Yes!! the pregnancy test is positive! You go and share the good news with your friends and relatives…And that very same moment, people will start “bombarding” you with advices: do this, don’t do that… So you start wondering: What is safe? What can harm my baby?

This post is about the most common “Is it safe….?” questions. Since the subject is extensive, this will be “Part 1”, dealing with food, drinks, alcohol & tobacco. More do’s and dont’s are coming….


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Eating healthy is one of the best things you can do to your baby, and to yourself! There is not a specific diet for pregnancy; you should just follow a healthy, varied, balanced diet: plenty of fruits, grains and vegetables, but also dairy products and meat, which provide iron, calcium, vitamins and proteins. You don’t need to eat for two! Actually, if you have a normal weight, only a few extra calories a day are needed while pregnant: none during the first trimester, about 300 the second, 450 the last trimester!

Try to eat frequent and small meals, and avoid eating a copious meal before bedtime. Although sweets, fatty or processed food should not be in your every day diet, don’t feel bad if you get occasionally tempted! In any case, pay attention to quality, but also to quantity: excessive weight gain may put you at risk of having gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced hypertension or delivering a macrosomic (too big) baby…Not to mention that you will suffer to lose those extra kilos after birth!

Herein you will find some things you need to know about eating and drinking during pregnancy:

Meat & Eggs

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Meat is an excellent source of protein, iron, vitamins and minerals. But you should only eat well-cooked meat. Forget about carpaccio, steak tartare or saignant!

Eating undercooked or raw meat can lead to toxoplasmosis, a severe infection that may harm your baby. Uncooked cured meat, such as salami or prosciutto should also be avoided. Liver and liver products (such as pate) contain high levels of vitamin A, which is toxic for the baby. Indeed, a single serving of cow’s liver contains three times the recommended daily amount of vitamin A allowed in pregnancy, so even if liver is considered to be a healthy food, rich in proteins, iron and vitamins, stay away from it, or consume it no more than once a month.

Undercooked meat, especially poultry can carry salmonella, which may cause a very severe form of food poisoning, so pay special attention to cook well your chicken. Since Salmonella is also present in eggs, the consumption of raw or partially cooked egg is discouraged (this includes homemade mayonnaise, tiramisu, etc).

Fish & Seafood 

Had sushi for lunch last Saturday. It was delicious.

Fish is an excellent source of proteins, vitamins and the valuable omega 3 fatty acids, which boost your baby’s brain and eye development. However, you should avoid certain fishes, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and tuna. These fishes are contaminated with large amounts of mercury, which can be toxic for your baby. To see more details about mercury levels in fish and allowed servings, please click here.

Raw fish and seafood may contain harmful bacteria or viruses. Therefore, do not eat raw fish (includes some varieties of sushi and sashimi) or raw oysters. Octopus, calamari, shrimp are fine as long as are properly cooked. With smoked fish (such as salmon and trout) the opinions are divided: while it is considered to be safe by some experts, others advise against it due to the possibility of contamination with listeria, a bacterium potentially harmful for your baby.

Cheese & Milk

Cheese is a great source of calcium and vitamins, so go ahead and eat cheese as long as it is made of pasteurised milk. You should not eat soft cheeses such as brie, camembert, chevre, roquefort, which may grow the rare, but dangerous listeria. Check the packages, where it usually states states if the cheese is made with raw or pasteurised milk, and avoid homemade cheeses. Hard cheeses are fine. For the same reason, the milk you drink should always be pasteurised.


There is some (controversial) evidence that having more than 200 mg of caffeine a day may put you at risk of miscarriage or having a baby with low birth weight. This means that you may drink up to two cups of instant coffee or 1 cup of brewed coffee a day. Don’t forget other sources of caffeine, such as tea, cola, energy drinks or chocolate. For caffeine content of different beverages, please click here.

Herbal teas

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Herbal or natural doesn’t necessarily mean “safe”. Most teas are thought to be safe in pregnancy, as long as you don’t drink large amounts. Green tea contains caffeine, so do not exceed the recommended limit of 200 mg of caffeine per day (see above).

There are a couple of teas that you better avoid: Sage tea may be linked to miscarriage and high blood pressure. Parsley tea may increase the risk of miscarriage. Valerian is also best avoided, as well as chamomile in large amounts. Raspberry leaf tea may cause contractions, so do not consume it in early pregnancy, but it may be fine to drink during late pregnancy.

Artificial sweeteners

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In general, artificial sweeteners seem to be safe to have in pregnancy, they are though recommended with moderation. Stevia and sucralose should be preferred. Aspartame seems to be safe with moderate consumption, but it should be avoided by anyone with a rare disease called Phenylketonuria (PKU) or by persons with high levels of phenylalanine in blood. Saccharin and cyclamate have been possibly linked to same types of cancer, so they are best avoided in pregnancy.


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Alcohol in large amounts is highly toxic for the unborn baby. For light (social) drinking, the data has been contradictory. According to the British organisation NICE, although there is uncertainty regarding a safe level of alcohol consumption in pregnancy, at this low level there is no evidence of harm to the unborn baby: no more than one or twice a week, 250cc beer or 1 shot (25 ml) spirit or 2 small (125 ml) glasses of wine. Nevertheless, NICE recommends to avoid alcohol consumption during the first trimester due to a possible increased risk of miscarriage.

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The dangers of smoking have been widely established. Smoking during pregnancy puts you at higher risk of having a baby with low birth weight, as well as stillborn, sudden infant death syndrome, miscarriage, premature labor and placental abruption. Moreover, later evidence incriminates smoking of causing birth defects. See more information here. The risk includes even secondhand smoke. If you are pregnant and you keep smoking, discuss with your doctor the options you have to quit as soon as possible…



American Family Physician: Evidence-Based Prenatal Care: Part I. General Prenatal Care and Counseling Issues. April 2005, USA.
American Family Physician: Evidence-Based Prenatal Care: Part II. Third-Trimester Care and Prevention of Infectious Diseases. April 2005, USA.
ACOG: FAQ – Nutrition During Pregnancy. September 2013, USA.
NICE: Antenatal Care- Routine Care for the Healthy Pregnant Woman. March 2008, UK
HAS: Comment mieux informer les femmes enceintes? Avril 2005, France


Photo credits

1.Getty images;; 3.alachia,; 4.Back East Photography,; 5.Susanne Nilsson,; 6.Steve Nodgrass,; 7.Luz Bratcher,; 8.emdot,; 9.Shrikant Nigam,



You have decided to get pregnant, that’s great! Before you start trying, here are some tips you may find useful….

  1. Schedule a visit to your gynecologist
  2. Start taking folic acid
  3. Give up drinking, smoking, drugs…
  4. Eat healthy
  5. Reduce caffeine intake
  6. Watch your weight
  7. Exercise, but not too much
  8. Don’t forget your oral health
  9. Reduce your stress levels
  10. Avoid certain infections
  11. Reduce exposure to environmental hazards
  12. Figure out your fertile days

1. Schedule a visit to your gynecologist

Embed from Getty ImagesIt is a good idea, before trying to get pregnant to consult your gynecologist. At that visit, you may want  to discuss:

-any medical problem you may have. Some diseases may get better or worse while you are pregnant, some others may affect your baby.

-any medication you are taking. Certain medications are dangerous during pregnancy, and some have to be switched before you even try to conceive.

-your family history. There are diseases that run in families, and you may be able to do some tests to understand if you are at risk. Be sure to mention whether someone in your family has any health problem (e.g. Down syndrome, thalassemia or sickle-cell disease, cystic fibrosis, mental retardation), or if someone was born with a cardiac, neurological or other defect.

-your habits: diet, weight, exercise, any unhealthy habit (such as smoking, drinking, or taking drugs).

If it’s been a year since you had a checkup, you can also expect to have a pelvic exam, eventually an ultrasound and a Pap smear. You may also get tested for sexually transmitted diseases and other bacteria that can reduce your chances of getting pregnant.

Some couples may decide to undergo some prenatal blood exams, including genetic testing for specific conditions, such as hemoglobinopathies (e.g. thalassemia) or cystic fibrosis, based on their ethnic background or family history.

A folic acid supplement may be prescribed at that point.

2. Start taking folic acid


Taking a folic acid supplement is very important. By taking 400 mcg of folic acid a day for at least one month before you conceive and during your first trimester, you reduce your chances of having a baby with some births defects (such as spina bifida) by 50 to 70 percent.

You may also consider some multivitamin supplements that may help you get pregnant. Make sure though, not to exceed the recommended doses of vitamin A (unless it’s in a form called beta-carotene). Getting too much vitamin A can cause birth defects.

3. Give up drinking, smoking, drugs…

4322475363_b7d6a1c20d_qIf you smoke, drink or take drugs, now’s the time to stop!

Tobacco use can affect fertility both in women and men, and this seems to be true even for secondhand smoking. Smoking or taking drugs while you are pregnant can lead to miscarriage, premature birth, low-birthweight babies and (according to recent studies)  congenital malformations.

Alcohol can also reduce fertility, therefore it’s a good idea to cut back when you start trying to get pregnant. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause birth defects and other severe problems to you baby.

4. Eat healthy

9577668909_02670b3797_qIt is now a good time to start eating healthy: plenty of fruits and vegetables every day, as well as whole grains and foods that are high in calcium – like milk and yogurt. Eat a variety of protein sources, such as beans, nuts, seeds, and meats.

While fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids (which are very important for your baby’s brain and eye development), as well as proteins, vitamin D and other nutrients, it also contains mercury, which can be harmful. It is usually recommended that pregnant women eat up to 2 servings a week of fish that are not high in mercury (such as herring, trout, salmon, and sardines), and avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish. The consumption of white canned tuna should be limited to 1 serving per week.

5. Reduce caffeine intake

3155462396_d7f6b94586_qThere seems to be an association between high caffeine consumption and reduced fertility. Too much caffeine has also been linked to a risk of miscarriage in some studies, but not in others. To be on the safe side, it is recommended to limit coffee consumption to 1 cup a day.



6. Watch your weight

belly-2354_1280You may have an easier time conceiving if you’re at a healthy weight. Being over or under the ideal weight makes it harder for some women to become pregnant.


7. Exercise, but not too much

8552318056_f938f51ff2_qA fitness program will result in a healthy body, fit for pregnancy. In addition, exercising is a great way to relieve the stress that can be both the cause and consequence of not getting pregnant…

You may consider walking or cycling or swimming, on most days of the week, for about 30 minutes. To increase flexibility, you may try stretching, Pilates or yoga.

But be careful not to overdo it. Very intense exercise seems to have the opposite effect, as it has been related to infertility in some studies.

8. Don’t forget your oral health

Woman with toothbrush

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can make women more susceptible to gum disease, causing the gums to bleed easily while flossing or brushing. But if you take care of your oral health before trying to conceive you have less chances of experiencing problems while pregnant.



9. Reduce your stress levels

7676579466_42b4fd82d1_qIt is becoming clearer that stress is responsible for infertility; indeed, several studies reveal that relaxation techniques increase the chances of getting pregnant. Furthermore, a recent study confirms something we see in everyday practice: pregnancy is much more likely to occur during months when couples report feeling happy and relaxed and is less likely to happen during the months they report feeling tense or anxious. The influence of stress on infertility, though is not straightforward, and it may vary in different women.

10. Avoid certain infections


You’ll want to stay away from certain foods such as raw and undercooked red meat, fish and poultry, raw eggs, unpasteurised milk and soft cheeses. These foods can cause dangerous infections, such as listeriosis, salmonella and toxoplasmosis.

In order to avoid toxoplasmosis it’s also a good idea to wear gloves when digging in the garden or the cat’s litter box, if you have one.

11.Reduce exposure to environmental hazards

2575598759_f2109d9152_qThere is some evidence to support that routine exposure to certain chemicals or radiation may be harmful for pregnant women. If you work in such an environment, you’ll need to make some changes before you conceive. In addition, some cleaning products, pesticides, solvents, etc, can be dangerous during pregnancy.


12. Figure out your fertile days

2827062969_951d6cf19b_qInitially, you may prefer to let fate decide when you will conceive. But if you want to be more precise in calculating your fertile days:

First, you should understand when your ovulation occurs. For that, you may use an ovulation calculator, that is, a web tool or application where you write down your period days for some months and you learn when you are fertile; you will find several online, many are designed for smart phones. With these calculators, you get a rough estimate of your fertile days.

If you want to be even more exact, you may start recording your basal body temperature (BBT) and your cervical mucus changes. If you chart them over several months, you may more easily understand when you’re ovulating each month.

Ovulation predictor kits can also help you figure out when you’re ovulating by detecting a hormone (LH) in your urine.

Once you have a clear picture of your cycle, there’s only one thing left to do — get to work! It is advised to have sex every day or every other day beginning about five days before ovulation, and continuing through the day after ovulation. This is because, though sperm can live as long as five days inside a woman’s body, an egg’s life span is only about 12 to 24 hours. By having intercourse before you ovulate, as well as on the day of and the day after ovulation, you maximize your chances of getting pregnant.


Good luck! And hopefully soon with good news!

More info at

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1. Getty images; 2. @Doug88888; 3. Paul Heskes; 4. PeterFranz; 5. Adam Selwood; 6.; 7. Richard foster; 8. Wagner Cesar Munhoz; 9.; 10. Joost Nelissen; 11. tk-link; 12..craig