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

Eating safely when you are pregnant will help protect you and your developing baby's health. Foodborne illness can make you and your baby unwell, and in extreme cases can cause:

  • serious illness
  • premature birth
  • stillbirth
  • the death of newborn babies.

You can reduce the risks of foodborne illness by knowing which foods are high risk, and avoiding them.

It is also important to follow basic food safety guidelines when preparing and storing food. This helps prevent harmful bacteria from getting in your food.

High-risk foods during pregnancy

New Zealand has one of the safest food supplies in the world. However, to protect your own health and the health of your developing baby, you should take extra precautions around food when pregnant. Some foods have a higher risk of causing illness and should be avoided while you're pregnant. Other foods need to be prepared carefully to reduce the growth of harmful bacteria.

Foods to watch out for during pregnancy

Some foods contain chemicals that may affect you or your baby. It is safest to avoid all alcoholic drinks. You may need to limit other types of food during pregnancy, too. For example, you might limit the amount of caffeine you consume by watching the amount of coffee, tea, and cola you drink, and how much chocolate you eat.

Eating safely and well during pregnancy – Ministry of Health

Food safety when eating out

Risks are harder to manage at buffets, smorgasbords, salad bars, or street vendors, where foods may have been sitting uncovered, allowed to cool, or contaminated by other people, so avoid eating food from these places.

When you eat out or buy takeaways, avoid the same high-risk foods you would avoid at home. Don't eat:

  • unpasteurised (raw) milk and dairy products
  • raw eggs or foods containing raw eggs (such as mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, Caesar dressing, and some desserts)
  • unwashed fruits and vegetables or raw herbs
  • raw seed sprouts
  • 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 and semi-soft cheeses (for example, brie, camembert, feta, blue, mozzarella, ricotta, halloumi) unless cooked
  • soft-serve ice cream.

To minimise risk during pregnancy, choose restaurant and takeaway food that is:

  • well cooked
  • prepared just before it's served to you
  • served piping hot (over 70oC).

Travelling overseas

Some countries have very high rates of foodborne illness, and water supplies may not be safe.

Get advice from your doctor or a travel health clinic before you go. While you're away, take extra care to check that food and water (including ice) are safe.

Be aware of foodborne infections

Listeriosis and Toxoplasmosis are infections you can get through food that are of specific concern to pregnant women. These are rare but they are dangerous to pregnant women.

Listeriosis

Listeria is a bacteria that can be found on plants, in soil, in water, and in animal faeces. It can be found on raw food, and can also contaminate prepared food. Unlike most bacteria, Listeria can grow on food in the fridge.

Listeriosis is the disease causes by Listeria. It 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
  • throwing away food that has passed its use-by or best-before date
  • eating packaged perishable foods within 2 days of opening.

Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis 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 your hands or 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
  • gardening
  • touching animals
  • cleaning up after animals.

If possible ask someone else to empty your cat’s litter tray, or wear gloves to do it

Preparing and storing food safely at home

Food poisoning: symptoms and causes

Find out more

Food safety advice for pregnant women – Food Standards Australia New Zealand

Pregnancy science report [PDF, 2.3 MB]

Who to contact

If you have questions about food and pregnancy, email info@mpi.govt.nz

 

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