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Keeping Your Baby Healthy During Pregnancy

healthy pregnancy, pregnant, safety Do you have questions about what you can do to help keep your baby healthy during pregnancy? Read on to get important information about alcohol, caffeine, energy drinks, supplements and more. 

Alcohol

It is recommended that you avoid alcohol while you are pregnant.  Drinking alcohol can cause birth defects known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).  Although large amounts of alcohol are more likely to cause harm, even small amounts may cause harm to your baby.  There is no amount of alcohol that has been shown to be safe. You should also avoid:

  • Non-alcoholic versions of drinks such as beers and wines.  Most of these drinks contain at least 0.5% alcohol by volume. 
  • Alcohol in cooking.  Although some alcohol evaporates (“ is cooked off”), it is hard to know how much alcohol remains in your food.

Sweeteners (sugar substitutes)

All sugar substitutes that are approved in Canada are safe to use in moderation while you are pregnant. However, it is important that foods and drinks made with sugar substitutes do not replace more nutritious options in your diet. If you have concerns or questions about using sweeteners, talk to your health care provider or a dietitian.  Learn more about the facts on artificial sweeteners.

Caffeine

Limit your caffeine intake to 300 mg per day while you are pregnant. That is about two cups (500 mL) of coffee or six cups (1500 mL) of black tea per day.  Other sources of caffeine that count towards your daily total include iced tea, pop, and dark chocolate.  Learn more about the facts on caffeine.

Energy drinks 

Energy drinks are not recommended while you are pregnant.  Not only are they high in caffeine, they also contain ingredients that may not be safe for you or your baby. Learn more about the facts on energy drinks.

Herbal supplements and teas

Herbal products in tablet, capsule or extract forms are not recommended while you are pregnant.  Many herbal products have been found to be unsafe for you or your baby.  For other herbal products, there is not enough evidence to show that they are safe while you are pregnant. The following herbs are considered safe when used in small amounts in foods or as herbal tea (2-3 cups per day):

  • Bitter orange/orange peel
  • Echinacea
  • Peppermint
  • Red raspberry leaf
  • Rose hip
  • Rosemary

Ginger tablets, capsules or extracts are safe to take in doses up to 250mg four times a day. Larger amounts may not be safe. For more information about specific herbal supplements or teas, call an EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitian at 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email.

Flax seed/flax seed oil

There is some concern that large amounts of flax can affect hormone levels during pregnancy.  Moderate amounts of flax as part of healthy eating is safe while you are pregnant. 

  • Limit flax seed (whole, bruised, cracked, ground or milled) to 60-90mL (4-6 Tbsp) per day
  • Limit flax seed oil to 30mL (2 Tbsp) per day
  • Flax seed oil supplements are not recommended

Find out more about flax seeds.

Soy

Soy foods and foods containing soy products are safe to eat as part of a healthy diet while you are pregnant.  Enjoy a variety of soy foods like fortified soy beverage, tofu, soybeans and edamame.  There is some concern that soy supplements can affect hormone levels during pregnancy.  Soy supplements (for example, soy protein or isoflavone supplements) are not recommended. 

Fish and fish oil supplements

Fish:

Fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fat, which is important for your baby’s brain and eyesight.  Choose at least two servings of fish each week. One serving is 75g (2 ½ oz). Choose fish that is low in mercury like salmon and haddock more often. High amounts of mercury can be harmful to your baby’s growing brain.  Read more about fish and mercury.

Fish oil supplements:

If you already eat fish twice a week, taking fish oil supplements has not been shown to have any extra benefits for your baby.  If you do not eat fish, you can safely take fish oil supplements while you are pregnant.  The exact dose that you need is not yet known. Take a dose that has about 300-450mg of DHA and EPA (omega-3 fats). This amount is similar to eating two servings of fish per week.  Health Canada suggests you do not take more than 3000mg per day. If you have a bleeding disorder or if you take a blood thinner, you should not use fish oil supplements.  They can increase the risk of bleeding.  Check with your health care provider for advice. Learn more about fish oil supplements.

Vitamin A 

Choosing foods such as dark green and orange vegetables and fruit provides enough vitamin A for you and your baby while you are pregnant. Too much vitamin A may cause birth defects, especially during the first trimester.  Do not take vitamin A supplements or fish liver oil supplements while you are pregnant.  The vitamin A found in your prenatal supplement is a safe amount to take. Liver and liver products like liverwurst spread and liver sausages are also high in vitamin A.  Limit these foods to no more than 75g (2 ½ oz) per week. 

Smoking 

If you are a smoker, deciding to quit is one of the most important decisions you can make to keep you and your baby safe.  If someone in your home smokes, encourage them to quit or not smoke around you.  Find support and information on quitting smoking while you are pregnant at Best Start.

You may also be interested in:

Eating for a Healthy Pregnancy
Food Safety During Pregnancy
My Menu Planner – Eating for a Healthy Pregnancy

Last Update – September 21, 2017

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If you have questions about what you've read here, or other questions about food, nutrition or healthy eating, click to email our Registered Dietitians or call 1-877-510-5102.