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Author Topic: What to eat ( or not ) while pregnant
edgmatt
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My wife and I are trying to get her pregnant, and we are in a little bit of an argument as to what is ok to eat while pregnant.

I have heard that ALL fish is bad, and I have also heard that is a load of nonsense. I've also heard that ocean seafood is bad, but freshwater is perfectly fine ( like salmon ). WebMd says most fish is ok, and lists four types of fish that the FDA says women should not eat during pregnancy because of the high mercury content. If your familiar with some of my postings on Ornery, you know that I am not very trustful of anything a government entity says about what I should or shouldn't eat, so I am taking the FDA's recommendation with a grain of salt.

I knew two girls who's parents both drank excessive amounts of coffee before and during pregnancy, and the two girls also drank excessive amounts ( four cups a day or more ) of coffee from the time they were young children up to and including at least the ages of 15. Both girls were on the shorter side, the older one was 14 or so but looked about 10. She was fine mentally as far as I know, but her body always looked "stunted" I guess is the best word for it. The younger one had some mental issues like light multiple personality disorder and light schizophrenia. She may have had other issues that I am not aware of. I chalk all of this up to the high amounts of coffee and caffeine.

My wife insists that ocean fish and shellfish, honey, cheeses that have active cultures like blue cheese and cottage cheese, yogurt and caffeinated drinks are all off limits entirely during pregnancy.

I personally believe that eating a small amount of all of these things will actually be beneficial to the fetus. Emphasis on 'small'.

I also believe that it's possible that part of the reason why so many children today are allergic to so many things like nuts and dairy is because the mothers aren't introducing a wide variety of foods into their bodies during pregnancy. I must emphasize that all of this is entirely my own opinion, based only on my own observations, personal conversations, anecdotal evidence and personal thoughts.

I am now spending my days reading articles and googling everything I can think of, but I wanted to know: Do you think I am going wrong anywhere, and is there any sort of solid research that any of you are aware of that would be of relevance here?

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cherrypoptart
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Is there any fish you can buy anywhere that is safe? Like tested safe or something? I like fish but I'm afraid of it now. I wish there were some fishing zone that was really tested and policed to be pollution free so you could get fish from there, test the fish too to make sure they're safe, and then have some good sushi or something.

You can check with your doctor but I wonder if you can start taking the prenatal vitamins even before you are pregnant. I remember that folic acid is good, so you can supplement or find foods that have it. Also, don't forget that fetuses leech a lot of vitamins and minerals and that can hurt the mom's teeth and bones so have plenty of whatever you need like Vitamin D and calcium.

It probably couldn't hurt to eat organic. I like the new organic milk with DHA (for healthy brain function they say).

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JWatts
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quote:
Originally posted by edgmatt:
My wife and I are trying to get her pregnant, and we are in a little bit of an argument as to what is ok to eat while pregnant.

First rule of marriage, if you ever suspect your right about an argument apologize profusely and tell her she was correct.

[ April 27, 2010, 11:10 AM: Message edited by: JWatts ]

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Pyrtolin
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The widest ranging recommendations against fish tend to be base in the theory that it's hard to keep track of the most contaminated ones, and that's complicated by the fact that it's not uncommon for suppliers to actively lie about the kind of fish that you're getting (particularly in the case of restaurants- there have been a few recent investigations that turned up pretty significant discrepancies between what was listed and what was actually served)

http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/guide.asp

This list seems like a good overall guide, and it includes extra marks to warn about which fish are being over fished.

Animal studies have absolutely shown problems caused by high caffeine intake. It does tend raise your blood pressure, which isn't good on the whole for pregnancy and, at the very least, it's been shown to reduce fertility (so you may want to cut back on that now at the very least) moderate doses (~150 mg a day, up to 300mg) seems to be safe.

For most of the other foods, listeria contamination is the big worry, because not only do pregnant women seem to be at higher risk of contracting it, but it's been show solidly that it can attack the fetus directly.

http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/foodstoavoid.html

Has a good overall list and other information that actually digs a bit into the whys of the recommendations so that you can gauge your own risk accordingly.

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G2
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quote:
Originally posted by edgmatt:
The younger one had some mental issues like light multiple personality disorder and light schizophrenia. She may have had other issues that I am not aware of. I chalk all of this up to the high amounts of coffee and caffeine.

G2 thinks it unlikely caffeine is the culprit here although if pounding it down in high volume like that can't be good for anyone. Moderation is key. A little won't do anything (G2 is not a doctor but frequently sleeps in Holiday Inns).

quote:
Originally posted by edgmatt:
My wife insists that ocean fish and shellfish, honey, cheeses that have active cultures like blue cheese and cottage cheese, yogurt and caffeinated drinks are all off limits entirely during pregnancy.

G2 thinks it's a good idea to go ahead and avoid those mercury containing fish, why roll those dice when it's so easy not too? If one slips in somewhere, probably ok but minimizing it is the smart move. Honey is ok during pregnancy but a definite no-no for children under 1. Never heard anything about the cheeses,
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OpsanusTau
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The cheese, yogurt etc thing is actually about raw milk cheese & yogurt rather than live & active cultures. And it is a good plan to be cautious about that.
Incidentally, deli-sliced lunch meats are also a really bad idea for the gravid.

The bottom line is:
Pregnant women are immunosuppressed. Being careful is always a good idea.
Some infections can cross the placenta and cause problems in the fetus.
Many chemicals (and I'm using "chemicals" in the broadest possible sense) can cause developmental problems in the fetus. Some of them all the time, some of them only at specific developmental stages. Individual differences in the metabolism of the mother and the fetus will make a big difference in how that plays out. And you might not find out until fifteen years from now whether you dodged the bullet.
I could talk more about this but will refrain for now.

You can try to gauge your own risk (or more accurately hers), but there's not really any way to gather enough information. If your wife wants to err on the side of caution, that seems wise. Consider that it's your wife who will be making the sacrifice, which is not such a huge one; that she wants to; and consider the hugely bad outcome possible if your gut feeling is wrong.

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edgmatt
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Ok that was very helpful. Pyrt, thanks for those links.

quote:
G2 thinks it's a good idea to go ahead and avoid those mercury containing fish, why roll those dice when it's so easy not too?
Well we don't eat shark and swordfish anyways, but I am trying to avoid any downsides to NOT eating fish and cheese. Will NOT eating it create the potential for the child to be allergic to common foods later on? If so, I'd take the small chance on eating some of the "good" fish now to avoid the negatives later.

Thanks for the input, very helpful.

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OpsanusTau
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quote:
Will NOT eating it create the potential for the child to be allergic to common foods later on?
That's a good question, but basically the answer is no.

(I think I understood you correctly that your wife knows there is no reason to avoid pasteurized milk and cheeses while pregnant. And in fact even live-culture yogurt should be fine as long as it was pasteurized prior to fermentation.)

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LetterRip
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For allergies, it sounds like you should avoid those things that are a risk for allergic reactions if your potential child is at risk for allergies (presumably a family history of food allergies, or family history of immune disorders, but not sure)

http://www.medpagetoday.com/MeetingCoverage/AAAAI/18836

http://ajrccm.atsjournals.org/cgi/content/short/178/2/124

I haven't found any support for your theory that having the mother do some consumption during pregnancy reduces risk of allergies.

However there is food imprinting,

http://www.jonbarron.org/blog/2009/10/prenatal-diet-sets-food-preferences.html

Ie your childs food preferences appear to be partially determined by the mothers consumption during pregnancy.

LetterRip

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The Drake
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My Mother drank liquor, drank coffee, smoked cigarettes and ate whatever she wanted. I'm 6'3", about to receive a graduate degree, and I am largely well-adjusted - perhaps with the exception of having a semi-compulsion to make posts like these.

I'd like to speculate that anxiety about such things is worse than anything in the normal food supply can do to you.

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LetterRip
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The Drake,

we are talking statistical risk, the outcome in any particular case is not guaranteed. Also there is plenty of problems you might have from your mothers prenatal habits that you might be unware of or might surface later. (Of course it is also possible you didn't have any negative effects - it depends on huge host of factors).

Also while the fetus is fairly robust to fetal insult, a lot of effects are dependent on timing, individual differences, frequency and severity of fetal insult etc.

LetterRip

[ April 27, 2010, 01:16 PM: Message edited by: LetterRip ]

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OpsanusTau
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I would just say that the fetus is fairly robust to fetal insult sometimes.

An interesting thing about the outcome of maternal exposure to toxins during pregnancy is that it depends in a really major way on the way the mother metabolizes those toxins. And there is a huge amount of individual variation in that.
(Think about the huge amount of variation in how well individuals metabolize alcohol, even when lean body mass is controlled for.)

It is also true that for many potential toxins, it matters hugely at what state of fetal development exposure occurs.

I am willing to talk about this is MUCH more detail if anyone wants, but I'm pretty concerned by this statement:
quote:
I'd like to speculate that anxiety about such things is worse than anything in the normal food supply can do to you.
Because depending on what exactly you mean by the "normal food supply", this is somewhere from somewhat to very false.
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scifibum
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The Drake has a point. Generally speaking we are steadily getting more risk averse. At some point the trade off between reduction of risk and the cost of worrying about it makes it a bad idea.

Pregnancy advice seems to be a booming industry. They'll continue to try to identify and explicate smaller and smaller risks, and the strictures one could adopt during pregnancy need only be limited by ambition and time.

How to manage risk is a personal choice, obviously. (But I do worry, a little, that laws such as Utah's attempt to criminalize trying-to-have-a-miscarriage could eventually creep into penalizing women who didn't monitor their mercury intake to the satisfaction of the state.)

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scifibum
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quote:
(Think about the huge amount of variation in how well individuals metabolize alcohol, even when lean body mass is controlled for.)
I have to say, I would guess very few of us have the prerequisite knowledge to do much useful thinking about this. [Big Grin]
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LetterRip
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Ops,

agreed, I think I stated that but appreciate you adding further clarification.

LetterRip

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The Drake
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I think probably moderation makes the most sense. I doubt having one swordfish steak in nine months makes much difference, or a glass of champagne to celebrate your anniversary. But a constant diet of sushi and sake are probably not a great idea (for anyone, fetus or not).

Now, I hope that people will continue with the useful advice following my interruption. [Big Grin]

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OpsanusTau
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quote:
agreed, I think I stated that but appreciate you adding further clarification.
Oh sorry. Maybe I wasn't reading carefully enough.

quote:
Generally speaking we are steadily getting more risk averse. At some point the trade off between reduction of risk and the cost of worrying about it makes it a bad idea.
Well that IS true. However. There are cases wherein getting steadily more risk-averse has lead to an astonishing, dramatic decrease in maternal and fetal adverse outcomes.

All I'm trying to say is that while I applaud the general idea of people manning up and facing danger where appropriate, I'm pretty sure that risking toxic or infectious damage to a fetus is one compartment of life where it's great to be risk-averse.

quote:
I have to say, I would guess very few of us have the prerequisite knowledge to do much useful thinking about this.
Sorry, I think I phrased it badly, because what I meant was that we all know that sometimes two people who are about the same size and shape can have the same number of beers but one of them will be way more drunk. [Wink]
Or for instance, my sister who is tiny can drink 6-foot men under the table.

It's not your imagination! It's an actual metabolic difference.

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JoshuaD
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The Asian cultures all must eat a ton of fish during pregnancy, and Asian kids usually come out pretty awesome.
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scifibum
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quote:
All I'm trying to say is that while I applaud the general idea of people manning up and facing danger where appropriate, I'm pretty sure that risking toxic or infectious damage to a fetus is one compartment of life where it's great to be risk-averse.
Agreed... to a point. I won't try to draw a line and say how strict a dietary regimen is too strict for the corresponding risk reduction, but if I were pregnant ( [Wink] ) I'd probably eat some fish.
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OpsanusTau
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That would probably be a safe course of action - but you probably wouldn't want to eat it raw, and you would probably want to pay attention to which kinds of fish you were eating.
The ones that live a long time and eat things in polluted coastal waters are the ones to avoid; the ones who do their eating far away are a safer bet.

And honestly immunocompromised individuals should probably avoid restaurants more than avoiding fish, from a food-borne illness perspective.

quote:
The Asian cultures all must eat a ton of fish during pregnancy, and Asian kids usually come out pretty awesome.
Well, I wish that statement contained any empirical information. [Smile]
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edgmatt
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It would be easier to just avoid certain foods, but I am trying to avoid any negatives that might come about by doing that. It is my feeling that eating a variety of food is healthier than eating a limited diet.

LetterRip's link about food imprinting is the line of thought I am on, I'm just farther down that line. I can't seem to find any sort of evidence for or against my theory though.

I guess I am trying to acertain which is the most likely to be most helpful to the development of my child: Eating a stricter diet and avoiding all of the aforementioned risks but then taking a chance on that strict diet causing some other problem, or going with my gut and eating a wide variety of foods in moderation.

I can avoid shark and tilefish, unpasturized dairy, raw foods and honey. Those aren't common foods. I would be reluctant to eliminate all seafood and most dairy. From what you guys have posted on here, the wide variety of foods in moderation choice seems to be a better one.
( I say "I" and "me" but I mean my wife, I am sure that's obvious )

[ April 28, 2010, 02:43 PM: Message edited by: edgmatt ]

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Chris W.
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Eat a lot of pineapples, it ups your sperm count.
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LoverOfJoy
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According to this, the U.S. ranked 29th in infant mortality when Japan ranked 3rd. Obviously that's not the only important indicator for mothers/babies to consider nor is fish eating the only difference between Japan and the U.S. Just something to keep in mind.

I found an interesting article about an American man and his Japanese wife and their research into this topic. It's full of resources and citations and the gist of it is that America tends to focus on all the dangers of eating fish during pregnancy while Japan tends to focus on all the benefits of eating fish during pregnancy, however both are right. The Japanese government put out one of the few resources that makes an effort to show both sides of the story. They recommend reducing intake of certain kinds of fish but to continue eating fish during pregancy. However, the blogger also noted that the types of fish and fish preparation varies from the U.S. to Japan.

One of the interesting sources he links to is a "pocket seafood selector" pdf that has a chart showing which fish are high in fatty acids, which are likely to be high in mercury, and which are likely to be the best to eat.

I seem to recall recently reading a summary of a research article on slashdot that showed that the Japanese tended to have certain enzymes or bacteria or something that allowed them to safely eat sushi that Americans lacked. I can't find the link now, though so take that with a grain of salt. Perhaps LetterRip or other slashdotters remember what I'm talking about and can find the link.

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OpsanusTau
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quote:

I can avoid shark and tilefish, unpasturized dairy, raw foods and honey. Those aren't common foods. I would be reluctant to eliminate all seafood and most dairy. From what you guys have posted on here, the wide variety of foods in moderation choice seems to be a better one.

Here's a list about fish.
http://www.ewg.org/safefishlist

And my take-home message for you (your wife, but whatever [Wink] ) about food safety during pregnancy is to remember that her immune system is suppressed, and to be extra careful about foodborne illness. Especially in these industrial-agribusiness, high-throughput-processed-food times.

The wikipedia article about listeriosis has some interesting information:
quote:
When listeric meningitis occurs, the overall mortality may reach 70%; from septicemia 50%, from perinatal/neonatal infections greater than 80%. In infections during pregnancy, the mother usually survives.
Listeria monocytogenes is fairly common and can be contracted not only from meats and dairy but from vegetables, and it can not only live but grow in the refrigerator. (This is why pregnant women are advised to microwave deli meats if they want to eat them.)
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Funean
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And even if you don't normally, be assiduous about washing your hands before eating/preparing food, and make liberal use of good old bleach on your food prep surfaces (or, better, see that liberal use is made by someone not currently pregnant). Simple cleanliness is probably the second most useful thing a person can do to prevent food borne illnesses (after making sure all foods are thoroughly washed and cooked, as appropriate, before they are eaten).
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JoshuaD
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quote:
Originally posted by OpsanusTau:
quote:
The Asian cultures all must eat a ton of fish during pregnancy, and Asian kids usually come out pretty awesome.
Well, I wish that statement contained any empirical information. [Smile]
It doesn't and I don't really have a problem with that. [Smile]

I don't know how to go about showing in some scientific manner that on average asian woman consume more fish while pregnant than non-asian woman. To me this is pretty self-evident while at the same time being incredibly esoteric, so I don't have a study to point at.

I also don't know how to quantify the Asian factor in children, but in my limited experience Asian kids are better kids than non-asian kids. I don't know whether this is cultural or genetic or non-existent.

Finally, I certainly don't know that there is a causal link between fish consumption in the mother and a tendency towards intelligence or obedience in the kid.

I do know what I said: I'd bet that Asian woman eat more fish during pregnancy and in my experience Asian kids are usually pretty cool. I left it to Matt to draw whatever conclusions he'd like from there.

The scientific method isn't the only valid way of thinking and most of the time it's incredibly cumbersome. I don't think there's anything wrong with drawing weak conclusions from your observance of the world, verifying them as best you can, and then acting on them in a measured and balanced way. I think you'll agree that we can't possibly apply the rigors of science to every decision we make and conclusion we draw. We simply need to make our best guesses sometimes.

[ April 28, 2010, 04:44 PM: Message edited by: JoshuaD ]

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OpsanusTau
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Interesting.

Well, whose kids are "better" isn't what I thought we were talking about. That seems sort of subjective. And, you're right, a scientific perspective is not super useful for that judgment.
[Smile]

I tend to worry about things like maternal consumption of toxins causing congenital defects (which may not manifest until much later in life), infections causing congenital defects, and both of the above causing miscarriage or neonatal mortality.

And for those considerations, the epidemiologic framework is entirely appropriate.

Eating fish is probably not the biggest concern in working towards a positive outcome from pregnancy, though.

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tonylovern
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something i randomly came across.
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Greg Davidson
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My favorite JWatts quote ever
quote:
First rule of marriage, if you ever suspect your right about an argument apologize profusely and tell her she was correct.
I totally agree with this, and it's doubled during pregnancy, quadrupled during labor.
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Greg Davidson
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But you have to be certain you are correct (because that then means that you are arguing about something else, and you don't know it yet). If you suspect you are right but not sure, then you can go ahead and argue.
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cherrypoptart
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Your best bet is to find out what her opinion is first so you can agree with it.

The tricky thing is when she changes her mind after you agreed with her the first time.

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Greg Davidson
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Only if consistency matters.
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asmalls4
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I ate fish while I was pregnant. I was told not to eat bottom feeding fish. Shark and swordfish were off limits. As were shell fish. But salmon, tuna, trout, those were all fine to eat in moderation.

Eating about 80 to 100 grams of protein a day is a good recommendation for pregnant women. It helps to prevent pre eclampsia and toxemia. You aren't supposed to eat sushi or soft cooked eggs. Caffeine is okay in moderation too. One or two cups of coffee or caffeinated soda is okay.

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JoshuaD
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quote:
Originally posted by OpsanusTau:
Interesting.

Well, whose kids are "better" isn't what I thought we were talking about. That seems sort of subjective. And, you're right, a scientific perspective is not super useful for that judgment.
[Smile]

I tend to worry about things like maternal consumption of toxins causing congenital defects (which may not manifest until much later in life), infections causing congenital defects, and both of the above causing miscarriage or neonatal mortality.

And for those considerations, the epidemiologic framework is entirely appropriate.

Eating fish is probably not the biggest concern in working towards a positive outcome from pregnancy, though.

[Smile] . I also wouldn't be surprised if much of the negative results from eating fish during pregnancy actually comes from eating farm raised fish. From what I've seen and read, farm raised fish have a much higher level of toxins in their flesh than fish caught fresh at sea.

All in all, you and I tend to agree on this issue. However, I would bet that consuming a low amount of high-quality, wild-caught fish, is healthier for the woman and child than eating none at all.

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NSCutler
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What exactly is "mild multiple personality disorder' edgmont? Our mom never had a cup of coffee in her life, and we're a pretty ordered multiple personality, but one of us tends to sing Devo songs while another of us is trying to do our tax return, so one wonders if that qualifies as mild disorder, disproving your caffiene hypothesis.

As to food, our wife gave in to sushi cravings throughout both pregnancies and the kids came out brilliant.

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edgmatt
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She had issues, some of which I wasn't supposed to know about, but it came up in a legal issue. I really shouldn't go into detail about it, but mild is the way I would describe it. She didn't need to be in a hospital anywhere for it, but she was diagnosed as having some sort of multiple personality disorder. Since it wasn't strong enough to affect her social life too much, I call it mild.

I know it's anecdotal, it just stuck in my head very clearly. I was talking to the mom about it, she had mentioned that the two girls have been drinking coffee from a very young age, and lots of it. I asked if she was concerned about any side affects, and I asked very gingerly, because it was obvious the two girls had issues both physically and mentally. The mother said, and I quote "Oh that's a bunch of nonsense. I drank four cups a day every day when I was pregnant and so did [my husband], and my kids turned out just fine." I very nearly said no they didn't, but I caught myself. I was incredulous to her ignorance of her kids issues, and since she had brought up coffee, the story stuck in my head. It's anecdotal, but there it is.

JoshuaD, it's the Mercury levels that are the concern in the fish. I'm with you on the other toxins with farm raised fish ( which I never eat ) but wild fish get mercury built up in them over time. From what I understand, the higher fat content of the fish, the higher mercury levels since that's where most of the mercury gets stored. The link Pyrtolin provided has a great list.

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PSRT
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quote:
All in all, you and I tend to agree on this issue. However, I would bet that consuming a low amount of high-quality, wild-caught fish, is healthier for the woman and child than eating none at all.
Yes, and every health organization I've looked at suggests that women should eat at least three servings of fish a week during pregnancy. So I don't really think there's much disagreement anywhere. "Avoid fish that can accumulate mercury, eat other fish," is basically the gist of the health advice I can find. Including on this thread. So yay! Widespread agreement.
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