Pregnancy is an extra special time in a woman’s life during which she should be experiencing the most support via optimal nourishment, rest and enjoyment, and the least physical, mental, and emotional stress. Unfortunately, in today’s world, two major things are working against women from receiving the best support that they require during this time. The first is that life has gotten increasingly busy, noisy, and chaotic. There is always too much to do and never enough time, and women today have more obligations than ever before. Most women expect to keep up with the same stressful schedules that they are used to each day for most, if not all, of their pregnancy. Whether consciously or subconsciously, most women want to appear strong and capable, trying not to let their pregnancy get in the way of their “daily life.” However, in doing so, they lose the vital connection with their bodies and the sacredness of this time, which requires a special level of care and attention. This, in turn, continues to perpetuate the cycle of stress, which results in various forms of unhappiness, unfulfillment, anxiety, and depression. The solution for many is to seek relief via unhealthy foods and/or drugs.

The second challenge is that the foods and drinks that are most commonly marketed and available today are not a good choice for anyone’s health at any time, never mind if we are pregnant. We live in a day and age where there is more refined, fabricated, engineered, and fake food with all sorts of synthetic and chemical additives than ever before. This leads many of us to accept these as the norm, become addicted to them, and even downplay their harm. But such is human nature that we tend to defend whatever becomes familiar, even if it is hurting us. These foods not only come with numerous risk factors, as they cause all sorts of stress to our body, but they are also nutritionally inadequate. So we cannot expect to create a good healthy body and mind for ourselves with such substances, let alone that of a developing baby. Another challenge related to what we consume today is the quality of the food. Even if we consider real, whole plant or animal foods, each of them comes with their own unique risks and challenges today, created by our modern society. In this sense, it is trickier than ever to use our food as it was meant to be used as a source of nourishment and healing. The good news is that, as always, education and awareness will prevail and provide us with the information needed to make the best choices given our current limitations.

Preparation is the Key!

Anytime we wish to be successful with something or in some area of our life, we must plan and prepare for it accordingly. Whether it is a vacation or trip, a new job or relationship, if we don’t take the time to learn what is required for best results and how to most effectively execute our plan of action, we are not likely to get the results we desire. The same can be said about pregnancy. The more you educate yourself and are able to grasp the big picture and how every action can impact your future child, the more you set yourself and your child up for success where your and their physical, mental, emotional, and social health is concerned. Of course, on this journey, it can be easy to fall into fear and obsess about every detail, and that is not the intention of what I am sharing with you here. This is about empowerment, keeping the big picture in mind, and knowing that you have choices at every step of the way to provide a more favorable or less favorable outcome for you and your child. Your job is simply to be informed and do the best you can so that you can have peace of mind that you made a conscious effort to do the best possible.

This is where pregnancy is a time to consider long-term consequences more so than ever. A pregnant woman can no longer give in to personal, selfish desires on a whim of wanting this food or that drink, but must think first and foremost of her baby and how any substances will impact its current development and future health. Everything a mother eats or drinks during her pregnancy will either positively or negatively affect the child. Do something enough times or in a concentrated enough dose, and the effects become noticeable. Today, we even know that children develop tendencies for future flavor preferences, foods, cravings, and addictions based on what the mother consumes while pregnant. One of the easiest ways to increase your child’s likelihood of liking broccoli, or other such vegetables, is to eat them yourself while pregnant. And if you don’t want your child to be predisposed to sugar cravings, then avoiding refined sugar-rich foods yourself will be very helpful.

Therefore, the time before you get pregnant should also be a special time of preparation for changing and optimizing your personal habits and lifestyle choices. This is the time to clean up and clean out all that would not be supportive to you and your baby. Of course, if an unplanned pregnancy occurs, even though you won’t have the more relaxed and focused preparation period, you can still do a lot by making more immediate changes. Remember, do the best you can given where you are at and given any personal considerations or limitations, but know that doing a little of something is always better than doing nothing at all.

To help you on your journey of having a healthy and happy pregnancy and child, this guide will present the seven most important substances that you should not eat or drink, at least while pregnant. Ideally, you should be avoiding these substances in the months preceding a potential pregnancy, and of course, during lactation. The hope would then be that by doing so, you get into such a great new habit that you continue not consuming these substances for your best health, energy, longevity, and wellbeing, and to serve as a positive role model for your child as they grow and develop, to know what a healthy eating and self-care approach looks like.

1. Don’t drink alcohol.

This may seem like an obvious one, but it never hurts to repeat this important message, as some women still fail to understand the severity of this habit while pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Alcohol is a neurotoxin and carcinogen, which is not ideal for the human body on any given day, let alone when a woman is pregnant. According to the CDC — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “There is no known safe amount of alcohol use during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant.” The risks associated with alcohol use during pregnancy are many. They include everything from developmental defects and fetal alcohol syndrome to physical, mental, and emotional health problems, as well as miscarriage.

Unfortunately, some sources and individuals try to downplay the severity of fetal alcohol exposure and even go as far as encouraging light drinking. If you have been influenced by any such sources or are trying to justify any alcohol consumption during pregnancy, I invite you to read the pregnancy and alcohol myths from the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Summary tips:

  • Focus on your priorities to ensure the best outcome for you and your baby.
  • Be mindful of your actions if trying to get pregnant or if a pregnancy is possible.
  • No amount of alcohol is worth risking your child’s future health and wellbeing for.
  • Invest in confidence-building and natural relaxation-inducing techniques that will help you overcome your need for alcohol.

2. Don’t eat fast food or junk food.

Fast food and junk food is loaded with all sorts of problems that stress our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing and is completely nutritionally inadequate. Simply put, such substances provide the worst quality of so-called food that one can consume. Animal foods used in fast food come from the worst sources of factory farming, and plant foods also lack in quality in this sector, which focuses on the cheapest sources possible without regard for consequences. When you eat fast food or junk food, you are getting a concentrated dose of refined sugars, refined carbohydrates, refined salt, refined fats and oils, GMOs, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and other drugs, preservatives, additives, colors, flavors, and all sorts of other toxic ingredients. Fast food and junk food are highly inflammatory, acid-forming, and mucus-forming. It provides a lot of calories that come from destructive fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, while being largely devoid of any quality nutrients, like pure and wholesome macronutrients and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, as well as phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fiber.

A study conducted by researchers from Washington University School of Medicine, and published in the journal Cell Reports, found that a high-fat, high-sugar diet, typically associated with fast food or junk food, during pregnancy can dramatically increase the risk of obesity in at least the next three generations of a woman’s descendants, even if they eat healthy themselves. By avoiding fast food and junk food, you also avoid the numerous problematic ingredients that have been associated with anything from mild to severe health risks, like Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners and MSG, which are neurotoxins.

Summary tips:

  • Nourish yourself and your unborn baby with the very best, not the very worst, to ensure the best chances for creating a healthy baby and predisposing it to the best health possible.
  • A treat should be something that treats our body and mind, not harms them; redefine how you view treats and what you consider a treat.

3. Don’t eat fish or seafood.

Fish, and seafood in general, are one of the riskiest foods anyone can eat today. Our lakes, rivers, and oceans are unfortunately heavily polluted by the thousands of different chemical and radioactive toxins that are associated with our corporately-driven materialistic and consumerist lifestyles. Although they are still irresponsibly touted as “healthy” by various individuals and organizations, eating fish today is one of the fastest ways to introduce harmful toxins into our bodies. It is valuable to know as well that any possible benefits that fish may provide do not outweigh the risks associated with eating them, especially given that we can get the best disease prevention, health protection, and optimal nutrition from whole-food, plant-based diets.

Fish and seafood today either come from factory-farmed sources or wild sources. In the former case, they are atrocious from a health, ethical, and environmental perspective and should be avoided at all costs. Factory farmed fish introduce us to loads of various drugs and chemicals, GMOs, and even mercury and other toxins. In the latter case, fish contain mercury and all sorts of POPS—persistent organic pollutants, like PCBs. Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin and heavy metal, which poses extra serious risks for pregnancy, babies, and young children. To learn more, read this guide from the World Health Organization that shares about the serious dangers of mercury.

Summary tips:

4. Don’t eat factory-farmed animal foods (meat, eggs, or dairy).

While an increasing number of us are becoming aware of what happens on factory farms when it comes to the unspeakable cruelty and appalling quality of animal foods, many more of us are still in the dark. In contrast, others yet choose to ignore the significance of this issue. So if there was ever a time to take this seriously, it would be during your pregnancy. If you want to increase the chances of your developing child having the best physical and psychological wellbeing, you cannot nourish them with the worst quality and most problematic foods. Animals on factory farms that have their body parts and secretions used for food are routinely given drugs, like antibiotics and hormones, fed completely unnatural diets, which come from pesticide-laden and/or GMO sources, are housed in high-stress conditions and come with the highest risks of food-borne pathogens. All of these factors negatively impact the health of that animal, and in turn, those who consume them, as these effects and substances do not just “disappear” from their bodies. The stress leads to diseased biochemistry in the animals, and the drugs, pesticides, and GMO’s accumulate in their bodies, especially fat tissues, which then all negatively impact your body. Associated health risks include increased weight regulation problems, hormonal imbalances, including increased thyroid and diabetes conditions, cancers, autoimmune diseases, compromised immune function, and infertility problems.

For these, and many other reasons, top nutritionally-informed medical doctors and health experts advise women who are pregnant or wish to get pregnant to keep their diets as clean and high quality as possible, with a predominant focus on whole, plant foods. If you choose to eat any animal foods, you must make the effort today to learn where those foods came from and their quality. As a simple rule of thumb, any animal foods that you get in any common restaurant or convenience and processed foods came from factory-farmed sources. When selecting animal foods to consume, an emphasis should always be placed, especially during pregnancy, on organic animal foods from local farms or sources you can trust, where the animals were raised in a healthy manner and fed naturally. If you would rather omit most or all animal foods, here are some basic nutrition guidelines for pregnancy from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Summary tips:

  • Avoid eating factory-farmed animal foods while pregnant to avoid exposing your child to future health problems associated with such foods.
  • Only choose organic meats, eggs, and dairy products, which came from naturally-raised and fed animals.
  • A full whole-food, plant-based diet can be ideal for pregnancy, where no animal products need to be consumed, if so desired.

5. Don’t eat foods high in pesticides or GMOs.

Not that long ago, humans had the luxury of enjoying plant and animal foods that were not subjected to synthetic chemicals or genetic manipulation during the growing and production process. Unfortunately, this all has changed, and since about the 1950s, industrial agriculture began to rely heavily on numerous synthetic pesticides. Due to our economic and monetary obsession, since these products created a new, lucrative, and booming market for both chemical companies and factory farms, they were not tested for long-term health or environmental safety. We began to slowly learn about their deleterious effects with each passing decade. And sadly, even though today we know with an overwhelming amount of proof and conviction just how dangerous some of these products are, most of them are still being widely sold and used because of the stronghold that this market has created for itself, where even the governments are powerless against stopping their usage. To further compound the problem, genetically engineered foods have also been part of our food supply for the past two decades.

The health risks associated with pesticides are many, depending on what specific substance is involved. Generally, they have one or more of these qualities: neurotoxin, a carcinogen, hormone disruptor and mutagen (developmental or reproductive toxin). Pesticides have also been linked to having a negative impact on our digestive health, wiping out or creating an imbalance in our intestinal flora, immune disorders, and even autism from prenatal exposure. One of the worst pesticides that is still being used widely is glyphosate (found in Monsanto’s Roundup), whose dangerous health effects have been most prominently highlighted. Glyphosate is routinely applied to GMO crops like corn, soy and canola, and the same foods in non-GMO form, as well as wheat shortly before harvest. In fact, wheat has become a highly controversial food today not just for its gluten content and extreme hybridization, but because of its glyphosate content, which is further connected to Celiac disease and gluten intolerance. This is why going organic, especially from local, small-farm, or trusted sources is the best choice we have. Additionally, synthetic and organic pesticides can be washed off of produce to a large degree with a commercial detergent (not just water) or with a homemade mixture of white vinegar, baking soda, and water. However, some do penetrate beneath the skin as well.

When it comes to GMO foods, the problems compound even more as we now have the risks of both GMOs and pesticides together, as these foods are routinely subjected to the same or greater amounts of pesticide use. Amongst some of the worst genetically engineered substances are those that contain the BT toxin, found in most conventional corn, soy, and dairy, and foods made with them. Bt toxin has been linked with many adverse effects, including autoimmune problems, allergies, and leaky gut syndrome, as have GMOs in general. To get the full scope of the problem and health risks involved, see the IRT’s health risks of GMOs. You can avoid GMO foods by choosing organic and/or non-GMO verified foods.

Summary tips:

  • Choose organic plant and animal foods instead of conventional ones, as much as possible.
  • Consult the EWG’s Consumer’s Guide to Pesticides to make the smartest choices for avoiding produce that has the highest residue of pesticides.
  • Consult PAN’s What’s On My Food to learn about the pesticides present in some of your common food items and avoid high-risk foods.
  • Consult IRT’s GMOs in Food to know what foods carry the highest risk of being genetically modified.
  • Practice smart food preparation methods, like proper washing and peeling of sensitive foods.

6. Don’t smoke anything.

Although smoking is not exactly a food or a drink, it is something that is consumed and important to include as part of this guide. Like alcohol, most people are well aware that tobacco should be avoided during pregnancy, and really at any point in our life if we wish to increase the likelihood of proper health and longevity. Unfortunately, some women still choose to smoke before, during, or after their pregnancy, neglecting proper care of themselves and their baby, when the risks associated with tobacco use for the developing fetus and child have been well documented for decades now. A more recent 2007 study on nicotine use during pregnancy, published in Current Neuropharmacology, found that it increases the risk of behavioral and cognitive deficits and improper neural development right up to adolescence, and urges that total abstinence from all forms of nicotine should be advised to pregnant women for their entire pregnancy. The CDC and similar organizations are clear to outline the numerous risks associated with the use of any tobacco products during pregnancy. For the mother, these include increased risk of infertility, miscarriage, and complications during delivery. For the baby, they include birth defects, increased susceptibility to infections and lung problems, and impaired neural development, affecting future mental and emotional health.

Another problem is that with the rising popularity of marijuana, many women are choosing to ingest this substance at various points of their life, including during pregnancy. Like tobacco, in its purest form, marijuana comes from a plant that offers a potent medicine, which can help or harm, depending on how it is used. Unfortunately, it is all too common in our society to abuse many plant medicines like these and others, which results in unfavorable physical and psychological effects. A 2011 report in the journal of Addiction Science & Clinical Practice summarized the findings of several studies that have investigated the developmental effects of prenatal exposure to marijuana, and other drugs like tobacco, stimulants, and opiates. Children born to mothers who smoked marijuana regularly had an increased risk of some physical abnormalities and numerous cognitive deficits, which affected mental, emotional, and behavioral health right into adolescence, including being at a higher risk for being users of the drug themselves.

Summary tips:

  • If you smoke, make a commitment for effective action to quit before becoming pregnant. If the pregnancy was unplanned, consult your healthcare provider for effective support to reduce and remove these substances from your life as soon as possible.
  • Invest your time and effort into effective relaxation techniques that will help you deal with stress so that you don’t resort to smoking anything.
  • Cultivate self-love to learn how to respect and honor yourself, rather than engage in self-destructive habits.
  • Know that every drug has consequences, no matter how “natural” it may seem.

7. Don’t consume drugs.

Like smoking, drugs (pharmaceutical or recreational) are neither food nor drink, yet they are consumed by many people today in various ways. While it should be obvious to most of us to avoid recreational drugs at any point in our life, it may not be as obvious when it comes to pharmaceutical drugs. And because we live in a society that tries to suppress symptoms rather than understand them and get to the root cause for most effective healing, too many people have become dependent on all sorts of over-the-counter and prescription drugs today. Therefore, it is very valuable for women to work on changing their attitudes and behaviors before and during their pregnancy when it comes to the use of any drugs. The reason for this is twofold. First, by using drugs as the first option, we neglect to learn about the root cause and what is actually causing the physical, mental or emotional imbalance in our life that requires our attention and action. Second, all chemical drugs come with side-effects, regardless if they are obvious or not, which puts a strain on your overall health. For example, antibiotics cause numerous problems for our intestinal flora, which in turn negatively impact our digestion, mental and emotional health, and future immunity. And all chemical drugs put an unnecessary strain on the liver and can aggravate other tissues and organs.

One of the most wide-spread groups of drugs today, which impacts many women of child-bearing age and should be highlighted, are anti-depressants. Like other drugs, these pose a risk not only to you but also to your unborn child. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry30007-7/abstract) in May 2016 found that anti-depressants used during pregnancy have been associated with an increased risk of depression for the child. The good news is that there are many choices of non-invasive, non-drug solutions available today, like various lifestyle changes, alternative therapies, and psychotherapy, so that women who wish to get pregnant can balance and optimize their mental and emotional health naturally. One of the most outspoken experts on this topic is Dr. Kelly Brogan, a women’s health psychiatrist, who advises against the use of anti-depressants due to the many negative side-effects associated with them and helps women regain control of their own minds, for best mental and emotional balance and wellbeing.

Summary tip:

  • Avoid all recreational drugs while pregnant. Seek out counseling and support services to change any habits or behaviors that involve any drug use.
  • Avoid all prescription and OTC (over the counter) drugs while pregnant, unless you have a serious medical emergency and approval from a trusted health provider.
  • Familiarize yourself with safe alternative treatments that you can use during your pregnancy for any physical, mental or emotional conditions that arise, including homeopathy, some herbs, acupuncture, reflexology, massage, yoga, meditation, sound healing, cognitive behavioral therapy, and dietary modifications.

Wishing you a healthy and happy pregnancy and the best physical, mental, emotional, and social wellbeing for your child!