The pregnant mum’s guide to surviving the festive season
How to get through the festive season with a baby bump
The festive season is here! That means a lot of food, sweet treats, drinks and cheer. While, the festive season is a great time to celebrate, it can be a bit of a minefield for a pregnant mum. While the food and drinks are delicious and appealing to the eye, not all of them should be enjoyed when you are pregnant. So what are the foods that expectant mums should be cautious about? We have put together the pregnant mum’s guide to surviving the festive season.
Ok let’s address the elephant in the room first. Listeria. Your doctor or midwife has probably already given you information on listeria and advised that you take precaution to avoid foods at high risk of containing the listeria bacteria. This can be a topic that divides pregnant mums but let’s look at it in the context of the festive season.
Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food that is contaminated with listeria bacteria. Symptoms can include fever and flu like symptoms such as muscle aches and fatigue as well as nausea and vomiting. Listeria can live in your system for up to 70 days before symptoms occur, though the average presentation of the infection is around 3 weeks. Listeria can be fatal to an unborn baby and even a newborn and can cause miscarriage or stillbirth.
The recommendation to take precautions to avoid high risk foods is never more pertinent than during the festive season. You will notice a lot of high risk foods at Christmas parties and functions because they are often finger foods and easy to serve and eat. While the risk of contracting listeria is low, poor food handling can increase the likelihood of listeria being present. The complicating factor about the festive season is that food is often left out at room temperature for extended periods giving the bacteria the best chance to grow.
High risk foods
So what are the high risk foods we should avoid? Foods that we find appealing most of the time at parties of course!
- Deli meats are some of the high risk foods for listeria. These include meats such as sliced turkey, beef, salami, ham, chicken, poultry and other cold slices of meat. You may often find these yummy offerings on a festive food platter, or added to sandwiches or canapes. It is best to avoid these foods and find something else to nibble on at the party.
- Soft cheeses, such as brie, camembert, feta, ricotta and blue cheese. These cheeses have a lower pH level than hard cheeses, which makes them an ideal environment for listeria to grow. The risk is low in Australia due to the requirement to use pasteurised milk, however we have previously had outbreaks of listeria in soft cheeses.
- Chilled or smoked seafood. Oh darn, there goes those yummy smoked salmon canapes! While the cooking or smoking process used initially may kill off some listeria, there is still a risk that it can still grow in the chilled food.
- Raw fish and seafood, such as oysters or tuna and including sushi made with raw fish.
- Pates and meat spreads and any dips made with soft cheeses.
- While these are the main areas to watch for listeria, there are some other foods which may pop up that have been known to cause listeria infection. These include pre-cut fruits and pre-made salads. It is important to note that this relates to fruit and salads purchased pre-packaged. Hopefully though, any parties you attend will have freshly cut fruit and freshly made salads reducing the risk of listeria being present.
So what should I eat?
If you are at an event that serves a sit down meal, then the risk of being served high risk foods is low. You can eat cooked meats, including deli meats as well as fish that has been cooked above 75 degrees. So chicken parma is still on the menu!
Hard cheese are fine to eat, so chedder cheese and crackers is on the menu too. Baked cheesecake is ok but the soft refrigerated cheesecake is not. Nuts of course are fine to eat as well fresh fruits and vegetables.
Pastas with sauces will be fine as long as they are eaten hot and while bread is safe to eat, you might want to check what it has been topped with.
The overall message is that if it has been cooked and it is hot it is ok to eat.
And then there is alcohol
I think we all know by now that it is recommended to avoid alcohol during pregnancy. For some women, not having a drink can be a dead giveaway that you are pregnant while you might still be trying to conceal it. So how do you hide the fact that you are not drinking alcohol?
If its really important to you to not start a conversation about whether you might be pregnant, then here are some tips you might use:
- Probably the easiest thing to do is hold a glass of alcohol in your hand. Then find a way to slowly empty the glass during the course of the event. If you have brought a partner with you maybe they can take small sips for you during the event (as long as they aren’t overdoing it either). Or tip bits down the sink if you can.
- Keep busy. Circulate. Move around the room so no one sees you for too long without a drink. Tell the your drink is ‘over there’ if they offer to get you one.
- Tell everyone you are on a health kick. Tell them you’ve been invited to so many events you need to watch how many empty alcohol calories you are consuming.
- Tell everyone you are the designated driver. Usually the easiest excuse to use. I mean who is going to question responsible driving?
So it is possible to survive the festive season without eating high risk foods or giving away that you are pregnant before you want to. Taking precautions during the festive season is wise however, if you accidentally eat a high risk food, it is not reason to panic. Listeria infection is fairly rare – about 65 cases per year in Australia with about 7 of these being pregnant women. However if you do notice any of the symptoms mentioned above and think you may have been exposed to listeria, see your doctor immediately so that you can get treatment as soon as possible.
So here’s to a healthy and fun festive season.
Enjoy a festive orange juice instead of champagne
For more information on listeria visit Food Standards Australia.