A healthy diet and lifestyle can help you keep well during pregnancy and give your baby the best possible start in life.
A healthy diet is very important if you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Eating healthily during pregnancy will help your baby to develop and grow and will help to keep you fit and well. You do not need to go on a special diet, but make sure that you eat a variety of different foods every day in order to get the right balance of nutrients that you and your baby need.
You will probably find that you are more hungry than normal, but you do not need to ‘eat for two’ – even if you are expecting twins or triplets. Have breakfast every day – this will help you to avoid snacking on foods that are high in fat and sugar. You may have to change the amounts of different foods that you eat, rather than cutting out all your favourites.
There are some foods that you should not eat when you are pregnant because they may make you ill or harm your baby.
You should avoid:
- Some types of cheese. Do not eat mould-ripened soft cheese, like Brie, Camembert and others with a similar rind. You should also avoid soft blue-veined cheese, like Danish blue. These are made with mould and they can contain listeria, a type of bacteria that can harm your unborn baby. Although listeriosis is a very rare infection, it is important to take special precautions during pregnancy because even the mild form of the illness in the mother can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illness in a newborn baby. You can eat hard cheeses, such as cheddar and parmesan, and processed cheeses made from pasteurised milk, such as cottage cheese, mozzarella and cheese spreads.
- Pâté. Avoid all types of pâté, including vegetable pâtés, as they can contain listeria.
- Raw or partially cooked eggs. Make sure that eggs are thoroughly cooked until the whites and yolks are solid. This prevents the risk of salmonella food poisoning. Avoid foods that contain raw and undercooked eggs, such as home-made mayonnaise.
- Raw or undercooked meat. Cook all meat and poultry thoroughly so that there is no trace of pink or blood. Take particular care with sausages and minced meat. It is fine to eat steaks and other whole cuts of beef and lamb rare, as long as the outside has been properly cooked or sealed.
- Liver products. Do not eat liver, or liver products like liver pâté or liver sausage, as they may contain a lot of vitamin A. Too much vitamin A can harm your baby.
- Supplements containing vitamin A. Do not take high-dose multivitamin supplements, fish liver oil supplements or any supplements containing vitamin A.
- Some types of fish. Do not eat shark, marlin and swordfish, and 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). These types of fish contain high levels of mercury, which can damage your baby’s developing nervous system. Do not eat more than two portions of oily fish per week. Oily fish includes fresh tuna (but not canned tuna), salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout.
- Raw shellfish. Eat cooked rather than raw shellfish as they can contain harmful bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning.
- Peanuts. If you would like to eat peanuts or foods containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) during pregnancy, you can choose to do so as part of a healthy balanced diet, unless you are allergic to them or your health professional advises you not to.
You may have heard that some women have, in the past, chosen not to eat peanuts when they were pregnant. This is because the government previously advised women that they may wish to avoid eating peanuts during pregnancy if there was a history of allergy in their child’s immediate family (such as asthma, eczema, hay fever, food allergy or other types of allergy). But this advice has now been changed because the latest research has shown that there is no clear evidence to say if eating or not eating peanuts during pregnancy affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy.
- Unpasteurised milk. Drink only pasteurised or UHT milk, which has been pasteurised. If only raw or green-top milk is available, boil it first. Do not drink unpasteurised goats’ or sheep’s milk or eat certain food that is made out of them, e.g. soft goats’ cheese.
If you are vegetarian or vegan, a varied and balanced diet should give enough nutrients for you and your baby during pregnancy. However, you might find it hard to get enough iron and vitamin B12. Talk to your doctor or midwife about how you can make sure that you are getting enough of these important nutrients.
You should also talk to your doctor or midwife if you have a restricted diet because you have a food intolerance (such as coeliac disease) or for religious reasons. A dietician can give you advice on how to get the nutrients you need for you and your baby.