Food bloggers are an eclectic bunch, but one thing I’ve noticed is that many of us are not parents. Which makes sense as I’d imagine that parents either don’t want to or can’t afford to eat out five times a week. Or a combination of both.
As the title of this post suggests, I’m several months away from joining the parent club, and on the long list of things I’m nervous about is the question of what’s going to happen to this restaurant/travel blog. (Suggestions?)
For now, though, I thought I’d talk about all the food restrictions I’ve been trying to observe these last six months.
I consider myself an omnivore with all sorts of cravings (even when not pregnant). So the long list of pregnancy-related dietary prohibitions have chafed, to say the least. I especially dislike how, most of the time, the prohibitions don’t even bother explaining *why* something is prohibited, which is so patronizing that I get angry all over again thinking about it.
Let’s start, for example, with the following excerpt from the NHS guidelines on eating when pregnant (which of course overlaps with, and occasionally conflicts with, several other pages on the NHS site, like this one and this one):
- Do cook eggs thoroughly until the whites and yolks are solid. Avoid any foods that contain raw or lightly cooked eggs, such as home-made mayonnaise, sauces and puddings.
- Do make sure that all meats are cooked thoroughly. This is especially important with poultry (such as chicken and turkey) and food made from minced meat (such as burgers and sausages). Make sure that they’re very hot all the way through, and there’s no trace of blood or pink meat. Treat all meat at barbecues with caution.
- Don’t eat mould-ripened soft cheese, such as brie and camembert, or blue cheese, such as stilton or Danish blue. You can eat hard cheeses (e.g. cheddar, parmesan), cottage cheese, mozzarella, and processed cheese (such as cheese spread).
- Don’t eat any kind of paté, including vegetable paté, because it can contain listeria.
- Don’t eat liver or liver products, such as liver paté or liver sausage, as this is a very rich source of vitamin A (which can harm your unborn baby).
- Don’t eat more than two portions of oily fish a week (for example, mackerel, trout or fresh tuna), or more than four cans of tuna (around 140g per can). These contain high levels of mercury, which can harm your baby’s developing nervous system.
- Don’t eat marlin, shark or swordfish. These can contain high levels of mercury, which can damage your baby’s developing nervous system.
- Don’t eat raw shellfish, as they can contain bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning.
If you’re aything like me, the list above might as well be titled “Delicious Things You Love and Eat Regularly That You Can’t Eat for 40 Weeks . . . for No Clearly Articulated Reason (other than “trust us, it’s bad for your baby”).”
Being a naturally skeptical person, I started googling around to find out what risks really underlie all these Dietary Do’s and Don’ts. God bless google because on my first search, I came across this July 2007 piece in the New York Times, which opened with this compelling paragraph:
“WHEN my wife was pregnant with our son, her obstetrician gave her a list of food dos and don’ts. Chief among the don’ts: alcohol, unpasteurized cheeses and raw fish. Meanwhile, every French mother I know consumed alcohol and unpasteurized cheese in moderation during her pregnancy, and my friends in Japan laugh at the notion of avoiding sushi when they’re expecting.”
And at least with regard to sushi, I was encouraged by this bit:
“Healthy women who’ve been eating sushi are not at increased risk when they become pregnant. The same resistance and immunities function before, during and after pregnancy.
But rational analysis doesn’t hold sway with the pregnancy police.
“Why take any risk?” they ask. The medical establishment and the culture at large have twisted logic around to the point where any risk, no matter how infinitesimal, is too much. So powerful is this Puritanical impulse that, once a health objection is raised, however irrational the recommended behavior, it’s considered irresponsible to behave any other way.”
And then, as is the way with google research, that New York Times article led me to this blog post, which started me on the path to the way I’m currently eating:
“First, I did a lot of research about every prohibition. What was the reason for it? And what was the risk and the consequence? I found that you could divvy up the guidelines into two groups: illnesses that crossed the placental barrier and affected the fetus, and those that didn’t. To put it another way, would eating something make me any sicker because I was pregnant than if I weren’t? Or would the outcome be the same?”
So I did pretty much what the blogger-author did — I started researching each and every prohibition, particularly on the foods I eat all the time, and I decided to avoid foods that are banned because they contain listeria and continue eating foods that are banned because they cause food poisoning. For example, to the lovers of poached eggs who happen to be pregnant, see this March 2010 Guardian Word of Mouth blog post on eggs and salmonella risk:
Not only is the risk of catching salmonella small, the risk of it affecting your unborn child is almost unheard of. The infection won’t pass through the placenta to the foetus, unlike listeria which can do untold harm. However, after reading on the New Zealand government website that in very rare instances it can cause stillbirth, I thought it best to double check.
According to Patrick O’Brien, consultant obstetrician at UCH and a spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, in severe cases of salmonella the related dehydration and high fever in the mother could cause a problem for the foetus, just as with any other infection, but these are generally symptoms which are well managed by medical professionals. He has dealt with some extremely severe cases of salmonella and none have caused any harm to the foetus. It is worth noting, however, that in the spirit of never say never he would not completely rule out an instance in which salmonella could cause harm directly to the foetus. It seems that it is all very low risk, and it has left me questioning the official advice which still recommends that pregnant women avoid raw or partially cooked eggs, and wondering whether it’s worth being quite so assiduous.
So. Bearing in mind that I’m no doctor and that for a lot of people, it’s not a big deal to just follow the Dos and Don’ts as prescribed by most pregnancy books and websites, I thought I’d share the above. Just in case you’re pregnant and have been dying for oysters, sushi, dolsot bibimbap or eggs benedict.
Currently, however, I remain very excited by the future prospect of a bloody rare burger, some extra-runny Saint Marcellin cheese, a platter of jamon iberico, a good pate and gallons of champagne when la bebee finally arrives. But I have a feeling that when that day is finally upon me, “sleep” will leapfrog to the top of that list of desired things.