You’re pregnant! And going to Italy! Those two things are both totally awesome – congrats!
But what about eating in Italy while pregnant? Or just traveling around in general when you are expecting?
I recently went through the experience of being pregnant in Italy and it was pretty great. Not only did I become the most popular person in my apartment complex, but I was allowed to cut in line at the supermarket and (usually) given a seat on the bus. (Though, one time when I was 7.5 months pregnant, I had to give up my seat to an older woman. That was a long bus ride).
When I emailed my doctor my test results that showed I was pregnant, he replied back with a 128-page book of information that he wrote for patients. A lot of that book? What you can eat in Italy while pregnant.
There are some broad general rules that are widely followed across countries, but experiencing pregnancy in Italy made me realize that there are few absolutes in a pregnancy diet. Some of the rules recommended here are different from in the US, but ultimately it is up to you and your level of comfort (as well as any pesky cravings or food of aversions that might come along with being incinta).
Here’s wishing you a happy and healthy nine months, and a great trip to Italy!
Traveling in Italy while Pregnant:
Being pregnant in Italy is kind of awesome. People love babies so they get excited when you are visibly pregnant. People like to ask how long you have to go and try guess if it is a boy or girl. (Weirdly, when I was pregnant everyone correctly guessed I was having a boy. No one ever assumed G would be a girl).
There are no major considerations that are really specific to Italy that you need to keep in mind if you are traveling here while pregnant. Simply follow recommendations to stay hydrated while flying, and do not be shy asking for help lifting heavy items like your luggage whenever you need to.
If you have any concerns about your health or are worried about the baby- remember that emergency care in Italy is free. If you feel more comfortable, here is a list of English speaking doctors in Rome. When I first found out I was pregnant, my doctor advised me to come back to Rome from Sicily. It is not that there is anything dangerous about Sicily, but rather that I was staying in a fairly remote area away from medical care. Smaller towns might not have major medical facilities, which is just something to keep in mind.
Being pregnant didn’t stop me from flying or taking trains around Italy. But after the 7th month, I traveled with a note from my doctor saying that I was fit to fly. You may also want to invest in a pair of compression socks for the flight (which your doctor will probably recommend, too). I suggest getting a cute or patterned pair because it makes them feel less like a medical thing and more like a comfort accessory.
Eating in Italy while Pregnant:
So what food is safe to eat in Italy while you are pregnant?
Not all cheese in Italy is pasteurized so it is best to check when you are ordering. (Pasteurization is the process of heating foods/liquids to a high temperature to kill any bacteria). In Italian, you can ask if the cheese is “pastorizzato.”
As a general rule, cheese that is aged more than eight weeks is usually safe to eat during pregnancy because there is a low risk of listeria. That means all that Parmigiano Reggiano that is aged for 12/24/36 months is totally good to go. Pecorino, asiago, and provolone are also fine. For soft cheese, ricotta is also ok (it is pasteurized), as are scamorza, caciotta, and robiola (but you can always double check).
Mozzarella was the one thing I found very hard to give up. I specifically asked my doctor if I could eat it because I know it falls into the category of fresh cheese that is usually off-limits during pregnancy. I was told: “better not.” Mozzarella is cooked at a high temperature but not technically high enough to be considered pasteurized. That being said, there are some kinds of mozzarella made with pasteurized milk so you can always ask.
Other cheeses that you should not eat: taleggio, gorgonzola, and fontina.
Salami and Prosciutto
Salami and prosciutto crudo are both cured rather than cooked so they are not recommended during pregnancy, especially if you have tested negative for toxoplasmosis. In Italy, you are tested for toxoplasmosis every month during pregnancy but still told to avoid all of these. I also steered clear of other cured meats if I was not cooking them myself – including guanciale (the pork jowl bacon used in carbonara, gricia, and amatriciana). While we are on the topic of carbonara, that pasta dish is usually not recommended in pregnancy since it contains raw egg in the sauce.
Fresh fruits and vegetables
When I was pregnant and eating out in Italy, waiters would usually ask me if I wanted the “verdure” left off my plate. This really surprised me at first, but the fear here is our old nemesis toxoplasmosis. Make sure that any raw fruits and vegetables have been very well washed, or opt for cooked veggies and fruit that can easily be peeled.
Meats, carpaccio / crudi
When ordering meat, it is perfectly acceptable to request that it be “ben cotto” – well done.
If you see carpaccio on the menu, you might have to skip it while pregnant. Carpaccio is usually thinly sliced raw beef but it can also be used more broadly to refer to other meat or fish that is served raw in paper-thin slices.
Crudi is raw fish, which is sadly not recommended either! Sometimes you will see “gambero rosso” listed on the menu. These are very tasty red shrimp that are almost always served raw, even if this is not specified on the menu. I was very happy to be able to eat these again after I gave birth!
Global recommendations are to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy, but I was told by multiple doctors that I could have half a glass of wine with meals. This depends on your level of comfort. Waiters will likely offer to pour you some even if you are visibly pregnant. Having a little bit of wine while pregnant is socially acceptable in Italy.
Espresso is not more caffeinated than American coffee – merely more concentrated. It is recommended you not exceed more than two coffees a day.
Gelato and other desserts
Gelato is pasteurized if it is made on a modern machine. (It is also almost always already made with pasteurized milk). Some flavors incorporate eggs, so double check if you are unsure or stick to sorbetto (fruit flavors without egg or dairy).
However, it is some of the other desserts you have to watch out for because they contain raw egg yolk. This includes tiramisu. SAD FACE. I always asked the waiters what they had that did not include egg.
With those recommendations in mind – buon appetito!
What to wear in Italy while pregnant
If you are pregnant, being comfortable in your clothes is really what matters most. (I mean, there are so many things about pregnancy that make you uncomfortable, so fashion should not be one of them).
That being said, Italian women do have a certain style while pregnant. La bella figura (making a good impression) still matters, even with a bump. You do not really see pregnant women walking around in their husband’s old shirts or in baggy sweatpants.
That being said, a lot of Italian women tend to wear regular clothes instead of maternity clothes whenever possible. I purchased a few pairs of maternity jeans but was usually able to pick from a limited number of my shirts, sweaters and jackets that would fit over my growing baby belly.
Italian style tends to be fairly put together and you are here to live the dolce vita, so I would really suggest investing in a few cute maternity dresses like this one, or a longer maxi version. It helps take away from the disappointment of no wine and only some Italian cheese when you are dressed cute for dinner.
Here are a few maternity looks that would fit well with overall women’s style in Italy:
Do you have any other tips or questions about traveling and eating in Italy while pregnant? Anything you found to be unexpected or different?
And in case you are planning to stay, here is what it is like to give birth in Italy.