First Light Healthcare


When you are pregnant, your diet assumes great importance. Not only do you want to nourish yourself and your unborn child, you also want to avoid foods that may be damaging to both of your health, says Anna Mullichamp, our paediatric dietitian.

The main risks being targeted by the above restrictions are risk of infection with Listeria, Salmonella, Toxoplasmosis and contamination with mercury.

Listeria Monocytogenes

Listeria Monocytogenes is a foodborne pathogen (something that creates disease) that affects humans. Infection in pregnant women and their babies can have devastating effects such as foetal abortion, stillbirth, or premature delivery of an infected infant.

If we look at the relative risk of pregnant women being infected compared with a non-pregnant healthy adult, the risk is 39 times higher

Early infection in mothers is sometimes difficult to pinpoint as being related to Listeria as it may present as non-specific flu-like symptoms and sometimes as diarrhoea, nausea or tummy cramps.

Fortunately, there are generally less than 10 cases of Listeria diagnosed in pregnant women in Australia per year, so the risk is very small and it is considered a rare disease.

However, given that infants born with this infection can develop meningitis and sepsis (a very dangerous conditions that require immediate medical treatment) and that the overall mortality rate of infected fetus’s is 50%, it’s smart to avoid high risk foods.

High risk foods:

Cold processed meats

cold cooked chicken

raw seafood

soft and semi-soft cheeses

unpasteurized dairy products

pre-prepared salads and sandwiches

soft serve ice cream

pate and leftovers older than one day.



Salmonella is another common cause of food-borne illness. It can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever and headache. In pregnancy, there is a very small chance that Salmonella infection can result in miscarriage and therefore it is recommended that foods at high risk of Salmonella contamination be avoided.

High risk foods:

Raw eggs (including runny yolks)

undercooked meat

chicken of all kinds sprouts.


Our third nasty, toxoplasmosis, is caused by a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. While infection in pregnant women is rare, when the infection crosses the placenta (in 1/3 of cases) the effects can be severe including brain damage, hearing problems and blindness to the infant. The main infection sources are cat faeces, soil that is contaminated and contact with contaminated raw meat. So avoid changing the cat’s litter tray when pregnant, use gardening gloves and wash hands thoroughly after gardening, ensure fruits and vegetables are washed clean of any residual soil before eating and avoid undercooked meat.

Mercury contamination

Mercury contamination is a problem for everyone but especially for pregnant women. The effects of mercury contamination affect an unborn baby’s nervous system and has been associated with developmental delays in childhood.
Fish that are at risk include those that are bottom-dwelling, predatory (eat other fish) and are large. These include:

shark (flake)




deep sea perch

ling and tuna.

The NSW Food Authority recommends limiting intake of high mercury fish during pregnancy to one serve per fortnight for flake, swordfish and marlin (and not including any other fish that fortnight), and to one serve per week for catfish and orange roughy (and not including any other fish that week).


By Cape Byron Medical Centre