Pregnancy health: what to eat in the heat

Our experts explain how to avoid food hazards if you are pregnant during the summer months...


Why you need to take care

When the weather is warm, it’s important to take extra care over what you eat, as this can cause bacteria to multiply, food will deteriorate more quickly and under-cooked barbecued food can be a risk.


“Pregnancy affects your immune system, making you and your unborn baby more susceptible to bacteria, parasites, and viruses that cause illnesses,” says our midwife, Anne Richley. “Even if you don’t feel unwell, food-borne bugs such as listeria and toxoplasma can infect your baby and cause health problems.”



As tempting as it is to tuck into barbecued delights, there are things you need to be aware of.

“Fish high in mercury, such as shark, marlin and swordfish, need to be avoided at all costs because they can be potentially harmful to your baby, and shellfish should be cooked not raw due to the possibility of harmful bacteria,” says Anne.

“Any meat you consume should be fully cooked, never raw, and don’t make the mistake of thinking that if it’s charred on the outside, it’ll be cooked through on the inside.”

Food that’s been sitting in the summer heat poses the greatest risk to your health as it can be a real breeding ground for bacteria.

“Anything you consume should be freshly prepared, and it’s not only the hot foods that can cause stomach trouble,” explains Anne. “Coleslaw with home-made mayonnaise is a no-no because of the raw egg content in the mayo, and salads need a thorough washing to prevent the risk of listeria.”



“Take plenty of bottled water to keep yourself hydrated, as your tolerance to heat is reduced during pregnancy,” says Anne. “Sandwiches need to be kept in a coolbox and placed in the shade, because food that sits in the heat for too long can lead to food poisoning.”

And if you’re thinking about having a cooling ice cream, think again. “Most homemade ice creams contain uncooked eggs which can cause listeria or salmonella poisoning. Trade in your usual beach treat for a fruit ice lolly instead.”

To boost your hygiene routine, carry a hand sanitiser to kill off bacteria.



Being pregnant doesn’t mean you have to give up your favourite picnic foods, but it may be a case of changing the way you prepare them.

“You can indulge in the occasional egg, as long as it’s hardboiled and well cooked,” explains Anne. “However, mousses and cheesecakes that contain runny eggs are off the menu.

“Some cheeses are fine to eat when pregnant and are actually a great source of calcium for your baby’s developing bones. But unpasteurised soft and semi-hard cheeses, such as Brie, Danish blue, and Roquefort can contain listeria, so steer clear. Pick pasteurised feta, mozzarella, cottage cheese or Cheddar in your sandwich instead.”



“If you have doubts about the water quality abroad, it’s best to stick to bottled, boiled or sterile water for drinking, brushing your teeth and washing fruit and vegetables,” advises Anne.

Also avoid ice in your drinks, unless you know it’s made from treated or chlorinated water.

“Resist buying food and drink from street stalls, as some products may be unwashed or semi-cooked, and remember to keep your caffeine intake to a maximum of just 200mg aday,” adds Anne.


What should I do if I get food poisoning when I’m pregnant?

Our GP Rob Hicks says it is important to seek medical advice as quickly as possible.

“Even though food poisoning is unlikely to harm an unborn baby, there can be a risk of miscarriage or a baby experiencing illness, often severe, once born,” he explains.

“Tests are usually needed to identify the infection, and to help determine if treatment, with antibiotics for example, is required. Also, following a case of food poisoning during pregnancy, additional monitoring of the baby may be recommended, which may continue after he or she is born.”

“To reduce the risk of food poisoning, certain foods are best avoided, including raw or partially cooked meat, poultry and eggs; unpasteurised milk; pâté; and mould-ripened soft cheeses and blue-veined cheeses. Make sure you always cook food thoroughly and wash your hands before preparing food, after handling raw food, and before eating.”

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