Soft Cheese and Caffeine: Two Pregnancy Food Rules Explained

Soft Cheese and Caffeine

Pregnant women are offered a lot of tips on what to eat and what to avoid. Today we’ll discuss the reasons behind why certain foods should be avoided or enjoyed during pregnancy.

1) Why can’t I eat raw cheese? What about soft cheese?

Raw cheese may harbor dangerous bacteria or microbes. Raw cheese is any cheese that is made from unpasteurized milk. Pasteurization is when milk is heated to a certain temperature that kills any microbes and bacteria living in the milk. This helps prevent food-borne disease.

Unpasteurized milk, therefore, may carry dangerous microbes, namely listeria. Listeria are the bacteria that cause listeriosis.  Listeriosis is particularly dangerous to pregnant women and can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth. According to Emily Oster, a CNN Health author, “About 20% of listeria cases in the United States over the past 15 years were caused by raw milk soft cheese (usually queso fresco, a Mexican soft cheese).”

Queso fresco (and cheese in general) is often an overlooked ingredient when ordering at restaurants, so be sure to clarify that you are unable to unpasteurized cheese. If the restaurant is unsure if the food is pasteurized or not, it’s best to stay safe and avoid it altogether.

It’s important to note that this only applies to unpasteurized cheeses, so pasteurized soft cheeses are ok to eat during pregnancy. It’s often hard to confirm if a soft cheese you are served is pasteurized or not, however, so unless you buy it yourself it’s best to steer clear.

2) Do I need to stop drinking caffeine?

The jury is still out on the effects of drinking caffeine during pregnancy and breastfeeding. A 2008 study showed that consuming more than 200 mg of caffeine a day (about 2 cups per day) may be linked to an increased chance of miscarriage. A second study showed an increased risk in the baby having a fast heart rate, low birth weight, or premature labor if the mother consumed more than 500 mg of coffee per day. A third study showed no correlation between caffeine and the chance of miscarriage or the health of the baby.

While studies may not convince you to kick your caffeine habit, maybe this will. Both caffeine and tea contain phenols. Phenols bind to iron in your GI tract, making it harder for your body to absorb the iron. During pregnancy, many women have low iron levels to start, so drinking caffeine will make the problem worse.

Caffeine can also cross the placenta during pregnancy. Fetuses are unable to process caffeine, which may or may not affect your pregnancy or your baby’s health.  Newborn babies are also unable to process caffeine, which is why it may be best to avoid caffeine while breastfeeding.

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