What you can and can’t eat during pregnancy

Your guide to what foods are safe to eat during pregnancy, and what you should avoid

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Foods you should avoid during pregnancy

Some types of cheese

Steer clear of soft cheeses, such as Camembert, Brie, unpasteurised goats’ cheese and blue cheese. These cheeses are made with mould and can contain listeria, a type of bacteria that could harm your unborn baby. It is, however, safe to eat hard cheese, such as Cheddar, even if it’s unpasteurised.

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Liver/vitamin A

Liver and liver products, like pâté, can contain a lot of vitamin A. Supplements containing vitamin A should also be avoided. You need some vitamin A, but having too much means that levels could build up and may harm your unborn baby.

Pâté

Avoid all types of pâté, including vegetable. This is because pâté can contain listeria.

Raw or partially cooked eggs

Avoid eating raw eggs and food containing raw or partially-cooked eggs. Only eat eggs that have been cooked enough for both the white and yolk to be solid. Raw eggs may contain salmonella, which causes food poisoning, which can be particularly unpleasant when you’re pregnant.

Raw or undercooked meat

Make sure you only eat meat that has been well cooked as raw meat can contain salmonella and lead to food poisoning. This is especially important with poultry and products made from minced meat, such as sausages and burgers. Make sure these are cooked until they are steaming hot all the way through and no pink meat is left.

Be sure to wash your hands after handling raw meat, and keep it separate from foods other foods.

Some types of fish

Avoid eating shark, swordfish and marlin. Limit the amount of tuna you eat to no more than two tuna steaks a week (weighing about 140g cooked or 170g raw) or four medium-size cans of tuna a week (with a drained weight of about 140g per can). This is because of the levels of mercury in these fish. At high levels, mercury can harm a baby’s developing nervous system.

Also, avoid raw shellfish which can sometimes contain harmful bacteria and viruses that could cause food poisoning.

Oily fish are recommended for the essential fatty acids they contain, but don’t exceed two portions a week as they could contain harmful pollutants. Oily fish includes fresh tuna (not canned tuna), mackerel, sardines and trout.

Undercooked ready meals

Make sure you heat ready meals until they are steaming hot all the way through.

Unwashed salad

Leafy green salads are fine as long as they’re throughly washed first. Coleslaw can contain listeria. Also, avoid salads made with homemade mayonnaise, which contains raw egg.

Alcohol

The Department of Health recommends that women completely avoid alcohol during pregnancy.

However, recent advice from NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) is slightly less prescriptive, advising that pregnant women should limit their alcohol intake to less than 1.5 units per day and, if possible, avoid alcohol completely in the first three months.

Whether you drink or not will be a choice only you can make, though if you do, it’s wise to have no more than 1 or 2 units of alcohol, once or twice a week, and avoid getting drunk.

A unit is half a pint of standard strength beer, lager or cider, or a pub measure of spirit. A glass of wine is about 2 units and alcopops are about 1.5 units. The labels on these should tell you how many units are in each bottle/serve – it’s not a case of one bottle equals one unit.

Read more about whether alcohol is safe during pregnancy.

Foods you don’t need to avoid in pregnancy

Cooked shellfish

You can eat shellfish, including prawns, as long as they are piping hot, completely cooked through and part of a hot meal.

Mayonnaise, ice cream and salad dressing

These are fine as long as they haven’t been made using raw egg. Most mayonnaise, ice cream and salad dressing you buy in shops will have been made with pasteurised egg, which means it’s safeto eat. But it’s better to avoid home-made versions if they contain raw egg.

Peanuts

The latest research isn’t clear as to whether eating peanuts (or not eating them) when you’re pregnant affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy. So if you would like to eat peanuts or foods containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) when you’re pregnant, you can do, unless you’re allergic to them yourself.

Honey

It’s safe for pregnant women to eat honey but it isn’t suitable for babies under a year old.

Many types of cheese

  • Hard cheese, such as Cheddar and Parmesan
  • Feta
  • Ricotta
  • Mascarpone
  • Cream cheese
  • Mozzarella
  • Cottage cheese
  • Processed cheese, such as cheese spreads

Dairy products

  • Live or bio yoghurt
  • Probiotic drinks
  • Fromage frais
  • Creme fraiche
  • Soured cream

How much caffeine can you drink in pregnancy?

Too much caffeine may be linked to an increased risk of miscarriage or low birth weight. The Food Standards Agency say that pregnant women should drink no more than 200mg a day

The Food Standards Agency guide says each of the below contain roughly 200mg or less of caffeine:

  • 2 mugs of instant coffee (100mg each)
  • 1 mug of filter coffee (140mg each)
  • 2 mugs of tea (75mg each)
  • 5 cans of cola (up to 40mg each)
  • 2 cans of ‘energy’ drink (up to 80mg each)
  • 4 (50g) bars of plain chocolate (up to 50 mg each). Caffeine in milk chocolate is about half that of plain chocolate

Remember caffeine is also found in certain cold and flu remedies, so always check with your GP or another health professional before taking any of these.

Mum’s story

“I had dodgy food at a posh restaurant”

“When I was heavily pregnant we were out at a business lunch event where the menu was already set for us. Usually I just avoided anything with mayo on or anything too creamy, but the starter for vegetarians looked OK, it just had some kind of cheese, aubergines and that kind of thing. But very quickly I started to feel really weird and I had to rush to the loos where I was sick. I felt much better after that but I had to go home and I was really worried. I called my doctor but she said that luckily, because I was sick quickly it showed my body had just rejected what it didn’t like and that I didn’t have food poisoning.”

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Nat, 32, mum to Johnnie, 13 months


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