Eating well in pregnancy

Eating a diet of different groups of foods is the best way for you to stay healthy, and help your baby grow and develop.

Importance of eating well in pregnancy

Having a good diet and being active will:

  • increase your chances of becoming pregnant
  • improve the likelihood of having a healthy baby
  • reduce the risk of complications
  • make your recovery and healing easier after the birth

What eating well means

Eating well means:

  • eating more healthy foods containing folic acid, iron and iodine
  • limiting intake of high fat and high sugar foods
  • taking vitamin supplements containing vitamin D
  • drinking lots of fluids but only small amounts of caffeine
  • not drinking alcohol at all
  • taking care how you prepare and store food

How to eat a healthy balanced diet

Best start foods

As well as your free vitamins, you could be eligible for a Best Start Foods payment card to help you buy some food basics, including milk and fruit and vegetables.

More about Best Start Foods

Dieting

Dieting to lose weight in pregnancy isn't recommended, even if you're overweight to begin with.

Some weight gain in pregnancy is normal and includes the weight of your baby, the placenta and amniotic fluid.

Cravings

Some foods taste different as your sense of taste can change when you’re pregnant. This is caused by hormonal changes in your body.

You might find you can’t eat foods you used to enjoy or crave them if they start to taste better. If you're craving high-fat or high-sugar foods, try to limit them and eat regular balanced meals and healthy snacks instead.

Food to avoid

To reduce the chance of harming yourself or your baby, you should avoid certain foods.

Some dairy

You should avoid eating:

  • unpasteurised semi-hard and soft cheeses (unless cooked until steaming hot)
  • all mould-ripened soft cheeses with a white coating on the outside, such as brie, camembert and chèvre (unless cooked until steaming hot)
  • soft blue cheeses such as Danish Blue, Gorgonzola and Roquefort (unless cooked until steaming hot)
  • any unpasteurised cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk or cream

Liver and pâté

Liver and liver products such as pâté or liver sausage can have large amounts of vitamin A. This can be harmful for your baby. All types of pâté, including vegetable versions, can have listeria in them. It’s best to avoid them.

Some fish

Do not eat swordfish, marlin, shark or raw shellfish.

Do not eat smoked fish products, including smoked salmon and smoked trout, unless thoroughly cooked as they can present a risk of Listeria. This includes in sushi.

Some meats

You should not eat game meat, such as hare, partridge or pheasant due to the presence of lead. You should also not eat raw or rare meat as this can cause food poisoning.

Always make sure any meat you eat is well cooked and steaming hot all the way through. You should not be able to see any pink meat and the juices should run clear.

Too much oily fish or tuna

Try not to have more than two portions of oily fish a week. Oily fish includes mackerel, sardines and trout.

Tuna is not classed as an oily fish, but do not eat more than two tuna steaks (about 140g cooked or 170g when raw) or four medium-size cans of tuna (about 140g when drained) per week.

Sprouted seeds

These need to be cooked well until they are hot throughout to make sure they do not make you ill.

Unwashed fruit and vegetables

Be careful with fruits, vegetables and salads as they can have soil on them, which can make you unwell. Make sure to thoroughly wash all fruits, vegetables and salad ingredients.

Safe foods

During pregnancy it's safe to eat:

  • cooked fish
  • sushi, but only if the fish has been cooked thoroughly
  • seafood/shellfish as long as it has been cooked, for example mussels, lobster, crab, oysters, scallops, clams and cold, pre-cooked prawns
  • Peanuts and other nuts (unless you're allergic) - eating nuts when pregnant will not affect whether or not your baby has a peanut allergy
  • spicy food - there's no reason to avoid spicy foods
  • honey - it's ok for you to eat honey, but you should not give it to your baby until they're over a year old

Dairy foods

You're safe to eat some milk and dairy foods, including:

  • All hard cheeses, such as cheddar, Parmesan or Gruyere
  • Pasteurised semi-hard and soft cheeses, such as cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, paneer, ricotta, halloumi, cream cheese, cheese spreads, or goat's cheese without a white coating on the outside (rind)
  • Any cheese that has been thoroughly cooked until steaming hot
  • Pasteurised milk and yoghurt

Cream and ice cream are safe, but are not considered 'dairy' by The Eatwell Guide and have high sugar and fat content.

Eggs

You can eat runny or even raw eggs as long as they are pasteurised, or have the British Lion Code mark on them, or are Laid in Britain (LIB) eggs. 

Foods made with these eggs are also safe to eat. This includes:

  • mayonnaise
  • ice cream
  • salad dressing
  • mousse

Make sure that duck, goose and quail eggs are thoroughly cooked.

If you’re eating out and not sure if they use British Lion Code or Laid in Britain eggs, ask the staff to find out for you.

Healthy drinks

Aim to have 6 to 8 200ml glasses of water or other fluids every day, and:

  • try different kinds of drinks, such as sugar-free squash, decaf tea and coffee, fizzy water, fruit juice or smoothies
  • limit fruit juice or smoothies to 150 ml per day with meals to help to prevent damage to your teeth

Decaffeinated coffee and tea are safe to drink during pregnancy.

Do not drink alcohol during pregnancy.

Water

Drink plenty of water when you’re pregnant to keep hydrated and stop you getting constipated, especially in your last 3 months.

You should boil water before you drink it if you get your drinking water from a private supply, such as a well, borehole or spring. The quality of water from private supplies can vary a lot and when it’s poor it can cause health problems.

Herbal drinks

During pregnancy you should:

  • have no more than 4 cups of herbal or green tea a day as there isn't enough evidence about their effect on developing babies
  • avoid teas that contain ginseng or echinacea as doctors aren’t sure what effects they might have when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding

Talk to your midwife if you’re unsure about using any herbal products.

Caffeine

Caffeine's found naturally in chocolate, coffee and tea (including green tea). It’s also added to some:

  • soft drinks
  • energy drinks
  • cold and flu remedies

Having too much caffeine when you’re pregnant can:

  • increase your risk of miscarriage
  • affect how your baby grows
  • cause your baby to be small and underweight - this can lead to health problems later in life

If you have too much caffeine, your baby can start to withdraw from it when they're born. This makes them irritable.

How much caffeine's safe?

While you’re pregnant it’s important to have no more than 200mg of caffeine a day.

Food or drink

Amount of caffeine (mg)

Mug of instant coffee

100 mg

Mug of filter coffee

140 mg

Mug of tea

75 mg

330 ml can of cola

40 mg

250 ml can of energy drink

80 mg (larger cans may have up to 160 mg)

50 g bar of plain chocolate

less than 25 mg

50 g bar of milk chocolate

less than 10 mg

 

Translations and alternative formats of this information are available from Public Health Scotland.

Last updated:
28 April 2022

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