Foods to avoid in pregnancy
There are some foods to avoid or take care with when you’re pregnant, because they might make you ill or harm your baby. Make sure you know the important facts about which foods you should avoid or take precautions with when you’re pregnant..
- Some types of cheese
- Raw or partly cooked eggs
- Vitamin/fish oil supplements
- Milk and yoghurt
- Ice cream
- Foods with soil on them
- Herbal teas
- Raw or undercooked meaz
- Cold cured meats
- Raw shellfish
- Smoked fish
Cheeses to avoid in pregnancy
Soft cheeses with white rinds
Don’t eat mould-ripened soft cheese (cheeses with a white rind) such as brie and camembert. This includes mould-ripened soft goats’ cheese, such as chevre. These cheeses are only safe to eat in pregnancy if they’ve been cooked.
Soft blue cheeses
You should also avoid soft blue-veined cheeses such as Danish blue, gorgonzola and roquefort. Soft blue cheeses are only safe to eat in pregnancy if they’ve been cooked.
The advice to avoid some soft cheeses is because they are less acidic than hard cheeses and contain more moisture, which means they can be an ideal environment for harmful bacteria, such as listeria, to grow in.
Although infection with listeria (listeriosis) is rare, it is important to take special precautions in pregnancy, because even a mild form of the illness in a pregnant woman can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illness in a newborn baby.
Below are the symptoms of listeria. If you’re pregnant and showing signs of listeria infection, seek medical help straight away.
Cheeses that are safe to eat in pregnancy
All hard cheeses are safe in pregnancy
You can eat hard cheeses such as cheddar, parmesan and stilton, even if they’re made with unpasteurised milk. Hard cheeses don’t contain as much water as soft cheeses, so bacteria are less likely to grow in them. It is possible for hard cheese to contain listeria, but the risk is considered to be low.
Soft cheeses that are safe to eat in pregnancy
Other than mould-ripened soft cheeses, all other soft types of cheese are OK to eat, providing they’re made from pasteurised milk. These include:
- cottage cheese
- cream cheese
- goats’ cheese
- processed cheeses, such as cheese spreads
Cooked soft cheeses that are safe to eat in pregnancy
Thorough cooking should kill any bacteria in cheese, so it should be safe to eat cooked mould-ripened soft cheese, such as brie, camembert and chevre, and cooked soft blue cheese, such as roquefort or gorgonzola, or dishes that contain them. It’s important to make sure the cheese is thoroughly cooked until it’s steaming hot all the way through.
Pâté in pregnancy
Avoid all types of pâté, including vegetable pâtés, as they can contain listeria.
Avoid raw or partially cooked eggs if you’re pregnant
Make sure eggs are thoroughly cooked until the whites and yolks are solid, to prevent the risk of salmonella food poisoning. Salmonella food poisoning is unlikely to harm your baby, but it can give you a severe bout of diarrhoea and vomiting.
Avoid foods that contain raw and undercooked eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise. If you wish to eat dishes that contain raw or partially cooked eggs, consider using pasteurised liquid egg.
Raw or undercooked meat is risky in pregnancy
Do not eat raw or undercooked meat, including meat joints and steaks cooked rare, because of the potential risk of toxoplasmosis. Cook all meat and poultry thoroughly so it’s steaming hot and there’s no trace of pink or blood – especially with poultry, pork, sausages and minced meat, including burgers.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite that can be found in raw and undercooked meat, unpasteurised goats’ milk, soil, cat faeces and untreated water. If you are pregnant, the infection can damage your baby, but it’s important to remember that toxoplasmosis in pregnancy is very rare.
Toxoplasmosis often has no symptoms, but if you feel you may have been at risk, discuss it with your GP, midwife or obstetrician. If you are infected while you’re pregnant, treatment for toxoplasmosis is available.
Wash all surfaces and utensils thoroughly after preparing raw meat to avoid the spread of harmful bugs. Wash and dry your hands after touching or handling raw meat.
Read more about toxoplasmosis.
Be cautious with cold cured meats in pregnancy
Many cold meats, such as salami, Parma ham, chorizo and pepperoni, are not cooked, they are just cured and fermented. This means that there’s a risk they contain toxoplasmosis-causing parasites. It’s best to check the instructions on the pack to see whether the product is ready to eat or needs cooking first.
For ready-to-eat meats, you can reduce any risk from parasites by freezing cured or fermented meats for four days at home before you eat them. Freezing kills most parasites and makes the meat safer to eat.
If you’re planning to cook the meat (for instance, pepperoni on pizza), then you don’t need to freeze it first.
If you’re eating out in a restaurant that sells cold cured or fermented meats, they may not have been frozen. If you’re concerned, ask the staff or avoid eating it.
Liver can harm your unborn baby
Don’t eat liver or liver-containing products such as liver pâté, liver sausage or haggis, as they may contain a lot of vitamin A. Too much vitamin A can harm your baby.
Vitamin and fish oil supplements
Don’t take high-dose multivitamin supplements, fish liver oil supplements, or any supplements containing vitamin A.
Fish to avoid in pregnancy
You can eat most types of fish when you’re pregnant. Eating fish is good for your health and the development of your baby, but you should avoid some types of fish and limit the amount you eat of some others.
When you’re pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you shouldn’t eat shark, swordfish or marlin.
Fish to restrict :
You should also limit the amount of tuna you eat to:
- no more than two tuna steaks a week (about 140g cooked or 170g raw each), or
- four medium-sized cans of tuna a week (about 140g when drained)
This is because tuna contains more mercury than other types of fish. The amount of mercury we get from food isn’t harmful for most people, but if you take in high levels of mercury when you’re pregnant, this could affect your baby’s developing nervous system.
When you’re pregnant, you should also avoid having more than two portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring, because it can contain pollutants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Remember, fresh tuna is an oily fish, so if you eat two fresh tuna steaks in one week, you shouldn’t eat any other oily fish that week.
Tinned tuna doesn’t count as oily fish, so you can eat this on top of the maximum amount of two portions of oily fish (as long as it’s not fresh tuna or swordfish). But remember not to eat more than four medium-sized cans of tinned tuna a week when you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
Fish that’s safe to eat:
There is no need to limit the amount of white fish and cooked shellfish you eat when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, apart from shark, swordfish and marlin.
Shellfish in pregnancy
Always eat cooked rather than raw shellfish (including mussels, lobster, crab, prawns, scallops and clams) when you’re pregnant, as they can contain harmful bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning. Cold pre-cooked prawns are fine.
Smoked fish in pregnancy is safe
Smoked fish, which includes smoked salmon and smoked trout, is considered safe to eat in pregnancy.
Sushi and pregnancy
It’s fine to eat raw or lightly cooked fish in dishes such as sushi when you’re pregnant, as long as any raw wild fish used to make it has been frozen first. This is because, occasionally, wild fish contains small parasitic worms that could make you ill. Freezing kills the worms and makes raw fish safe to eat. Cooking will also kill them.
Lots of the sushi sold in shops is not made at the shop. This type of sushi should be fine to eat – if a shop or restaurant buys in ready-made sushi, the raw fish used to make it will have been subject to an appropriate freezing treatment. If you’re in any doubt, you might want to avoid eating the kinds of sushi that contain raw fish, such as tuna.
The safest way to enjoy sushi is to choose the fully cooked or vegetarian varieties, which can include:
- cooked seafood – for example, fully cooked eel (unagi) or shrimp (ebi)
- vegetables – for example, cucumber (kappa) maki
- avocado – for example, California roll
- fully cooked egg
If a shop or restaurant makes its own sushi on the premises, it must still be frozen first before being served. If you’re concerned, ask the staff.
If you make your own sushi at home, freeze the fish for at least four days before using it.
Peanuts are safe in pregnancy
You can eat peanuts or food containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) during pregnancy, unless you are allergic to them, or a health professional advises you not to.
You may have heard that peanuts should be avoided during pregnancy. This is because the government previously advised women to avoid eating peanuts if there was a history of allergy (such as asthma, eczema, hay fever and food allergy) in their child’s immediate family.
This advice has now been changed, because the latest research has shown no clear evidence that eating peanuts during pregnancy affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy.
Milk and yoghurt in pregnancy
Stick to pasteurised or ultra-heat treated (UHT) milk – which is sometimes called long-life milk.
If only raw (unpasteurised) milk is available, boil it first. Don’t drink unpasteurised goats’ or sheep’s milk, or eat foods made from them, such as soft goats’ cheese.
All types of yoghurt, including bio, live and low-fat, are fine. Just check that any homemade yoghurt is made with pasteurised milk – and if not, avoid it.
Ice cream in pregnancy
Soft ice creams should be fine to eat when you’re pregnant, as they are processed products made with pasteurised milk and eggs, so any risk of salmonella food poisoning has been eliminated.
For homemade ice cream, use a pasteurised egg substitute or follow an egg-free recipe.
Caffeine in pregnancy
High levels of caffeine can result in babies having a low birth weight, which can increase the risk of health problems in later life. Too much caffeine can also cause miscarriage.
Caffeine is naturally found in lots of foods, such as coffee, tea (including green tea) and chocolate, and is added to some soft drinks and energy drinks. Some cold and flu remedies also contain caffeine. Talk to your midwife, doctor or pharmacist before taking these remedies.
You don’t need to cut out caffeine completely, but don’t have more than 200mg a day. The approximate amount of caffeine found in food and drinks is:
- one mug of instant coffee: 100mg
- one mug of filter coffee: 140mg
- one mug of tea: 75mg
- one can of cola: 40mg
- one can of energy drink: 80mg
- one 50g bar of plain (dark) chocolate: most UK brands contain less than 25mg
- one 50g bar of milk chocolate: most UK brands contain less than 10mg
So, if you have one can of cola and one mug of filter coffee, for example, you have reached almost 200mg of caffeine. Don’t worry if you occasionally have more than this amount – the risks are small. To cut down on caffeine, try decaffeinated tea and coffee, fruit juice or mineral water instead of regular tea, coffee, cola and energy drinks.
Herbal and green teas in pregnancy
There’s little information on the safety of herbal and green teas in pregnancy, so it’s best to drink them in moderation.
Vitamin supplements in pregnancy
Eating a healthy, varied diet in pregnancy will help you to get most of the vitamins and minerals you need. There are some vitamins and minerals that are especially important.
It’s best to get vitamins and minerals from the food you eat, but when you are pregnant you will need to take some supplements as well, to make sure you get everything you need. It’s recommended that you take :
- 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day throughout your pregnancy – you should also carry on taking this after your baby is born if you breastfeed
- 400 micrograms of folic acid each day – you should take this from before you are pregnant until you are 12 weeks pregnant
Do not take vitamin A supplements, or any supplements containing vitamin A (retinol), as too much could harm your baby.
You can get supplements from pharmacies and supermarkets, or your GP may be able to prescribe them for you. If you want to get your folic acid or vitamin D from a multivitamin tablet, make sure that the tablet does not contain vitamin A (or retinol).
Folic acid before and during pregnancy
Folic acid is important for pregnancy, as it can help to prevent birth defects known as neural tube defects, including spina bifida. You should take a 400 microgram folic acid tablet every day while you are trying to get pregnant and until you are 12 weeks pregnant. If you didn’t take folic acid before you conceived, you should start as soon as you find out that you are pregnant.
You should also eat foods that contain folate (the natural form of folic acid), such as green leafy vegetables and brown rice. Some breakfast cereals and some fat spreads such as margarine have folic acid added to them. It is difficult to get the amount of folate recommended for pregnancy from food alone, which is why it is important to take a folic acid supplement.
Higher dose folic acid
Some women have an increased risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect, and are advised to take a higher dose of 5 milligrams (mg) of folic acid each day until they are 12 weeks pregnant. Women have an increased risk if:
- they or their partner have a neural tube defect
- they have had a previous pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect
- they or their partner have a family history of neural tube defects
- they have diabetes
In addition, women who are taking anti-epileptic medication may also need to take a higher dose of folic acid..
Vitamin D in pregnancy
Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are needed to keep bones and teeth healthy.
You need to take vitamin D during your pregnancy to provide your baby with enough vitamin D for the first few months of its life. You should take a supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day when you are pregnant and if you breastfeed.
In children, not having enough vitamin D can cause their bones to soften and can lead to rickets (a disease that affects bone development in children).
Vitamin D can be found naturally in oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel and sardines), eggs and meat. Some manufacturers add it to some breakfast cereals, soya products, some dairy products, powdered milk, and fat spreads such as margarine. It is difficult to get enough vitamin D from food alone.
Our bodies also make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to summer sunlight. The amount of time you need in the sun to make enough vitamin D is different for every person, and depends on things such as skin type, the time of day and the time of year. However, you don’t need to sunbathe: the amount of sun you need to make enough vitamin D is less than the amount that causes tanning or burning.
If you have darker skin (for example, if you are of African, African Caribbean or south Asian origin) or always cover your skin when outside, you may be at particular risk of vitamin D deficiency.
Iron in pregnancy
Lean meat, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, and nuts contain iron. If you’d like to eat peanuts or foods that contain peanuts (such as peanut butter) during pregnancy, you can do so as part of a healthy balanced diet unless you’re allergic to them, or your health professional advises you not to.
Many breakfast cereals have iron added. If the iron level in your blood becomes low, your GP or midwife will advise you to take iron supplements.
Vitamin C in pregnancy
Vitamin C protects cells and helps to keep them healthy. A balanced diet containing fruit and vegetables, including broccoli, citrus fruits, tomatoes, bell peppers, and blackcurrants, can provide all the vitamin C that you need.
Calcium in pregnancy
Calcium is vital for making your baby’s bones and teeth. Dairy products and fish with edible bones – such as sardines – are rich in calcium. Breakfast cereals, dried fruit – such as figs and apricots – bread, almonds, tofu (a vegetable protein made from soya beans) and green leafy vegetables – such as watercress, broccoli and curly kale – are other good sources of calcium.
Vegetarian, vegan and special diets in pregnancy
A varied and balanced vegetarian diet should give enough nutrients for you and your baby during pregnancy. However, you might find it more difficult to get enough iron and vitamin B12. If you are vegan (you cut out all animal products from your diet), or you follow a restricted diet because of food intolerance (for example, a gluten-free diet for coeliac disease) or for religious reasons you will be referred to a dietitian for advice on how to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need for you and your baby.