Nutrition during pregnancy is just one of the topics that will be discussed at Cape Byron medical Centre’s family friendly ‘It Takes A Village’ community event on June 25.

When you are pregnant, your diet assumes even greater importance. Not only do you want to nourish yourself and your unborn child, you also want to avoid foods that may be damaging to both of your health, says Anna Millichamp, Cape Byron Medical Centre’s paediatric dietitian. The main risks being targeted by the above restrictions are risk of infection with Listeria, Salmonella, Toxoplasmosis and contamination with mercury.

Listeria Monocytogenes

Listeria Monocytogenes is a foodborne pathogen (something that creates disease) that affects humans. Infection in pregnant women and their babies can have devastating effects such as foetal abortion, stillbirth, or premature delivery of an infected infant.

If we look at the relative risk of pregnant women being infected compared with a non-pregnant healthy adult, the risk is 39 times higher.

Early infection in mothers is sometimes difficult to pinpoint especially in relation to Listeria as it may present as non-specific flu-like symptoms and sometimes as diarrhoea, nausea or tummy cramps.

Fortunately, there are generally less than ten cases of Listeria diagnosed in pregnant women in Australia per year, so the risk is very small and it is considered a rare disease.

However, given that infants born with this infection can develop meningitis and sepsis (very dangerous conditions that require immediate medical treatment) and that the overall mortality rate of infected foetus’s is 50 per cent, it’s smart to avoid high risk foods.

High risk foods:
  • Cold processed meats
  • Cold cooked chicken
  • Raw seafood
  • Soft and semi-soft cheeses
  • Unpasteurised dairy products
  • Pre-prepared salads and sandwiches
  • Soft serve ice cream
  • Pate
  • Leftovers older than one day


Salmonella is another common cause of food-borne illness. It can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever and headaches. In pregnancy, there is a very small chance that Salmonella infection can result in miscarriage and therefore it is recommended that foods at high risk of Salmonella contamination be avoided.

High risk foods:
  • Raw eggs (including runny yolks)
  • Undercooked meat
  • Chicken
  • All kinds of sprouts


Our third nasty, toxoplasmosis, is caused by a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. While infection in pregnant women is rare, when the infection crosses the placenta (in 1/3 of cases) the effects can be severe including brain damage, hearing problems and blindness to the infant.

The main infection sources are cat faeces, soil that is contaminated and contact with contaminated raw meat.

So avoid changing the cat’s litter tray when pregnant, use gardening gloves and wash hands thoroughly after gardening, ensure fruits and vegetables are washed clean of any residual soil before eating and avoid undercooked meat.

Mercury contamination

Mercury contamination is a problem for everyone but especially for pregnant women. Mercury contamination affects an unborn baby’s nervous system and has been associated with developmental delays in childhood.

Fish that are at risk include those that are bottom-dwelling, predatory (eat other fish) and are large.

These include:
  • Shark (flake)
  • Swordfish
  • Marlin
  • Barramundi
  • Deep sea perch
  • Ling and tuna

The NSW Food Authority recommends limiting intake of high mercury fish during pregnancy to one serve per fortnight for flake, swordfish and marlin (and not including any other fish that fortnight), and to one serve per week for catfish and orange roughly (and not including any other fish that week).

Author Bio

Cape Byron Medical Centre are running ‘It Takes A Village’ community event on June 25. This family friendly event is designed to give you expert information on a host of topics from family dynamics, attachment parenting, fussy eaters, birthing options and support, sleep challenges, infant massage, breastfeeding and allergies, pre- and post-natal care including pelvic floor and more. 
The evening will feature expert speakers including a GP, Psychology, Physiotherapy, Nutrition followed by Q&A.
Seats are limited so secure your place here or call 6685 6326.

♦ $5 entry – Cape Byron Medical Centre will dollar match money raised and donate all proceeds from the evening to The Cape Byron Trust.