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Can You Eat Poppy Seeds While Pregnant? A Drug Expert Explains The Risks

There’s a long list of dos and don’ts that you are supposed to follow during pregnancy, and sometimes it can be hard to keep track of. You know you should avoid alcoholic drinks and smoking, but when it comes to foods, the lines can be blurry. Your doctor may warn you about the risks of eating unpasteurized cheese and cold deli meat, but may not be specific on other foods. If you’ve been craving a scrumptious poppy seed bagel, someone may have asked you about being able to eat poppy seeds while pregnant. Never thought it was an issue? Apparently a lot of people do.

In an interview with Romper, clinical pharmacist, Bineesh Moyeed Pharm.D, says that there is not enough clear evidence or research to suggest that poppy seeds in any amount are safe to eat during pregnancy, so you may just want to avoid them altogether. “Even though the amount of poppy seeds in foods such as bagels and muffins is very small, I would still recommend pregnant mothers err on the side of caution and wait to eat them until after their baby is born.” She also suggests that you always consult your physician about any and all medications, drinks, and foods you eat during pregnancy.

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You’ve been enjoying those little black seeds safely for so many years, so why should you avoid them when you’re pregnant? The concern over poppy seeds stems from the connection they have to opiates and heroin, explains Moyeed, and the fact that even in the smallest quantities, they can leave trace amounts of opiates or morphine in your system, especially if the seeds are contaminated. “In large amounts, opiates have been proven to be extremely harmful to a pregnancy and unborn baby,” she notes, “but the risks posed by negligible amounts are unknown.” So, just to be on the safe side, you may want to hold off on those poppy seed muffins for now.

Poppy seeds are used in a variety of dishes, from salad dressings to muffins, and their distinct taste and bluish black color makes them a culinary favorite. But while the seeds only contain trace amounts of opiates, it is the actual sap from their flowers that is used to make harmful drugs like heroin. Poppy seeds are planted to bloom poppy flowers, explained PBS, and when the petals of the flowers wilt and fall, the round seed pod inside is exposed. Not only does the pod contain hundreds of poppy seeds, the website noted, it also contains crude opium in the form of a milky white sap. That sap is then scraped out and used and sold, and the seeds leftover are cleaned and then used for culinary purposes.

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It’s when trace amounts of that crude opium sap are left on the poppy seeds that they can pose a risk. When you eat those contaminated poppy seeds, explained Britannica, trace amounts of opiates can even show up on a drug test, and it’s probably because of the morphine residue left on them. In fact, according to a report by WCPO Cincinnati, a a Kentucky mother almost lost custody of her baby when she was given a prenatal drug test that came back positive. Claiming that she had not been on drugs, the new mother sued the hospital, the report noted, and explained that she had just eaten bagel chips topped with poppy seeds as a snack before going into labor, which made her test positive for opiates.

So while the health risks poppy seeds can pose to your baby are unknown, keep in mind that with any drug testing during your pregnancy, the real world ramifications can be serious. If you are planning on taking the cautious route, make note of the foods you’re eating, and try to use alternatives like nuts or sesame seeds when you’re craving that crunch. Luckily pregnancy doesn’t last forever and before you know it, you can go back to throwing all that poppy seed caution in the wind.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.