Pregnancy: Myths, Dos, and Don'ts (cont.)

Cheddar, mozzarella, cream cheese, and cottage cheese are fine. "Stay away from those yummy roadside ciders, too," Murkoff advises. "They're not pasteurized."

Diet soda
Minimal harmful effects have been shown from the use of the artificial sweetener aspartame in pregnancy, according to Siobhan M. Dolan, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y. "Like everything else, moderation is best." A daily diet pop or aspartame-sweetened yogurt is probably harmless.

Most studies show no adverse effects from three or four cups of coffee. Still, some doctors and midwives are cautious and point to studies linking java to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and migraines. There are some data that suggest that large amounts of caffeine lead to low-birth-weight babies.

However, if you choose to drink coffee, moderation is key. "Sometimes it's harder on you to quit entirely," Dolan admits. "Pregnancy is hard enough on you."

Herbal tea
Herbal teas can be safe during pregnancy, but you should be cautious. Be sure to steer clear of teas that have unfamiliar ingredients; instead, look for those teas that are made from ingredients that are a part of your normal diet (like orange extract). Remember that "natural" doesn't always mean "safe." If you are unsure, talk to your doctor.

According to Murkoff, raw fish, which can contain parasites, is probably not advisable when cravings strike.

In March 2004, the FDA and EPA issued joint guidelines regarding eating fish during pregnancy. They advise women who are pregnant, nursing, or even considering having children to eat no more than two servings of fish each week in order to protect developing babies from high levels of potentially brain-damaging mercury.

By following their recommendations and guidelines, government officials say that women will receive the benefits of eating fish and shellfish and be confident that they have reduced their exposure to the harmful effects of mercury.

  • Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or golden or white snapper (tilefish) because they contain high levels of mercury.
  • Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish and shellfish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.
  • Another commonly eaten fish, albacore ("white") tuna, has more mercury than canned light tuna. So when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (1 average meal) of albacore tuna per week, they say.
  • Because tuna steak generally contains higher levels of mercury than canned light tuna, when choosing your 2 meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of tuna steak per week.
  • Fish sticks and fast-food sandwiches are commonly made from fish that are low in mercury.

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