Can I Eat Papaya While Pregnant?

two pieces of cut papaya

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A healthy diet is an important part of pregnancy. You want to not only make sure you're keeping your own body healthy, but also eat what's best for your baby. It's almost a foregone conclusion that fruit is part of a healthy diet, but that's not necessarily the case for all fruits when you're pregnant. Some of your favorite fruits may be OK to eat in some cases but not others. One of those fruits is papaya.

Papaya can be a refreshing snack on a warm day or a sweet treat after a hearty meal. But when you're pregnant, you have to be a little more careful about the papayas you choose to eat. Learn more about how to make papaya a healthy part of your pregnancy diet and when it's best to avoid this luscious tropical fruit.

Eating Papaya During Pregnancy

Ripe papayas are a good source of vitamin C, which is an important nutrient during pregnancy. A small papaya, on average, can provide about 95 mg of vitamin C, which is more than the daily recommended value of 85 mg for pregnant people. Papayas also contain fiber, which helps avoid or relieve constipation during pregnancy.

However, unripe papaya is a different story, as there has been speculation that it could lead to miscarriage. While experts assure there is limited science to support this belief, unripe papaya does contain latex, which could be dangerous. A study performed on pregnant rats showed that consuming unripe papaya caused early contractions.

"Chemicals that cause miscarriage are called abortifacients," says Yen Hope Tran, DO, OB/GYN at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA. Even though the latex-laden papaya was associated with contractions, not miscarriages, in the rat study, Tran points to the chemical as a probable source of problems. "Latex has some hormone-like activity," she notes.

Every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about eating papaya while pregnant.

Is It Safe for Baby?

While there is no research to show the exact effects papaya has on human fetal development, many experts still urge pregnant people to err on the side of caution and avoid unripe papayas, given the link between unripe versions of the fruit and premature contractions in animal studies.

Ripe papaya, on the other hand, is a safe, nutritious fruit that can enhance a healthy pregnancy diet. If you want to eat papaya while expecting, fully ripe fruit is the safest bet.

Why You Should Be Cautious of Papaya While Pregnant

Eating ripe papaya while pregnant is totally fine—it's the unripe papaya you have to watch out for, due to the potentially harmful effects of ingesting latex while expecting.

Dr. Tran notes there's no strong evidence that contractions caused by unripe papaya could lead to miscarriage. "Still, as a physician, if a patient said that they were going to avoid papaya, I would not attempt to dissuade them," she says. "And if a patient was eating a lot of papayas, I would suggest avoiding unripe papayas."  

If you have already eaten some potentially unripe papaya, perhaps in a smoothie, Dr. Tran says there's little need for concern. If you're at all worried, be sure to bring it up with your doctor.

Safety Precautions of Papaya While Pregnant

Research surrounding eating papaya during pregnancy is minimal, but experts concur that the latex in unripe papayas should be avoided just in case. When you are fruit shopping, look for only ripe papayas.

"Ripeness in papaya can be checked by its odor, particularly near the stem," Dr. Tran says. "If it has no smell, it is unripe. If it smells sweet, it is ripe, and if it has an unpleasant smell it is overripe. Ripe papayas also are typically not green, and yield to gentle pressure."

If you don't trust your ability to select a ripe papaya over an unripe papaya, it's probably better to just avoid papaya altogether while pregnant. Rest assured that you can get your vitamins and nutrients from other foods that you can feel confident eating. Your baby will be fine with no papaya during your pregnancy.

When Can I Resume Eating Papaya?

Kate White, MD, MPH, an Associate Professor of OB/GYN at the Boston University School of Medicine, says you can welcome papaya back into your diet if you are at the very end of your pregnancy and have gotten a green light from your doctor. "Since contractions are the biggest risk, once you're at term and your doctor thinks it's OK if you were to go into labor, then you can eat whatever form of papaya you want," she says.

Most of the potential problems with papaya, if they exist in humans, would only be of concern early in pregnancy, Dr. Tran adds. Papaya should have no bearing on your health or your baby's health after you've given birth. However, it's best to check with your doctor before consuming papaya if you had previously been avoiding it.

Pregnancy Safe Alternatives

Though ripe papaya can be safe during pregnancy, some may want to be extra cautious and avoid it completely — and that's fine! Other fruits have similar nutritional value, taste, and texture to satisfy a craving just as well.

Melons

Kim Langdon, MD, OB/GYN, for Medzino, recommends melons as a fine, refreshing substitute for papaya because it has a similar texture, giving it the same "mouth feel." Cantaloupe, in particular, is a great source of vitamin C as well as potassium and fiber. A cup has about 250 mg of potassium and 1 g of fiber.

Oranges

If your main goal is to replace the vitamin C you're not getting from papaya, consider oranges. One orange has about 82 mg of vitamin C — which puts you right on track for your daily intake. By eating one orange per day, you're consuming the vitamin C needed for your body and your baby. Vitamin C is an important nutrient for the development of a baby's teeth and bones.

Apples

Apples are a healthier sweet treat than something that's pure sugar, like candy or cookies. An apple can sub in for a bit of papaya after a meal for dessert or when sugar cravings strike at any point of the day. An apple provides crunchy sweetness as well as some healthy fiber.

A Word From Verywell

Papaya is a good source of vitamin C, which is important during pregnancy for your baby's development, so if you're a fan of papaya, you can continue eating it. Just be sure to choose ripe papaya as a precaution to keep your baby safe. The latex in unripe papaya may be linked to early contractions, though there is not a lot of science beyond limited animal research to back this claim. To err on the safe side, stick with fully ripe papaya or other fruits, and be sure to discuss your diet with your healthcare provider during all stages of pregnancy.

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