Knowing Whats best

By Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

What Precautions Should I Take When I am Pregnant or Nursing?

The developing baby inside you is sensitive to the effects of toxins more so than any other time in its life. It is never too early to start protecting yourself and your unborn child; this should happen before pregnancy occurs. Clearly, there are a lot of dangerous habits to avoid before pregnancy, and there are also a lot of fears women have that are not founded in science or logic.

The real concerns are not microwave ovens, cell phones and hair dryers. The things we know to be really risky for you and your unborn children are:

  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine, including second hand smoke
  • Alcohol
  • Medications both over-the-counter and prescription drugs
  • Herbs and high dose supplements, vitamin A
  • Fish, mollusks, shellfish and sushi (raw fish)
  • Hot tubs and saunas
  • Radiation
  • Household cleaners and paint thinners
  • Cat litter
  • Raw milk and cheese
  • Soft cheeses and blue-veined cheese such as feta, Roquefort and Brie
  • Artificial colors, nitrates and MSG
  • Deli meats, luncheon meats, hot dogs and undercooked meats

When a pregnant woman uses drugs, even aspirin, she and her unborn child can face serious health problems. Because something is natural or purchased in a health food store, it does not mean that it is safe. Herbal remedies work because of their medicinal properties from naturally occurring toxins; they are not health food. I also advise against dying your hair during pregnancy.

Toxoplasmosis and listeria are two infectious agents recognized to be dangerous to your unborn child. If you have a cat, only change the litter wearing disposable gloves. By avoiding raw dairy products, soft cheeses and undercooked meats, you can reduce the risk of contacting listeria.

Caffeine has been a controversial topic for decades. Evidence clearly concludes that heavy coffee drinkers have increased risk of spontaneous abortion and low birth weight in infants, but the evidence is not clear for moderate users of caffeine. Nevertheless, it is wise to stay away from as many toxic substances as possible. The bottom line is, if in doubt, don’t do it.

Fish Consumption And Pregnancy

I advise pregnant women to completely avoid seafood products; it is just too difficult to know what pollutants lies within. Shellfish and mollusks are particularly risky.

Fish is one of the most polluted foods we eat, and it may place consumers at high risk for various cancers. Scientists have linked tumors in fish directly to the pollutants ingested along the aquatic food chain, a finding confirmed by the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory. From the flounder in Boston Harbor to English sole in Puget Sound, scientists report that hydrocarbon pollution from habitat concentrate in fish. There are high cancer rates around New Orleans, where fresh fish and shellfish are a staple of the local cuisine.

FishWith Highest And Lowest Mercury Levels

Highest: tilefish, swordfish, mackerel, shark, white snapper, tuna

Lowest: salmon, flounder, sole, talapia, trout

Source: Mercury levels in seafood species. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Office of Seafood, May, 2001.

Higher levels of mercury found in mothers who eat more fish have been associated with birth defects, seizures, mental retardation, developmental disabilities and cerebral palsy. This is mostly the result of women having eaten fish when they were pregnant. Scientists believe that fetuses are much more sensitive to mercury exposure than are adults, although adults do suffer from varying degrees of brain damage from fish consumption.

Even the FDA, which normally ignores reports on the dangers of our cavalier food practices, acknowledges that large fish such as shark, swordfish, yellow fin, and blue fin tuna are potentially unhealthful. Researchers are also concerned about other toxins concentrated in fish that can cause brain damage long before the cancers caused by chemical, carrying fish appear.

Avoid Fish When Pregnant - Take A DHA Supplement Instead

I am concerned about pregnant women eating fish and advice against it. Instead, I recommend a predominantly plant centered diet, with essential fats from raw nuts, seeds and avocados. A dietary plan for a healthy pregnancy is much like a dietary plan for excellent health. It should include a minimum of five fresh fruits a day, lots of raw and cooked green vegetables, vegetable/bean soup, about 2 to 3 ounces of raw nuts and seeds daily or avocado for a clean source of raw fats. It should include tomatoes, red peppers and berries for their beneficial phytochemicals and at least one yellow/orange starchy vegetable such as corn, sweet potato or squash. Those desiring animal products should limit themselves to eggs and some white meat fowl, but not fish. Dairy fat is also a common source of DDT and other toxic pesticides and toxic substances. So, cheese and butter, which are high in saturated fat, should be avoided. The fatty portion of dairy foods is, after fish, the largest dietary source of the fat-soluble chemical in pesticides.

All pregnant women should take a supplement of DHA. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid and one of the crucial building blocks of human brain tissue. Early in life, DHA is supplied via the placenta and from breast milk. Adequate DHA is particularly important for pregnant and nursing women. Studies have shown improved intelligence scores of breast fed children whose mothers took DHA supplements during pregnancy and nursing. The DHA levels in the breast milk from women in the United States are among the lowest in the world.

DHA deficiencies starting in childhood can contribute to multiple problems later in life, such as hyperactivity and allergies. In fact, dyslexia and ADHD have been linked to the low DHA intake common in the United States. An adequate level of DHA has been found to improve behavior and symptoms of ADHD.

Deficiencies of DHA may increase vulnerability to depression and may be responsible for most postpartum depression after the baby’s needs extract DHA from the mother’s stores. DHA supplementation is indicated in anyone with a history of depression.

The typical modern diet is low in DHA in both omnivores and vegetarians alike. Most people eat a diet rich in omega-6 fats, but deficient in omega-3. Vegetarians and those who limit their intake of fish, wild meat and eggs have especially been noted to have low levels of DHA. Many vegetarians who consume sufficient flax, hemp, walnuts and greens as a source of short chain omega-3 fat may manufacture sufficient DHA fat on their own, but even with an ideal diet, lots of those on vegan diets are still found to be too low in this extremely beneficial compound.

Algae based DHA can be purchased at many local pharmacies, online, or from  

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