Food Risks to Know BEFORE Pregnancy

December 15, 2016


With scientific developments and studies in recent years, we are learning more about lifestyle and environmental factors that can affect pregnant women and their babies. We now understand how alcohol, tobacco, drugs, certain foods and chemicals can be harmful to both mothers and babies. But many women may not realize that exposure to certain food-borne illnesses and chemicals before pregnancy can later lead to birth defects in babies. For women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant, it’s wise to be aware of these risks and take steps to avoid exposure.


There are different types of mercury. Organic mercury occurs in nature, while different types of inorganic mercury are created by man. Methylmercury is the most poisonous of mercury compounds. It is created when inorganic mercury is dissolved in freshwater and seawater. Methylmercury is condensed through the food chain in aquatic animals such as fish and shellfish.1 Humans can ingest methylmercury when they consume these animals. When a pregnant woman is exposed to methylmercury, it may increase her risk of having a child who is stillborn, or who has one or more severe nervous system diseases or birth defects.2 Unfortunately, a woman who is exposed to methylmercury weeks or months before pregnancy may still be able to pass this dangerous chemical through her blood into that of her unborn child. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it can take over a year for methylmercury to be naturally removed from the body or reach a safe level.3

Seafood can be an important part of a balanced diet, particularly during pregnancy. It’s a great source of DHA and protein, and it’s low in fat. The FDA recommends that pregnant women consume 12 ounces (two servings) a week of fish or shellfish that is low in methylmercury.3 Instead of cutting out all seafood, eliminate the fish known to contain methylmercury: swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark.3 If you have eaten any of these fish, don’t worry. Exposure once or twice is not going to cause harm to your baby. It would take regular consumption for enough methylmercury to build up in the bloodstream to be an issue.3 Our bodies naturally remove methylmercury over time. If you think you’ve been exposed to methylmercury, it’s best to talk to your doctor for more information.


Toxoplasmosis is a food-borne illness caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. The parasite is found in raw and undercooked meat, unwashed fruits and vegetables, contaminated water, dirty cat litter and cat feces.4 Unfortunately, many women may not realize they have contracted the parasite. Only 10% of women display noticeable symptoms, which include fever, headache, swollen glands, muscle pain and a stiff neck.4 If a woman gets pregnant while the parasite is still in her blood, she can pass it to her baby through the placenta. In developing babies, the parasite can cause hearing loss, mental disabilities and blindness, which may require years of specialized care. Early detection and prevention are critical to minimize the effects.

To avoid contracting toxoplasmosis, do not eat raw and undercooked meat and be careful when handling it. You can check out our recent blog for a quick guide on cooking temperatures for meat. If you are thinking of becoming pregnant or are pregnant, it’s probably not the best time to get a kitten. If you already own a cat, ask someone else to change its litter box. If that’s not an option, wear disposable gloves and be sure to wash your hands with soap and water afterward. You’ll also want to change the litter daily. The parasite that causes toxoplasmosis doesn’t become infectious until one to five days after it is shed in a cat’s feces.4 If you think you may have been exposed to the parasite, talk to your doctor for more information and testing options.

Folic Acid Deficiency

Folic acid is an essential nutrient that prevents defects of the brain and spine. This critical B vitamin plays a role in a baby’s neural tube closure. This occurs very early in pregnancy, within the first few weeks after conception.5 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day for at least one month before pregnancy to help prevent serious birth defects.6 But sadly, approximately 1,200 infants are born each year in the U.S. with a neural tube defect related to inadequate folic acid intake by the mother.7

Healthy eating and proper prenatal care can help prevent these birth defects. Before becoming pregnant, women should incorporate foods high in folic acid such as leafy green vegetables, cereals fortified with folic acid, or citrus fruits and juices. A daily prenatal vitamin is a fast and easy way to obtain folic acid. Prenate® can be a part of an active nutritional approach in promoting healthy folic acid levels. Every Prenate® product meets or exceeds recommendations from the CDC for daily consumption of folic acid. Plus, Prenate® contains a form of folic acid that is highly absorbable and bioavailable to everyone. Designed for the needs of both moms and babies, Prenate® Vitamin Family helps fill nutritional gaps. Talk to your doctor to see if Prenate® is right for you.


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WARNING: Accidental overdose of iron-containing products is a leading cause of fatal poisoning in children under 6. Keep this product out of reach of children. In case of accidental overdose, call a doctor or poison control center immediately.

WARNING: Ingestion of more than 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids (such as DHA) per day has been shown to have potential antithrombotic effects, including an increased bleeding time and International Normalized Ratio (INR). Administration of omega-3 fatty acids should be avoided in patients taking anticoagulants and in those known to have an inherited or acquired predisposition to bleeding.

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