or raw meat, poultry or seafood
- cold meats, pâté or cold, smoked fish
- soft cheeses (unless cooked)
- soft-serve ice cream.
If you're travelling overseas, be aware that some countries have very high rates of foodborne illness, and water supplies may not be safe.
Before you go, get advice from your doctor or a travel health clinic. While you're away, take extra care to check that food and water (including ice) are safe.
Listeriosis and Toxoplasmosis are two infections you can get through food. These are rare but are particularly dangerous to pregnant women.
Listeria bacteria are found in the environment – on plants, in soil, water and in animal faeces.
These bacteria can be found on raw food and can also contaminate prepared food.
Listeriosis can cause miscarriage or early labour. It may also cause babies to be born with the infection and require antibiotic treatment.
Minimise your risk by:
- avoiding high-risk foods
- washing or cooking food thoroughly
- storing food at recommended temperatures, and throwing away food that has passed its use-by or best-before date
- eating packaged perishable foods, like dairy products, within 2 days of opening.
This infection can come from:
- eating unwashed vegetables, undercooked meat or ready-to-eat meats such as salami or ham
- drinking raw (unpasteurised) milk
- cross-contamination of food after gardening in areas where there are cat faeces, or from direct contact with cats.
Toxoplasmosis can cause eye or brain damage in unborn babies.
Minimise your risk by washing your hands well after:
- handling raw meat and vegetables
- touching or cleaning up after animals.