Eating for pregnancy
Growing that bump is a big responsibility but let’s spin it around. It’s the best motivation to eat healthily, because it’s not just you who will benefit. Changing tastes, new tastes, crazy tastes – it’s all there for the taking.
What not to eat when pregnant
To approach pregnancy nutrition positively, first you’ll need to feel confident about what you can eat safely. Thankfully there’s more you can eat, than you can’t. We checked in with trusted sources such as the NHS, Tommy’s and the British Nutrition Foundation for the most up-to-date guidelines. Some foods you can eat rarely, others should be avoided completely.
Avoid: swordfish, marlin, shark, raw shellfish. Limit oily fish to 2 portions a week (salmon, trout, mackerel or herring). No more than 2 tuna steaks (170g raw) or 4 medium-size cans of tuna (140g drained) a week.
Why? Raw shellfish can have harmful bacteria, viruses or toxins in them which can make you unwell. Limit tuna because of mercury levels in it, and oily fish because they can have pollutants in them, both of which in large amounts can harm your unborn baby.
You CAN eat: cooked fish and seafood, smoked fish (smoked salmon and trout), cooked shellfish (mussels, lobster, crab, prawns, scallops, clams), cold pre-cooked prawns. The NHS advises that you can eat raw or lightly cooked fish in sushi if the fish has been frozen first.
CHEESE & DAIRY
Avoid: mould-ripened soft cheeses with a white coating on the outside (like brie and camembert); soft blue cheeses (like Danish blue and Roquefort), unpasteurised cows' milk, goats' milk or sheep's milk, foods made from unpasteurised milk (like soft goats' cheese).
Why? According to the NHS, unpasteurised dairy products may contain harmful bacteria that can lead to listeriosis which can be dangerous to your unborn baby.
You CAN eat: all hard cheeses, soft pasteurised cheeses (like mozzarella, feta, halloumi, processed cheese spreads), pasteurised milk, yoghurt, cream and ice cream.
Avoid: raw or partially cooked eggs that are not British Lion (eggs with lion stamp on them), duck, goose or quail’s eggs (unless cooked thoroughly, until whites and yolks are solid)
Why? British Lion eggs are less likely to have salmonella in them (unlikely to harm your baby but you could get food poisoning).
You CAN eat: raw, partially cooked and fully cooked British Lion eggs (eggs with lion stamp on them), foods with raw egg in them, such as mousse and mayo, if they're from British Lion eggs. If in doubt, leave the runny yolks and homemade mayo until after the baby arrives.
Avoid: raw or undercooked meat, liver and liver products, any pâté (including vegetarian pâté), game meats (like partridge or pheasant) and be careful with cold cured meats like salami or pepperoni (avoid unless cooked thoroughly).
Why? Undercooked meats carry a small risk of toxoplasmosis which can cause miscarriage. Levels of vitamin A in the liver can be a risk to pregnancy. Game meats may contain lead shot.
You CAN eat: cold, pre-packed ham and corned beef, and well-cooked chicken, pork, beef, poultry, pork, sausages and burgers as long as there is no trace of pink or blood.
Common questions about your pregnancy diet plan
“What can I drink when pregnant?”
Caffeine: no more than 200mg per day (there’s 100mg in a mug of instant, 140mg in a mug of filter, 75mg in a mug of tea (green tea too), 40mg in a can of cola).
Alcohol: according to the NHS, the safest approach is not to drink at all. Read more about the effects of drinking alcohol in pregnancy here.
Herbal teas: no more than 4 cups of herbal tea a day.
“Can I still eat fruit?”
General rule with all fruit and veg is to wash thoroughly. Soil can make you unwell. Pay attention to veg like sprouts which can be harder to clean.
“Should I avoid peanuts?”
You only need to avoid eating peanuts when you are pregnant if you have a nut allergy, or you're advised to by a healthcare professional.
“Can some foods induce labour?”
Speculation about foods bringing on labour can add to pregnancy anxiety. Pineapple, for example, contains an enzyme called bromelain, thought to soften the cervix. But, according to Tommy’s, one pineapple contains a very small amount of bromelain, so you’d have to eat an awful lot of pineapple for it to have any effect (not great for your stomach). Equally there is no proof that a spicy curry or eating dates will affect your cervix. If in any doubt, speak to your midwife.
“How much water should I drink?”
Tommy’s recommends 6-8 medium (200ml) glasses of fluid a day. So, all drinks count – including hot drinks.
“What are the guidelines for food hygiene?”
British Nutrition Foundation advocates the four ‘Cs’: Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often. Cross-contaminate: Separate, don’t cross-contaminate. Cook: To safe temperature. Chill: Refrigerate properly.
“Can I still eat liquorice?”
Liquorice root has a high concentration of glycyrrhizin, which could harm an unborn baby. But, says British Nutrition Foundation, you can eat liquorice sweets – but they typically are high in sugars so should be limited. Liquorice teas are also safe to drink as long they are within the limits of your herbal and green tea allowance.
“Where can I go to find out more specific detail?”
Foods to avoid during pregnancy at-a-glance
- Raw meat
- Cold meats
- Deli meats
- Unpasteurized milk and cheeses
- Raw or undercooked eggs
- Fish high in mercury like such as shark, swordfish and marlin
- Uncooked shellfish
- Unwashed fruits and vegetables
Hungry for more pregnancy tips and advice?
Pregnancy is a journey, with at least one bump along the road. From wondering what your 12-week and 20-week scans are all about to checking if you can dye your hair when pregnant, you're bound to have plenty of questions.
Luckily, our experts are on hand to answer all your questions on pregnancy and planning while you sit back, and read up.