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Unhealthy Diet During Pregnancy

By Erica Jacques ; Updated June 13, 2017

Pregnant women are expected to follow a healthy eating plan throughout their pregnancy for optimal development of their unborn baby. Though a treat from time to time to satisfy a pregnancy craving is generally ok, too much junk food during pregnancy can actually be dangerous to both mother and baby.

Pregnancy and Nutrition

When a woman finds out she is pregnant, she must make near immediate changes to her diet and lifestyle. Not only does what she eats and drinks directly affect her baby, but missing nutrients in her diet can increase the risk of both pregnancy and birth-related complications. Many foods should be avoided during pregnancy because of their risk of harm to the mother and her developing baby. However, even women who avoid these foods can cause their babies harm if they do not get enough of the vital nutrients their babies need.

Foods to Avoid

Pregnant women have a long list of foods to avoid. Some, like alcohol and high-mercury fish, can cause direct harm to the developing baby. The American Pregnancy Association reports that when consumed during pregnancy, both can cause developmental delays in children. Other foods have a high risk of food-borne illnesses, which can indirectly affect the developing baby. These include soft cheeses, cold deli meats and unpasteurized foods. Finally, some food ingredients should be moderated. Caffeine, for instance, can cause low birth weight or even miscarriage if consumed in excess, though the American Pregnancy Association reports that 300mg is the cut-off point for pregnant women.

Junk Foods

In addition to avoiding certain foods, pregnant women should also limit the amount of junk foods in their diet. Junk foods may take the place of other important nutrients. A hamburger and fries has far less nutritional content than a piece of baked chicken, a sweet potato and a leafy green salad. It also contains more fat and calories. While indulging in a treat from time to time is generally ok, eating too much junk food can cause a woman to miss out on key ingredients her developing baby needs. Also, there is some evidence that junk food consumed during pregnancy can cause problems for the baby later in life. A research review in the Washington Post revealed that high amounts of fats and sugars during pregnancy may predispose offspring to diabetes.


Pregnant women need extra nutrients during pregnancy to support both their own bodily changes and the needs of their developing child. When a woman does not get enough of these key ingredients, such as folic acid, iron and calcium, she may put both herself and her baby in danger of health complications. For instance, folic acid is important for the baby’s brain and spinal cord development. Not getting enough can put her baby at risk for brain damage and spinal deformities. In addition, inadequate iron intake can put mom at risk for developing anemia as her blood supply increases. Taking a prenatal vitamin can help; however, no supplement can take the place of a healthy diet.

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