Pregnancy: Eating Healthy for 2 (cont.)

The 5 Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy

No. 1: Alcohol

In the not-so-distant past some doctors suggested moderate drinking during pregnancy might be OK. Not anymore. In an advisory issued by the U.S. government in February 2005, U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, MD, MPH, issued a warning that no amount of alcohol can be considered safe during pregnancy.

The reason, says Ashton is that "no one knows if there is a threshold for alcohol in pregnancy, and if there is, what it is, so it's better to just not drink any at all."

What doctors do know: Alcohol increases a baby's risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) -- a series of developmental problems that can affect a child's ability to learn throughout their lifetime. In its most extreme form fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) can cause varying degrees of birth defects and mental retardation.

Ashston says a rarer set of problems -- Fetal Alcohol Effects -- is also a risk.

"There's a whole spectrum of ways alcohol can affect the fetus -- it may not be a full-blown FAS but there may be low birth weight, small stature, a range of possible side effects," Ashton tells WebMD.

If your pregnancy was a surprise -- and you unknowingly consumed alcohol during the first several weeks after conception -- experts say don't panic. If you stop drinking the moment you discover you're pregnant, and meet your daily requirement of folic acid (400 micrograms) you can dramatically decrease your baby's risk of any serious consequences.

No. 2: Saccharin

While some doctors are leery about using any artificial sweetener during pregnancy, the one that is of most concern is saccharin. The reason: "It has been shown to cross the placenta and end up in your baby's bloodstream," says Heller.

This is of concern since some animal studies have shown that in high enough amounts saccharin may increase the risk of bladder cancer. Since research on monkeys has shown that a developing fetus is much less effective at clearing saccharin from the blood than an adult, at least theoretically, amounts of the artificial sweetener can build to a dangerous level.

"It's always best to err on the side of caution and avoid it," says Heller.

If you were consuming saccharin before you knew you were pregnant, don't panic. The risks are small during the early weeks of pregnancy. As long as you don't consume any more, your baby's health should not be affected.

As to other artificial sweeteners: There is no specific evidence to show harm to mother or baby.

No. 3: Seafood With High Mercury Level

Fish can be one of the healthiest foods you can eat -- particularly during pregnancy. A diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish helps a child's growth and development. Women of childbearing age, in particular, should include fish or shellfish in their diets because of the nutritional benefits.