Your food choices prior to, as well as during, pregnancy play a vital role in the healthy growth and development of your baby. Creating a perfect environment can take some preparation, and one of the priorities should be a sensible and healthy eating plan.
One of the side effects of pregnancy is lower immunity, which is a protective mechanism to stop your body from rejecting the infant growing inside you. As a result, you should avoid certain foods during this period to lower the risk of infection. There are also other foods and drinks that can interfere with your baby’s development and even cause long-lasting damage.
Find out what foods and drinks should be limited in our special guide below:
Due to the high level of mercury in some fish, women should avoid eating shark, marlin, and swordfish, and limit the amount of tuna to a maximum of two portions a week. It is also best to avoid excessive intake of other oily fish, including salmon, sardines and mackerel. Most types of white fish are safe to eat throughout pregnancy.
Some studies have shown that excessive intake of vitamin A, also known as retinol, can harm your baby, so you should avoid foods rich in vitamin A, such as liver, liver products, fish liver oil and other nutritional supplements containing vitamin A.
Fruit and vegetables, such as carrots, contain a plant-based form of vitamin A (carotenoids) which is safe for your unborn baby.
Alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix! If you drink while pregnant, you risk giving birth to a baby with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), which describes a range of disabilities (physical, social, mental, emotional) that may affect your child following exposure to alcohol.
In addition, drinking alcohol may deplete your nutrient stores and leave you craving foods high in fat and sugar.
If you choose to drink, limit the amount of alcohol to a maximum of 1-2 units, no more than once or twice a week. Examples of one unit include a small glass of wine or half a pint of beer.
Certain types of cheese, such as Camembert, Brie, or other soft blue cheeses, carry the risk of listeria infection. Instead, choose hard cheeses such as Edam and Cheddar, and soft cheeses made from pasteurised milk, like cottage, cream or mozzarella cheese.
It is best to keep your daily caffeine intake below 200mg, which is equivalent to approximately two cups of coffee. Excessive consumption increases the possibility of certain pregnancy complications, including low birth weight.
Other sources of caffeine include tea, soft drinks, energy drinks and chocolate.
Raw or undercooked eggs and meat
Undercooked eggs, meat and their products may contain listeria, salmonella and parasites which cause an infection known as toxoplasmosis. Make sure you cook your eggs until solid and only eat meat and meat products that have been thoroughly cooked.
All types of pâté, including vegetarian pâté, should be avoided due to a high risk of contamination with listeria.
Fruit and vegetables
Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is highly recommended during pregnancy, but it is important to remove all visible traces of dirt and soil which may carry harmful bacteria and parasites.
Sushi and raw shellfish
Pre-made sushi sold in shops and restaurants is considered safe to eat for pregnant women. The raw fish it contains has been previously frozen to kill any parasites it may contain. If you’re not sure whether the fish has been pre-frozen, it is better to choose something else from the menu, such as cooked varieties of sushi, including California roll or anything vegetarian.
Raw shellfish should be completely avoided.
Never consume unpasteurised milk or any foods that might contain it. The same advice goes for unpasteurised goat’s or sheep’s milk.
Food Standards Agency (2002) Eating while you're pregnant: choosing food to keep you and your baby healthy (Accessed August 2013).
NHS Choices (2013) Foods to avoid in pregnancy (Accessed August 2013).