Page modified at: 18/08/2010
WHAT TO EAT IN PREGNANCY
• fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or a glass of juice). Aim for at least five portions of a variety each day
•starchy foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes - try to choose wholegrain options
•foods rich in protein such as lean meat and chicken, fish (aim for at least two servings of fish a week, including one of oily fish), eggs and pulses (such as beans and lentils). These foods are also good sources of iron (see 'Do I need extra iron?' below)
• fibre. This helps prevent constipation and is found in wholegrain bread, pasta, rice, pulses and fruit and vegetables
•dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, which contain calcium
WHAT TO CUT DOWN IN PREGNANCY
Cut down on foods such as cakes and biscuits which are high in fat and sugars this will help to prevent you gaining too much weight in pregnancy.
Healthy snacks to have instead include malt loaf; currant buns without icing; sandwiches or pitta bread filled with cottage cheese, chicken or lean ham; low-fat yoghurts; vegetable and bean soups; and fruit including fresh, tinned in juice or dried fruit such as raisins or apricots.
VITAMINS AND MINERALS
You should take a daily 400 microgram (mcg) folic acid supplement from the time you stop using contraception until the 12th week of pregnancy.
You should also eat foods containing folate - the natural form of folic acid - such as green vegetables and brown rice, fortified bread and breakfast cereals.
Folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. If you would like to take your folic acid in a supplement that contains other vitamins, make sure it contains 400mcg folic acid and doesn't contain vitamin A. (See 'What to avoid'.)
If you have already had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect or have diabetes you should take a higher dose of folic acid – 5 milligrams (mg) a day – for the same period of time, and ask your GP for further advice.
Pregnant women can become deficient in iron, so make sure you have plenty of iron-rich foods. Try to have some food or drink containing vitamin C, such as fruit or vegetables or a glass of fruit juice, with any iron-rich meals because this might help your body absorb iron.
Tea and coffee can make it harder for our bodies to absorb iron, so cutting down on these drinks at meal times could help to improve iron levels in the body.
If the iron level in your blood becomes low, your GP or midwife will advise you to take iron supplements.
Good sources of iron include:
•fortified breakfast cereals
Although liver contains a lot of iron, you should avoid eating it while you're pregnant
You should take supplements containing 10mcg of vitamin D each day.
Vitamin D is found in a small number of foods but we get most of our vitamin D from summer sunlight - if you're out in the sun, remember to take care not to burn!
If you are of Asian origin, if you always cover up all your skin when you're outside, or if you rarely get outdoors, you may be particularly short of vitamin D. Ask your GP for more information.
If you receive Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance you're entitled to some free vitamin supplements from maternity and child health clinics.
You should avoid taking supplements containing vitamin A. Fish liver oil also contains high levels of vitamin A. Having too much vitamin A may harm your unborn baby.
You can eat most types of fish when you're pregnant. Eating fish is good for your health and the development of your baby. You just need to avoid some types of fish and limit the amount you eat of some others.
Avoid eating shark, swordfish and marlin when you’re pregnant and limit the amount of tuna as they could contain high levels of mercury which could affect your baby’s developing nervous system.
Have no more than two portions a week of any of these fish:
•oily fish, including mackerel, sardines, salmon, trout and fresh tuna
•sea bream, sea bass, turbot, halibut, rock salmon (also known as dogfish, flake, huss, rigg or rock eel)
This is because these types of fish can contain low levels of pollutants that can build up in the body over time, including dioxins and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).
Canned tuna doesn't count as oily fish, so you can eat this as well as your maximum two portions of oily fish – but don’t eat more than the recommended amount of tuna. And remember that if you’re eating fresh tuna this will count towards your two portions of oily fish (as well as your portions of tuna).
Don’t forget that eating fish is good for your health and the development of your baby, so you should still aim to eat at least two portions of fish a week, including one portion of oily fish.
WHAT NOT TO EAT WHEN PREGNANT
Some types of cheese
Avoid cheeses such as Camembert, Brie or chevre (a type of goats' cheese), or others that have a similar rind. You should also avoid soft blue cheeses.
These cheeses are made with mould and they can contain listeria, a type of bacteria that could harm your unborn baby.
Avoid all types of pâté, including vegetable. This is because pate can contain listeria.
Raw or partially cooked eggs
Avoid eating raw eggs and food containing raw or partially-cooked eggs. Only eat eggs cooked enough for both the white and yolk to be solid. This is to avoid the risk of salmonella, which causes a type of food poisoning.
Raw or undercooked meat
Make sure you only eat meat that has been well cooked. 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.
Always wash your hands after handling raw meat, and keep it separate from foods that are ready to eat. This is because raw meat contains bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
Liver products and supplements containing vitamin A
Make sure you don't have too much vitamin A. This means you should avoid eating liver and liver products such as pâté and avoid taking supplements containing vitamin A or fish liver oils (which contain high levels of vitamin A). You need some vitamin A, but having too much means that levels could build up and may harm your unborn baby. Ask your GP or midwife if you want more information.
Some types of fish
You can eat most types of fish when you're pregnant. But there are a few types you should avoid and some others where you should limit the amount you eat. See the Eating fish section on this page for more information.
Undercooked ready meals
Avoid eating ready meals that are undercooked. Make sure you heat them until they are steaming hot all the way through.
Avoid raw shellfish when you're pregnant. This is because raw shellfish can sometimes contain harmful bacteria and viruses that could cause food poisoning. And food poisoning can be particularly unpleasant when you're pregnant.
When you’re pregnant, it’s best to stop drinking alcohol altogether. But if you do drink, have no more than 1 or 2 units of alcohol, once or twice a week and don’t get 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.
You should limit the amount of caffeine you have each day, but you don't need to cut it out completely. Caffeine occurs naturally in a range of foods, such as coffee, tea and chocolate, and it's also added to some soft drinks and 'energy' drinks.
It's important not to have too much caffeine. This is because high levels of caffeine can result in babies having a low birth weight, which can increase the risk of health problems in later life. High levels of caffeine might also cause miscarriage. It's best not to have more than 200mg of caffeine a day when you're pregnant.
The amount of caffeine in food and drink will vary, but as a guide each of these 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
So if you eat a bar of plain chocolate and drink one mug of filter coffee in a day, or if you drink two mugs of tea and a can of cola, you'll have almost reached 200mg. But don’t worry if you occasionally have more than this, because the risks are likely to be very small.
Remember that 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.
WHAT ABOUT PEANUTS?
It isn’t clear from the latest science if 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 choose to do so, unless you’re allergic to them yourself.
GARDENING AND CAT LITTER
Always wear gloves when you're gardening or changing cat litter, and wash your hands afterwards. This is to avoid toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by a parasite found in meat, cat faeces and soil. The infection can be harmful to unborn babies.
WHAT OTHER FOODS CAN I TAKE WHEN PREGNANT?
· Shellfish, including prawns - as long as they are part of a hot meal and have been properly cooked
· Live or bio yoghurt
· Probiotic drinks
· Fromage frais
· Creme fraiche
· Soured cream
· Spicy food
Mayonnaise, ice cream, salad dressing - as long as they haven't been made using raw egg. Generally, mayonnaise, ice cream and salad dressing you buy in shops will have been made with pasteurised egg, which means it's safe to eat. But it's better to avoid home-made versions if they contain raw egg. If you're not sure about any of these foods when you're eating out, ask staff for more information
Honey - it's fine for pregnant women but honey isn't suitable for babies under a year old
Many types of cheese including:
Hard cheese, such as Cheddar and Parmesan , Feta, Ricotta, Mascarpone , Cream cheese , Mozzarella , Cottage cheese , processed cheese, such as cheese spreads.
WEIGHT GAIN IN PREGNANCY
Weight gain in pregnancy varies and depends on what you weighed before you became pregnant. But most women put on 10–12.5kg (22–28lb) over the whole of their pregnancy. If you gain too much weight, this can affect your health and increase your blood pressure. But equally, it’s important that you don’t try to diet. If you're concerned about your weight, talk to your GP or midwife.