Healthy eating

A healthy diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle at any time, but is especially vital if you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy. Eating healthily during pregnancy will help your baby to develop and grow.

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You don't need to go on a special diet, but it's important to eat a variety of different foods every day to get the right balance of nutrients that you and your baby need. 

It's best to get vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat, but when you're pregnant you need to take some supplements as well, to make sure you get everything you need.

Read more about vitamins and supplements in pregnancy

There are also certain foods that should be avoided in pregnancy.

You will probably find that you are hungrier than usual, but you don't need to "eat for two" – even if you are expecting twins or triplets.

Have a healthy breakfast every day, because this can help you to avoid snacking on foods that are high in fat and sugar.

Eating healthily often means just changing the amounts of different foods you eat so that your diet is varied, rather than cutting out all your favourites. You can use the Eatwell Guide to get the balance of your diet right. The eatwell plate shows you how much to eat from each food group.

You will need to be careful with your diet if you develop gestational diabetes – your doctor or midwife will advise you.

Fruit and vegetables in pregnancy

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables because these provide vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre, which helps digestion and can help prevent constipation.

Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day – these can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Always wash fresh fruit and vegetables carefully.

Find out what counts as a portion of fruit or vegetables.

Starchy foods (carbohydrates) in pregnancy

Starchy foods are an important source of energy, vitamins and fibre, and are satisfying without containing too many calories. They include bread, potatoes, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, maize, millet, oats, sweet potatoes, yams and cornmeal.

These foods should make up just over a third of the food you eat. Choose wholegrain instead of processed (white) varieties, or potatoes with their skins on, when you can as they contain more fibre.

Protein in pregnancy

Eat some protein foods every day. Sources of protein include:

  • beans 
  • pulses 
  • fish 
  • eggs
  • meat (but avoid liver) 
  • poultry 
  • nuts

Choose lean meat, remove the skin from poultry, and try not to add extra fat or oil when cooking meat. Read more about eating meat in a healthy way.

Make sure eggs, poultry, burgers, sausages and whole cuts of meat such as lamb, beef and pork are cooked all the way through. Check that there is no pink meat, and that juices have no pink or red in them.

Try to eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel. There are some types of fish you should avoid in pregnancy. For more information, see Foods to avoid in pregnancy

Dairy in pregnancy

Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, fromage frais and yoghurt are important in pregnancy, because they contain calcium and other nutrients that your baby needs.

Choose low-fat varieties wherever possible, such as semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, low-fat lower-sugar yoghurt and reduced-fat hard cheese. Aim for two to three portions a day.

If you prefer dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts, go for unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions.

For more information, read about the nutritional benefits of milk and dairy foods.

There are some cheeses you should avoid in pregnancy. To find out which ones, see Foods to avoid in pregnancy.

Foods that are high in fat, sugar or both

These include:

  • all spreading fats (such as butter)
  • oils
  • salad dressings
  • cream
  • chocolate
  • crisps
  • biscuits
  • pastries
  • ice cream
  • cake
  • puddings
  • fizzy drinks

If you're having foods and drinks that are high in fat and sugar, have these less often and in small amounts. 

Sugary foods and drinks are often high in calories which can contribute to weight gain. Having sugary foods and drinks can also lead to tooth decay. 

Fat is very high in calories, so eating too many fatty foods or eating them too often can make you put on weight. Having too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the chance of developing heart disease. Try to cut down on saturated fat, and have small amounts of foods rich in unsaturated fat instead. 

Healthy snacks in pregnancy

If you get hungry between meals, try not to eat snacks that are high in fat and/or sugar, such as sweets, biscuits, crisps or chocolate. Instead, choose something healthier, such as:

  • sandwiches or pitta bread filled with grated cheese, lean ham, mashed tuna, salmon, or sardines, with salad
  • salad vegetables, such as carrot, celery or cucumber
  • low-fat lower-sugar plain yoghurt or fromage frais with fruit
  • hummus with wholemeal pitta bread or vegetable sticks
  • ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
  • vegetable and bean soups
  • unsweetened breakfast cereals, or porridge, with milk
  • milky drinks
  • fresh fruit
  • baked beans on toast or a baked potato

Preparing food safely

  • Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil, which may contain toxoplasma, a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis – which can harm your unborn baby.
  • Wash all surfaces and utensils, and your hands, after preparing raw meat – this will help to avoid toxoplasmosis.  
  • Make sure that raw foods are stored separately from ready-to-eat foods, otherwise there's a risk of contamination. This is to avoid other types of food poisoning from meat (such as salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli).
  • Use a separate chopping board for raw meats.
  • Heat ready meals until they're steaming hot all the way through – this is especially important for meals containing poultry.

You also need to make sure that some foods, such as eggs, poultry, burgers, sausages and whole cuts of meat like lamb, beef and pork are cooked very thoroughly. 

Healthy Start vouchers for pregnant women

The Healthy Start scheme provides vouchers to pregnant women and families who qualify. The vouchers can be used to buy milk and plain fresh and frozen vegetables at local shops. You'll also get coupons that can be exchanged for free vitamins locally.

You qualify for Healthy Start if you're at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four years old, and you or your family get:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit (but not Working Tax Credit, unless your family is receiving Working Tax Credit run-on only*) and has an annual family income of £16,190 or less (2014/15)

If you are pregnant and under 18 years old, you qualify for Healthy Start vouchers regardless of your income.

*Working Tax Credit run-on is the Working Tax Credit you receive in the four weeks immediately after you have stopped working for 16 hours per week (single adults) or 24 hours per week (couples).

You can download a Healthy Start application form from Healthy Start, or call the Healthy Start helpline on 0345 607 6823 to order a copy. 

If you are claiming Universal Credit and are pregnant or have a child under four years old, call the Healthy Start helpline for information about any discretionary support that may be available.

Foods to avoid

There are some foods to avoid or take care with when you're pregnant as 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.

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 chèvre. 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.

It's advised pregnant women avoid some soft cheeses because they're 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's important to take special precautions in pregnancy – even a mild form of the illness in a pregnant woman can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illness in a newborn baby.

Find out about 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's 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, provided they're made from pasteurised milk.

These include:

  • cottage cheese
  • mozzarella
  • feta
  • cream cheese
  • paneer
  • ricotta
  • halloumi
  • 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 chèvre, 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 some raw or partially cooked eggs if you're pregnant

Some eggs are produced under a food safety standard called the British Lion Code of Practice. Eggs produced in this way have a logo stamped on their shell, showing a red lion.

Lion Code eggs are considered very low risk for salmonella, and safe for pregnant women to eat raw or partially cooked. So you can eat raw hen eggs or food containing lightly cooked hen eggs (such as soft boiled eggs, mousses, soufflés and fresh mayonnaise) provided that the eggs are produced under the Lion Code.

If they are not Lion Code, 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.

If you don't know whether the eggs used are Lion Code or not (for example in a restaurant or cafe), ask the staff or, to be on the safe side, you can follow the advice for non-Lion Code eggs.

Non-hen eggs such as duck, goose and quail eggs should always be cooked thoroughly.

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.

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.

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite found in raw and undercooked meat, unpasteurised goats' milk, soil, cat poo, and untreated water.

If you're pregnant, the infection can damage your baby, but it's important to remember 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're infected while you're pregnant, treatment for toxoplasmosis is available.

Be cautious with cold cured meats in pregnancy

Many cold meats, such as salami, prosciutto, chorizo and pepperoni, are not cooked, they're just cured and fermented. This means 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 – 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.

Pre-packed meat is safe to eat if you're pregnant

Pre-packed meats such as ham and corned beef are safe to eat in pregnancy. Some websites based in other countries may suggest that you avoid pre-packed meats when pregnant, but this is not the advice in the UK.

Liver can harm your unborn baby

Don't eat liver or products containing liver, 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.

Game

It's best to avoid eating game that has been shot with lead pellets while you're pregnant, as it may contain higher levels of lead. Venison and other large game sold in supermarkets is usually farmed and contains no or very low levels of lead. If you're not sure whether a product may contain lead shot, ask a retailer.

Vitamin and fish oil supplements

Don't take high-dose multivitamin supplements, fish liver oil supplements, or any supplements containing vitamin A.

Fish 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.

Fish to avoid:

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 could affect your baby's developing nervous system if you take in high levels of mercury when you're pregnant.

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, as it can contain pollutants like 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).

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's no need to limit the amount of white fish and cooked shellfish you eat when you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

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 like 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.

Certain farmed fish destined to be eaten raw in dishes like sushi, such as farmed salmon, no longer need to be frozen beforehand.

This is because farmed fish are very unlikely to contain parasitic worms as a result of the rearing methods used. If you're unsure, contact the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for advice.

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're allergic to them or a health professional advises you not to.

You may have heard 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 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.

Foods with soil on them

Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil and visible dirt.

Caffeine in pregnancy

High levels of caffeine can result in babies having a low birthweight, 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 250ml can of energy drink: 80mg (larger cans of energy drink may have up to 160mg caffeine)
  • 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.

The FSA recommends drinking no more than around four cups of herbal or green tea a day during pregnancy, and to seek advice from your GP or midwife if you're unsure about which herbal products are safe to consume.

Bear in mind that green tea contains caffeine.

Liquorice

You can have moderate amounts of liquorice sweets or liquorice teas in pregnancy – there's no recommendation to avoid them. However, you should avoid the herbal remedy liquorice root.

Find out about healthy eating in pregnancy, including healthy snacks.

Exercise

The more active and fit you are during pregnancy, the easier it will be for you to adapt to your changing shape and weight gain. It will also help you to cope with labour and get back into shape after the birth.

Keep up your normal daily physical activity or exercise (sport, running, yoga, dancing, or even walking to the shops and back) for as long as you feel comfortable. Exercise is not dangerous for your baby – there is some evidence that active women are less likely to experience problems in later pregnancy and labour.

Exercise tips for pregnancy

Don’t exhaust yourself. You may need to slow down as your pregnancy progresses or if your maternity team advises you to. If in doubt, consult your maternity team. As a general rule, you should be able to hold a conversation as you exercise when pregnant. If you become breathless as you talk, then you're probably exercising too strenuously.

If you weren't active before you got pregnant, don’t suddenly take up strenuous exercise. If you start an aerobic exercise programme (such as running, swimming, cycling, walking or aerobics classes), tell the instructor that you're pregnant and begin with no more than 15 minutes of continuous exercise, three times a week. Increase this gradually to at least four 30-minute sessions a week.

Remember that exercise doesn't have to be strenuous to be beneficial.

Exercise tips when you're pregnant:

  • always warm up before exercising, and cool down afterwards
  • try to keep active on a daily basis: half an hour of walking each day can be enough, but if you can't manage that, any amount is better than nothing
  • avoid any strenuous exercise in hot weather
  • drink plenty of water and other fluids
  • if you go to exercise classes, make sure your teacher is properly qualified, and knows that you’re pregnant as well as how many weeks pregnant you are
  • you might like to try swimming because the water will support your increased weight. Some local swimming pools provide aquanatal classes with qualified instructors. Find your local sport and fitness services
  • exercises that have a risk of falling, such as horse riding, downhill skiing, ice hockey, gymnastics and cycling, should only be done with caution. Falls may risk damage to the baby

Exercises to avoid in pregnancy

When you're pregnant:

  • don't lie flat on your back, particularly after 16 weeks, because the weight of your bump presses on the main blood vessel bringing blood back to your heart and this can make you feel faint
  • don't take part in contact sports where there's a risk of being hit, such as kickboxing, judo or squash
  • don't go scuba diving, because the baby has no protection against decompression sickness and gas embolism (gas bubbles in the bloodstream)
  • don't exercise at heights over 2,500m above sea level until you have acclimatised: this is because you and your baby are at risk of altitude sickness

Exercises for a fitter pregnancy

If you are pregnant, try to fit the exercises listed below into your daily routine. They will strengthen your muscles so that you can carry the extra weight of pregnancy. They'll also make your joints stronger, improve circulation, ease backache, and generally help you feel well.

Stomach-strengthening exercises

As your baby gets bigger, you may find that the hollow in your lower back increases and this can give you backache. These exercises strengthen stomach (abdominal) muscles and may ease backache, which can be a problem in pregnancy:

  • start in a box position (on all fours) with knees under hips, hands under shoulders, with fingers facing forward and abdominals lifted to keep your back straight
  • pull in your stomach muscles and raise your back up towards the ceiling, curling the trunk and allowing your head to relax gently forward. Don't let your elbows lock
  • hold for a few seconds then slowly return to the box position
  • take care not to hollow your back: it should always return to a straight/neutral position
  • do this slowly and rhythmically 10 times, making your muscles work hard and moving your back carefully
  • only move your back as far as you can comfortably

Pelvic tilt exercises

  • stand with your shoulders and bottom against a wall
  • keep your knees soft
  • pull your tummy button towards your spine, so that your back flattens against the wall: hold for four seconds and release
  • repeat up to 10 times

Pelvic floor exercises

Pelvic floor exercises help to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, which come under great strain in pregnancy and childbirth. The pelvic floor consists of layers of muscles that stretch like a supportive hammock from the pubic bone (in front) to the end of the backbone.

If your pelvic floor muscles are weak, you may find that you leak urine when you cough, sneeze or strain. This is quite common and you needn’t feel embarrassed. It's known as stress incontinence and it can continue after pregnancy.

By performing pelvic floor exercises, you can strengthen the muscles. This helps to reduce or avoid stress incontinence after pregnancy. All pregnant women should do pelvic floor exercises, even if you're young and not suffering from stress incontinence now. 

How to do pelvic floor exercises:

  • close up your anus as if you're trying to prevent a bowel movement
  • at the same time, draw in your vagina as if you're gripping a tampon, and your urethra as if to stop the flow of urine
  • at first, do this exercise quickly, tightening and releasing the muscles immediately
  • then do it slowly, holding the contractions for as long as you can before you relax: try to count to 10
  • try to do three sets of eight squeezes every day: to help you remember, you could do a set at each meal

As well as these exercises, practise tightening up the pelvic floor muscles before and during coughing and sneezing.

Need activity ideas for the rest of the family?

Get activity ideas from Active Scotland to help get your family more active. Please bear in mind that the activity plans are not designed for use during pregnancy, but can be useful for your partner, children and other family members.

Vitamins and supplements

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 a folic acid supplement. It's recommended that you take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day – you should take this from before you are pregnant until you are 12 weeks pregnant.

The Department of Health also advises you to consider taking a vitamin D supplement.

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 from a multivitamin tablet, make sure that the tablet does not contain vitamin A (or retinol).

You may be eligible for free vitamins through the Healthy Start scheme.

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 400mcg 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.

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 should consult their GP for advice, as they may also need to take a higher dose of folic acid. 

If any of the above applies to you, talk to your GP as they can prescribe a higher dose of folic acid. Your GP or midwife may also recommend additional screening tests during your pregnancy.

Vitamin D in pregnancy

Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which are needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy. All adults, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, need 10 micrograms (10mcg) of vitamin D a day, and should consider taking a supplement containing this amount.

Our bodies make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to summer sunlight (from late March/early April to the end of September). It's not known exactly how much time is needed in the sun to make enough vitamin D to meet the body's needs, but if you are out in the sun take care to cover up or protect your skin with sunscreen before you start to turn red or burn.

Vitamin D is also in some foods, including oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines), eggs and red meat. Vitamin D is added to all infant formula milk, as well as some breakfast cereals, fat spreads and non-dairy milk alternatives. The amounts added to these products can vary and might only be added in small amounts.  

As vitamin D is found only in a small number of foods, whether naturally or added, it might be difficult to get enough from foods alone. So everyone over the age of five years, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D.

Most people aged five years and over in the UK will probably get enough vitamin D from sunlight in the summer (from late March/early April to the end of September), so you might choose not to take a vitamin D supplement during these months.

You can get vitamin supplements containing vitamin D free of charge if you are pregnant or breastfeeding and qualify for the Healthy Start scheme.

If you have dark skin

If you have dark 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 not having enough vitamin D (vitamin D deficiency). Talk to your midwife or doctor if this applies to you.

Iron in pregnancy

If you are short of iron, you’ll probably get very tired and may suffer from anaemia. 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. 

You also need to know which foods to avoid in pregnancy.

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. Talk to your midwife or doctor about how to make sure you are getting enough of these important nutrients.

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, talk to your midwife or GP. Ask to 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.

Healthy Start vitamins

The Healthy Start scheme provides vouchers to pregnant women and families who qualify. The vouchers can be used to buy milk and plain fresh and frozen vegetables at local shops. You'll also get coupons that can be exchanged for free vitamins locally.

Healthy Start vitamin tablets for women are specially designed for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and contain vitamins C and D and folic acid.

Healthy Start children's vitamin drops are for infants aged from six months to four years old, and contain vitamins A, C and D.

If you qualify for the Healthy Start scheme, you can swap your coupons for free vitamins locally – just ask your midwife or health visitor where they are accepted in your area. You can also use the Healthy Start postcode search to find where you can use the vouchers. 

If you're not on the Healthy Start scheme, some NHS organisations still offer the vitamins for free or sell them – ask your midwife about local arrangements.

You qualify for Healthy Start if you’re at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four years old, and you or your family get:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit (but not Working Tax Credit unless your family is receiving Working Tax Credit run-on only*) and has an annual family income of £16,190 or less (2014/15)

If you are pregnant and under 18 years old, you qualify for Healthy Start vouchers regardless of your income.

*Working Tax Credit run-on is the Working Tax Credit you receive in the four weeks immediately after you have stopped working for 16 hours per week (single adults) or 24 hours per week (couples).

You can download a Healthy Start application form at the Healthy Start website, or call the Healthy Start helpline on 0345 607 6823 and order a copy. 

If you are claiming Universal Credit and are pregnant or have a child under four years old, call the Healthy Start helpline on 0345 607 6823 for information about any discretionary support that may be available.

Sex in pregnancy

It's perfectly safe to have sex during pregnancy. Your partner's penis can't penetrate beyond your vagina, and the baby cannot tell what's going on. However, it is normal for your sex drive to change during pregnancy. Don't worry about this, but do talk about it with your partner.

Later in pregnancy, an orgasm or even sex itself, can set off contractions (known as Braxton Hicks contractions). If this happens, you'll feel the muscles of your womb (uterus) go hard. This is perfectly normal and there's no need for alarm. If it feels uncomfortable, try your relaxation techniques or just lie quietly until the contractions pass.  

When to avoid sex in pregnancy

Your midwife or doctor will probably advise you to avoid sex if you've had any heavy bleeding in pregnancy, since sex may increase the risk of further bleeding if the placenta is low or there is a haematoma (a collection of blood).

You'll also be advised to avoid sex if your waters have broken (rupture of membranes) as this can increase the risk of infection. If you're unsure, ask your midwife or doctor.

Some couples find having sex very enjoyable during pregnancy, while others simply feel that they don't want to have sex. You can find other ways of being loving or making love. The most important thing is to talk about your feelings with each other.

Good and bad sex positions during pregnancy

While sex is safe for most couples in pregnancy, it may not be all that easy. You will probably need to find different positions. This can be a time to explore and experiment together.

Sex with your partner on top can become uncomfortable quite early in pregnancy, not just because of the bump, but because your breasts might be tender. It can also be uncomfortable if your partner penetrates you too deeply. It may be better to lie on your sides, either facing each other or with your partner behind. 

Your health at work

If you work with chemicals, lead or X-rays, or in a job with a lot of lifting, you may be risking your and your baby's health. If you have any worries about this, talk to your doctor, midwife, occupational health nurse, union representative, or someone in the personnel department where you work.

If there's a known and recognised risk, it may be illegal for you to continue to work. In this case, your employer must offer you suitable alternative work on the same terms and conditions as your original job.

If no safe alternative is available, your employer should suspend you on full pay (give you paid leave) for as long as necessary to avoid the risk. If your employer fails to pay you during your suspension, you can bring a claim in an employment tribunal (within three months). This would not affect your maternity pay or maternity leave.

Some women are concerned about reports of the effects of computer screens in pregnancy. The most recent research shows no evidence of a risk from visual display units (VDUs) on computers.

Coping at work during pregnancy

You might get more tired than usual, particularly in the first few and last few weeks of pregnancy. Try to use your lunch break to eat and rest, not to do the shopping. If travelling in rush hour is exhausting, ask your employer if you can work slightly different hours for a while.

Don't rush home and start another job cleaning and cooking. If possible, ask your partner or a member of your family to do it. If you're on your own, keep housework to a minimum and go to bed early if you can.

Read more about tiredness in pregnancy

If you’re at work during pregnancy, you need to know your rights to antenatal care, maternity leave and benefits. GOV.UK has more information on pregnant employees' rights, including your right to reasonable paid time off for antenatal care.

Read more articles about workplace health, including bullying at work and how to sit at a desk properly

Pregnancy infections

Throughout life, we all come into contact with many viruses and bacteria. As part of our defence mechanism, the body makes antibodies to help fight infection.

If you have antibodies against a particular virus or bacteria, you are immune and the antibodies help to prevent or reduce the impact of getting the infection again.

Chickenpox in pregnancy

Chickenpox infection in pregnancy can be dangerous for both mother and baby, so it's important to seek advice early if you think you may have chickenpox.

Around 95% of women are immune to chickenpox. But if you've never had chickenpox (or you're unsure if you've have it) and you come into contact with a child or adult who has it, speak to your GP, obstetrician or midwife immediately. A blood test will establish if you are immune.

Find out about the complications of chickenpox for you and your unborn baby

CMV in pregnancy

CMV is a common virus that is one of the herpes group of viruses, which can also cause cold sores and chickenpox.

Infection can be dangerous during pregnancy, as it can cause problems for unborn babies, such as hearing loss, visual impairment or blindness, learning difficulties and epilepsy.

CMV is particularly dangerous to the baby if the pregnant mother has not previously had the infection at some point in her life.

It is not always possible to prevent a CMV infection, but you can take some steps to reduce the risk. CMV infections are common in young children. You can reduce the risk of infection with some simple steps, such as:

  • washing your hands regularly using soap and hot water, particularly if you have been changing nappies or if you work in a nursery or day-care centre
  • not kissing young children on the face – it is better to kiss them on the head or give them a hug
  • not sharing food or eating utensils with young children, or drinking from the same glass as them

These precautions are particularly important if you have a job that brings you into close contact with young children. In this case, you can have a blood test to find out whether you have previously been infected with CMV.

Group B streptococcus in pregnancy

Group B streptococcus (GBS, or group B strep) is a bacteria carried by up to 30% of people, but it rarely causes harm or symptoms. In women, it's found in the intestine and vagina, and causes no problem in most pregnancies.

In a small number of pregnancies, it infects the baby, usually just before or during labour, leading to serious illness.

If you've already had a baby who had a GBS infection, you should be offered antibiotics during labour to reduce the chances of your new baby getting the infection.

If you have had a group B streptococcal urinary tract infection during the pregnancy, you should also be offered antibiotics in labour.

GBS infection of the baby is more likely to occur if:

  • you go into premature labour(before 37 weeks of pregnancy)
  • your waters break early
  • you have a fever during labour
  • you currently carry GBS

Your midwife or doctor will assess whether you need antibiotics during labour to protect your baby from being infected.

It's possible to be tested for GBS late in pregnancy. Talk to your doctor or midwife if you have concerns. 

Infections transmitted by animals

Cats

Cat faeces may contain toxoplasma – an organism that causes toxoplasmosis infection. Toxoplasmosis can damage your baby. To reduce the risk of infection:

  • avoid emptying cat litter trays while you're pregnant
  • if nobody else can empty the litter tray, use disposable rubber gloves – trays should be cleaned daily and filled with boiling water for five minutes
  • avoid close contact with sick cats
  • wear gloves when gardening in case the soil is contaminated with faeces, even if you don't have a cat
  • wash your hands and gloves after gardening
  • if you do come into contact with cat faeces, wash your hands thoroughly
  • follow general food hygiene rules – see how to prepare food safely and how to store food safely

Sheep

Lambs and sheep can carry an organism called Chlamydia psittaci, which is known to cause miscarriage in ewes. They also carry toxoplasma. Avoid lambing or milking ewes and all contact with newborn lambs. If you experience flu-like symptoms after coming into contact with sheep, tell your doctor.

Pigs

Research is ongoing to see if pigs can be a source of hepatitis E infection. This infection is dangerous in pregnant women, so avoid contact with pigs and pig faeces. There is no risk of hepatitis E from eating cooked pork products.

Hepatitis B in pregnancy

Hepatitis B is a virus that infects the liver. Many people with hepatitis B will show no sign of illness, but can be carriers and may infect others.

The virus is spread by having sex with an infected person without using a condom and by direct contact with infected blood. If you have hepatitis B, or are infected during pregnancy, you can pass the infection on to your baby at birth.

All pregnant women are offered a blood test for hepatitis B as part of their antenatal care. Babies who are at risk should be given the hepatitis B vaccine at birth to prevent infection and serious liver disease later on in life. Immunisation at birth is 90-95% effective in preventing babies developing long-term hepatitis B infection.

The first dose is given within 24 hours of birth. Two more doses are given at one and two months, with a booster dose at 12 months. A few babies may also need an injection of antibodies called immunoglobulin soon after birth.

Your baby will be tested for hepatitis B infection at 12 months. Any babies who have become infected should be referred for specialist assessment and follow-up.  

Hepatitis C in pregnancy

Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver. Many people with hepatitis C have no symptoms and are unaware they are infected. The virus is transmitted by direct contact with infected blood.

In people who take illegal drugs, this can be as a result of sharing blood-contaminated needles and drug-injecting equipment. People who received a blood transfusion in the UK prior to September 1991 or blood products prior to 1986 may also be at risk.

Hepatitis C can also be transmitted by receiving medical or dental treatment in countries where hepatitis C is common and infection control may be poor, or by having sex with an infected partner.

If you have hepatitis C, you may pass the infection on to your baby, although the risk is much lower than with hepatitis B or HIV. This cannot currently be prevented. Your baby can be tested for hepatitis C and, if they are infected, they can be referred for specialist assessment.

Herpes in pregnancy

Genital herpes infection can be dangerous for a newborn baby. It can be caught through genital contact with an infected person or from oral sex with someone who has cold sores (oral herpes). Initial infection causes painful blisters or ulcers on the genitals. Less severe attacks usually occur for some years afterwards.

Treatment is available if your first infection occurs in pregnancy. If your first infection occurs near the end of pregnancy or during labour, a caesarean section may be recommended to reduce the risk of passing herpes to your baby.

If you or your partner have herpes, use condoms or avoid sex during an attack. Avoid oral sex if you or your partner have cold sores or genital sores (active genital herpes). Tell your doctor or midwife if either you or your partner have recurring herpes or develop the symptoms described above.

HIV in pregnancy

You'll be offered a confidential HIV test as part of your routine antenatal care. Your midwife or doctor will discuss the test with you, and counselling will be available if the result is positive.

Read more about screening for HIV in pregnancy

Find out about coping with a positive HIV test

Current evidence suggests an HIV-positive mother in good health and without symptoms of the infection is unlikely to be adversely affected by pregnancy.

However, HIV can be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.

If you're HIV-positive, you and your doctor will need to discuss the management of your pregnancy and birth to reduce the risk of infection to your baby.

Treatment in pregnancy greatly reduces the risk of passing on HIV to the baby, from 1 in 4 to less than 1 in 100.

Your baby will be tested for HIV at birth and at intervals for up to two years.

You'll be advised not to breastfeed as HIV can be transmitted to your baby in this way.

If you're HIV positive, talk to your doctor or midwife about your own health and the options open to you. You can also contact organisations such as the Terrence Higgins Trust for information and support.

Parvovirus B19 (slapped cheek syndrome) in pregnancy

Parvovirus B19 infection is common in children and causes a characteristic red rash on the face, so it's often called "slapped cheek syndrome".

Although 60% of women are immune to this infection, parvovirus is highly infectious and can be harmful to the baby. If you come into contact with anyone who is infected, you should talk to your doctor, who can check whether you are immune through a blood test. In most cases, the baby is not affected when a pregnant woman is infected with parvovirus.

Rubella in pregnancy

Rubella is rare in the UK thanks to the high uptake of MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccination.

But if you develop rubella (German measles) in the first four months of pregnancy, it can lead to serious problems including birth defects and miscarriage.

If you're pregnant, you should contact your GP or midwife as soon as possible if:

  • you come into contact with someone who has rubella
  • if you have a rash or come into contact with anyone who has a rash
  • you have symptoms of rubella

It's unlikely you have rubella in these circumstances, but you may need a blood test to check for the condition.

If you're pregnant and not sure you've had two doses of the MMR vaccine, ask your GP practice to check your vaccination history.

If you haven't had both doses or there's no record, you should ask for the vaccine when you go for your six-week postnatal check after the birth. This will protect you in any future pregnancies.

MMR vaccination cannot be given during pregnancy.

STIs in pregnancy

STIs are on the increase and chlamydia is the most common. STIs often have no symptoms, so you may not know if you have one. However, many STIs can affect your baby's health during pregnancy and after the birth.

If you have any reason to believe you or your partner may have an STI, go for a check-up as soon as possible. You can ask your GP or midwife, or, if you prefer, go to a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic or sexual health clinic. Your confidentiality is guaranteed.

Find a sexual health service near you, including GUM or sexual health clinics.

If you're under 25 years old, you can also visit a Brook centre for free confidential advice. You may also be able to order a free chlamydia test online.  

Toxoplasmosis in pregnancy

You can catch toxoplasmosis through contact with cat faeces. If you are pregnant, the infection can damage your baby, so take precautions. Most women have had the infection before pregnancy and will be immune.

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. Treatment can reduce the risk of the baby becoming infected. Where the baby is infected, treatment may reduce the risk of damage.

Travel

With the proper precautions, and armed with information on when to travel, vaccinations and travel insurance, most women can travel safely well into their pregnancy.

Wherever you go, find out what healthcare facilities are at your destination in case you require urgent medical attention. It's a good idea to take your maternity medical records (sometimes called handheld notes) with you so you can give doctors the relevant information if necessary.

You can find out more about getting healthcare abroad

Make sure your travel insurance covers you for any eventuality, such as pregnancy-related medical care during labour, premature birth and the cost of changing the date of your return trip if you go into labour.

When to travel in pregnancy

Some women prefer not to travel in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy because of nausea and feeling very tired during these early stages. The risk of miscarriage is also higher in the first three months, whether you're travelling or not.

Travelling in the final months of pregnancy can be tiring and uncomfortable. So, many women find the best time to travel or take a holiday is in mid-pregnancy, between four and six months.

"Travel during pregnancy is a concern for many women," says Sarah Reynolds, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Bedford Hospital NHS Trust. "But if your pregnancy has no complications then there's no reason why you can't travel safely, as long as you take the right precautions."

Here are some general tips to ensure you and your baby stay healthy during your travels.

Flying in pregnancy

Flying is not harmful to you or your baby, but discuss any health issues or pregnancy complications with your midwife or doctor before you fly.

The likelihood of going into labour is naturally higher after 37 weeks (around 32 weeks if you're carrying twins), and some airlines will not let you fly towards the end of your pregnancy. Check with the airline for their policy on this.

After week 28 of pregnancy, the airline may ask for a letter from your doctor or midwife confirming your due date, and that you aren't at risk of complications.

Long-distance travel (longer than five hours) carries a small risk of blood clots (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT). If you fly, drink plenty of water and move about regularly – every 30 minutes or so. You can buy a pair of graduated compression or support stockings from the pharmacy, which will help reduce leg swelling.

Travel vaccinations when you're pregnant

Some vaccines that use live bacteria or viruses are not recommended during pregnancy because of concerns that the virus or bacteria in the jab could harm the baby in the womb. Inactivated vaccines are safe in pregnancy.

"If you must travel to areas requiring inoculation, you should get your jabs," says Dr Reynolds. "The risk of catching an infectious disease far outweighs the risk from vaccination."

For advice on specific travel vaccinations, consult your GP or midwife.

Some anti-malaria tablets aren't safe to take in pregnancy so consult your GP for advice. You can find more information on malaria and pregnancy from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Find advice for pregnant travellers on Fit for Travel

Car travel in pregnancy

Fatigue and dizziness are common during pregnancy so it's important on car journeys to drink regularly, eat natural, energy-giving foods (such as fruit and nuts) and stop regularly for a break.

Keep the air circulating in the car and wear your seatbelt with the cross strap between your breasts and the lap strap across your pelvis under your bump, not across your bump.

Road accidents are among the most common causes of injury in pregnant women. Avoid making long trips on your own and share the driving with your companion.

Sailing in pregnancy

Ferry companies have their own restrictions and may refuse to carry heavily pregnant women (often beyond 32 weeks). Check the ferry company's policy before you book. For longer boat trips, such as cruises, find out if there are onboard facilities to deal with pregnancy and if there are medical services at the docking ports.

Foreign food and drink risks in pregnancy

Take care to avoid food- and water-borne conditions, such as stomach upsets and travellers' diarrhoea (TD). Some medicines for treating stomach upsets and traveller's diarrhoea aren't suitable during pregnancy.

Always check if tap water is safe. If in doubt, drink bottled water. If you get ill, keep hydrated and continue eating for the health of your baby, even if you may not be hungry.

Find out about a healthy diet in pregnancy, and foods to avoid

If you're a teenager

Finding out you're pregnant when you're a teenager can be very daunting, particularly if the pregnancy wasn't planned.

If you decide to continue with the pregnancy, there are a wide range of services to support you during pregnancy and after you've had your baby. Your midwife or health visitor can give you details of local services.

Find out the signs of pregnancy and where to get a pregnancy test.

If your pregnancy test is positive, you may experience a lot of emotions:

  • excitement about having a child
  • worry about telling your parents
  • anxiety about pregnancy and childbirth

You should talk through your options and think carefully before you make any decisions about your pregnancy.

Who offers support for pregnant teenagers?

If you're pregnant and on your own, it's even more important that there are people you can share your feelings with and who can offer you support.

Sorting out problems, whether personal or medical, is often difficult when you are by yourself, and it's better to find someone to talk to than let things get you down. For more information, see coping if you're alone

The following national organisations can also give you help and advice:

  • Sexual Health Scotland – if you think you may be pregnant, you can get confidential advice from the Sexual Health Scotland helpline on 0800 22 44 88
  • Brook – if you're under 25, you can visit your nearest Brook service for free confidential advice, or use the Ask Brook text and web chat service from Monday to Friday, 9am to 3pm.
  • the national sexual health line offers free confidential information and advice on sexual health, relationships and contraception on 0300 123 7123

In many parts of Scotland, teenagers pregnant with their first child can get extra support from their local Family Nurse Partnership. A specially trained family nurse visits your home regularly from early pregnancy until your child is two. You can get in contact with the scheme yourself, or a professional like your midwife, GP or teacher can refer you.

The Young Woman's Guide to Pregnancy is written especially for women under the age of 20, and includes the real pregnancy experiences of young mums. It is produced by the charity Tommy's and is available free to 16 to 19-year-olds through the Tommy's website.

Can I carry on with my education while I'm pregnant?

At school

If you're pregnant or a mum, you're still expected to go to school until the end of Year 11. If that's not possible, the law says your local authority has to provide alternative education suitable for you.

Your school should not exclude you on the grounds of pregnancy or health and safety issues to do with your pregnancy, and they can't treat you differently because you're pregnant. You will be allowed up to 18 calendar weeks off school before and after the birth.

If you leave school at the end of Year 11, until you're 18 you still have to either:

  • stay in full-time education – for example, at college
  • start an apprenticeship or traineeship
  • work or volunteer (for 20 hours or more a week) while in part-time education or training

The law says colleges, universities or your apprenticeship employer are not allowed to treat you unfairly if you're pregnant or a mum.

Further or higher education

You can only get maternity leave or maternity pay under employment law, which means very few students are able to get them.

If you're a student, you should be able to take maternity-related absence from studying after your baby's been born. How long you take will depend on your own situation and your particular course.

The Equality Challenge Unit has a guide on student pregnancy and maternity (PDF, 345kb), which is written for higher education colleges.

Apprenticeships

Apprentices can take up to 52 weeks' maternity leave. If you're an apprentice, you may qualify for statutory maternity pay.

Maternity Action has more information about maternity rights for apprentices.

Help with childcare costs

If you're under 20, the Care to Learn scheme can help with childcare costs. You can apply if you're going to study at school or sixth form college or on another publically funded course in England.

You can't get Care to Learn if you're an apprentice who gets a wage or if you're doing a higher education course at university. 

For more information about Care to Learn, call 0800 121 8989 or email Learner Support.

Who can help me find somewhere to live as a pregnant teenager?

Many young mums want to carry on living with their own family until they're ready to move on. If you're unable to live with your family, your local authority may be able to help you with housing.

Some local authorities provide specialised accommodation where young mothers can live independently while getting support and advice from trained workers.

For more information about housing, contact your local authority.

What should I do next?

You may not be sure if you want to go ahead with your pregnancy. You need accurate information so you can talk through your options and think carefully before you make any decisions.

If you're not sure what to do, you can discuss it with a healthcare professional. Whatever your age, you can ask for advice confidentially from:

  • your GP or practice nurse
  • a contraception or sexual health clinic
  • NHS 111 – available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

Your decision is your choice, but don't delay or ignore your pregnancy, hoping it will simply go away. Your options are:

  • continuing with the pregnancy and keeping the baby
  • having an abortion
  • continuing with the pregnancy and having the baby adopted

If you decide to continue your pregnancy, the next step is to start your antenatal care.

If you decide not to continue with your pregnancy, you can talk to your GP or visit a sexual health clinic to discuss your options. You'll be referred for an assessment at the clinic or hospital where your abortion will be carried out.

The Family Planning Association has information about your pregnancy choices.

Professionals at your sexual health clinic can also give you information about contraception.

Find your nearest sexual health service.

Illegal drugs in pregnancy

Using illegal or street drugs during pregnancy, including cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin, can have a potentially serious effect on your unborn baby.

If you regularly use drugs, it's important to tackle this now you're pregnant. It's best not to stop abruptly without first seeking medical advice as there may be withdrawal problems or other side effects.

Getting help

If you use drugs, it's important to seek help straight away so you can get the right advice and support.

You can get help from:

They won't judge you and can help you access a wide range of other services, such as antenatal and family support.

You can also contact FRANK for friendly, confidential drugs advice, including information on the different types of help available. The FRANK helpline is open every day, 24 hours a day on 0300 123 6600.

For more information about what drug treatment entails, see the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse website.

What if I took drugs before I knew I was pregnant?

If you took a drug without realising you were pregnant on a one-off occasion, try not to worry – it's very unlikely to have affected your baby.

However, if illegal drugs are part of your life, getting help can really improve the outlook for you and your baby.

Pharmacy and prescription medicines

Most medicines taken during pregnancy cross the placenta and reach the baby.

Before taking any medicine when you're pregnant, it is advisable to check with your pharmacist, midwife or GP that it is suitable.

When deciding whether to take a medicine during pregnancy, either prescribed by your doctor or available over the counter from the pharmacy, it is important to find out what is known about the possible effects of that medicine on your baby.

Which medicines are safe?

You can find out information on medicines in pregnancy on the bumps (best use of medicines in pregnancy) website. Bumps also has advice on what to do if you have already taken a medicine in pregnancy.

However, it's also important to never stop taking a medicine that has been prescribed to keep you healthy without first checking with your doctor. Doing so could be harmful to both you and your baby.

If you are trying for a baby or are already pregnant, it is important to:

  • always check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist before taking any prescribed or over-the-counter medicine
  • make sure your doctor, dentist or other healthcare professional knows you’re pregnant before they prescribe anything or give you treatment
  • talk to your doctor immediately if you take regular medication, ideally before you start trying for a baby or as soon as you find out you are pregnant

If you are unable to find information about a specific medicine on bumps, you can ask your doctor, midwife or pharmacist to contact the UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS) for advice on your behalf.

Herbal and homeopathic remedies and aromatherapy in pregnancy

Not all "natural" remedies or complementary therapies are safe in pregnancy. Some products used may not be of a high quality and may contain other substances, such as lead, that could be harmful.

Tell your midwife, doctor or pharmacist if you are using herbal, homeopathic or aromatherapy remedies or therapies.

If you do decide to use these therapies, you should always consult a qualified practitioner. You should tell your practitioner that you are pregnant before discussing any treatment.

The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA) provides information on qualified or registered practitioners.

Organisations with PSA-accredited voluntary registers include:

Complementary remedies or therapies can't replace conventional antenatal care. It's important to attend regular antenatal check-ups throughout your pregnancy.