What to Eat, Drink and Take During Pregnancy

Pregnancy nutrition and medications best discussed with a doctor

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Pregnant women hear all sorts of advice about what to eat and what not to eat, what to drink and what not to drink, what to do and what not to do. But what is the best source for this important information?

A recent article offered some recommendations after studying what a group of pregnant women ate and drank while pregnant.

The authors discussed the safety of eating certain fish and the types of drinks pregnant women should avoid.

However, the best option for pregnant women is to discuss their nutrition and the "do's and don't's" with their doctors.

"Discuss your nutrition with your OB/GYN."

This study, led by Sarah E. Santiago, of the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside, looked at the nutritional habits of pregnant women in Southern California.

The researchers used what they learned about these women's habits to discuss healthy nutrition recommendations for pregnant women.

The researchers gave questionnaires to 200 women, all over age 18 and ranging from 36 weeks pregnant to 8 weeks after their child's birth.

The questions dealt with what the women ate, drank and took in terms of medications during their pregnancies.

The questionnaires also asked when the women found out they were pregnant. About half the women confirmed their pregnancies in the first month.

By the second month, 88 percent knew, and 98 percent knew before the end of the first trimester, or third month.

The researchers found that many of the women regularly consumed fresh fruit, meats, milk and juice, and most of them took prenatal vitamins.

In fact, 100 percent of the women reported eating fresh fruit.

The women were also asked about substances that may be harmful to a developing baby if consumed during pregnancy.

"Consumption of tuna, farm raised salmon, canned goods, sugary desserts, fast foods, and drinking of tap water, caffeinated beverages, and alcoholic beverages during pregnancy have been deemed unhealthy due to the appearance of environmental toxins found to have harmful effects in the developing offspring," the researchers wrote.

Mercury can cause problems in a child's brain development. Eating too much of certain fish, such as tuna, can lead a pregnant woman to expose her growing baby to too much mercury.

In this study, 52 percent of the women reported eating tuna, though the amount varied. Small amounts of tuna are not unsafe to eat.

In addition, 34 percent of the women ate tilapia and 26 percent ate salmon. Both tilapia and salmon have lower, safer levels of mercury.

However, salmon can sometimes contain a different chemical called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that has been linked to lower birth weights and poorer reflexes in newborns.

BPA is a chemical used in hard plastics, to line tin cans and in other packaging. Past research has shown that it can affect a developing baby's endocrine system and hormones.

Exposure to BPA can come through eating canned goods, which almost 74 percent of the women reported eating.

There were also high numbers of women who reported eating fast food (96 percent) and sugary desserts (97.5 percent), which are generally unhealthy in large quantities.

Overall, 80 percent of the women reported consuming some caffeine: 60 percent in sodas, 45 percent in coffee and 30 percent in tea. Only 6 percent reported drinking any alcohol.

"The results of our study demonstrate that a proportion of pregnant women consume substances that are potentially [harmful to the baby] and may impact the health and well-being of the offspring," the researchers wrote.

"Prenatal advising should discourage the consumption of dangerous foods, beverages, and medications that women commonly report eating during pregnancy," they wrote.

However, some of the authors recommendations, such as not drinking tap water, may not be appropriate, noted Manas Kaushik, MD, ScD, a physician at Boston Medical Center who specializes in nutrition.

"The authors highlight the potential risks of chemicals in water to newborn and pregnant mothers [who] frequently face a choice of using bottled water vs. tap water," Dr. Kaushik said.

"Overall, it is likely that tap water is safer for pregnant women and children because tap water is tightly regulated by the government," he said. "Bottled water, on the other hand, is not even required to undergo lab testing. "

Dr. Kaushik also noted that the best option for women is to discuss their nutrition with their doctors.

"Pregnant women receive advice on eating habits from various sources and it might be beneficial to discuss healthy eating habits with your caregiver," he said. "Though not reported in this study, it is also important for pregnant women to stay physically active."

This study was published July 1 in Nutrition Journal.

The authors declared no conflicts of interest. No information was available regarding funding.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 11, 2013
Last Updated:
July 29, 2013