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

Healthy Start vouchers

As well as your free Healthy Start vitamins, you could be eligible for Healthy Start vouchers to help you buy some food basics, including milk and fruit and vegetables.

More about Healthy Start vouchers

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:

  • some cheeses
  • liver
  • pâté - all types of pâté, including vegetable versions, can contain listeria
  • raw or undercooked meat
  • some fish
  • uncooked sprouted seeds

Some cheeses

Unpasteurised milk and cheeses made from it can contain bacteria called listeria, which can harm your baby.

Avoid:

  • all unpasteurised cheeses
  • pasteurised and unpasteurised soft and mould ripened cheese, such as blue cheese, camembert, brie or chevre

Liver

There can be large amounts of vitamin A in liver and liver products, such as pâté or liver sausage.

As vitamin A is potentially harmful to your baby, you should avoid eating products containing liver.

Raw or undercooked meat

Raw or undercooked meat can cause food poisoning, so always make sure any meat you eat is well cooked and piping hot all the way through.

You shouldn’t be able to see any pink meat. This is especially important with:

  • chicken and other poultry
  • anything made from minced meat, such as sausages and burgers

Some fish

Fish can have high levels of mercury or pollutant, which may affect your baby’s developing nervous system.

Try to have no more than 2 portions a week of oily fish, such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and trout.

Don’t eat:

  • more than 2 tuna steaks a week (weighing about 170g raw)
  • more than 2 medium-size tins of tuna a week (drained weight about 140g)

Sprouted seeds

Many types of sprouted seeds carry bacteria which can cause food poisoning.

Pregnant women are advised to cook all sprouted seeds until they're steaming hot throughout before eating.

Safe foods

During pregnancy it's safe to eat:

  • shellfish and prawns - you can eat these as part of a hot meal as long as they’ve been properly cooked
  • pasteurised milk and dairy foods
  • eggs and foods made with eggs (with British Lion mark)
  • nuts (unless you're allergic) - eating peanuts when pregnant won’t 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 shouldn't give it to your baby until they're over a year old

Pasteurised milk and dairy foods

You're safe to eat pasteurised:

  • unsweetened yoghurt
  • cream
  • fromage frais
  • sour cream
  • cheeses, such as cheddar and parmesan, feta, ricotta, mascarpone, cream cheese, cottage cheese and cheese spreads

Eggs

You can eat runny eggs as long as they have the British Lion mark on them. Any other eggs need to be cooked completely.

Foods made with eggs carrying this mark are also safe to eat. This includes:

  • mayonnaise
  • ice cream
  • salad dressing
  • mousse

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

Healthy drinks

Aim to have at least 2 litres 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.

Don't 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. 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


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