You may have heard that it’s not wise for pregnant women to eat pawpaw (papaya). Here, we speak to an expert dietician to find out the truth.
In a nutshell
Ripe papaya, which has a yellow skin, is safe to eat during pregnancy. But you may want to consider avoiding unripe papaya, which has a green skin: while there is no clear evidence to say it’s harmful to you or your unborn baby, a lab-based study on rat wombs has suggested that the latex found in unripe papaya can cause contractions.
The expert view
“It is safe to eat ripe papaya,” says Rebecca McManamon, consultant dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association (BDA).
“But, while there’s no evidence to say unripe papaya is unsafe for pregnant women, it might be best to avoid it.”
“In some cultures, there’s a saying that unripe papaya can cause miscarriage and premature labour. There’s no evidence for this but there is some suggestion – after a lab-based study carried out on uterine (womb) muscle of rats – that the high concentration of latex found in unripe papaya could cause uterine contractions.”
What should I do if I think I’ve eaten unripe papaya?
“There’s no need to be too worried,” says Rebecca McManamon, “as the evidence of potential harm is limited.”
And, even if the latex in unripe papaya is definitely harmful, you would have to eat a huge amount of unripe papaya to ingest enough latex for it to have any ill effect on you or your baby.
What’s in unripe papaya that’s different to ripe papaya?
Yellow-skinned papaya is super-healthy and contains all sorts of things pregnant women should be eating, such as:
- Vitamin A
But green-skinned (unripe) papaya also contain latex.
The study on rat womb tissue suggested that the milky white latex in the unripe papaya can cause “spasmodic contraction of the uterine muscles similar those produced by oxytocin and prostaglandin”, the hormones that can kickstart labour. Hence, the (unproven) theory that this could lead to miscarriage in early pregnancy, or early labour in late pregnancy.
Is papaya juice safe to drink during pregnancy?
If you’re juicing yellow-skinned, ripe papaya, that is totally fine. But you may want to avoid unripe papaya in a juice or a smoothie for all the reasons above. “And, if you’re unsure,” says Rebecca, “because it was prepared by someone else, you may want to skip it altogether.”