Foods to avoid during pregnancy

foods to avoid when pregnant shopping supermarket

There are some foods you should avoid while you're pregnant because they could harm your baby. Although much of the list of what not to eat when you're expecting is common sense, it’s a good idea to check exactly what's on – and off – the menu for the next nine months

Dairy & Eggs | Meat & Fish | Caffeine & Alcohol | Soil | Vitamins/Supplements | Other foods | Food safety tips

Dairy & Eggs

Dairy products

Why should I avoid certain cheeses while pregnant?

I would love it if the supermarkets could put a 'safe for pregnant women' logo on their cheeses (like their nut allergy warnings). I spent ages trying to figure out what I could and couldn't eat in the dairy aisle.

In cheeses with a high water or mould content, there is sometimes a bacteria called listeria. Although infection with listeria (listeriosis) is rare, it can cause miscarriage and stillbirth – so it's just not worth taking the risk.

Some cheeses – including hard cheese like cheddar – are completely fine for pregnant women but soft cheese, blue cheese and goat's cheese all need to be handled carefully.

Find out which cheeses you should avoid during pregnancy.

Milk

It is safe to drink milk during pregnancy – as long as it is pasteurised (and the calcium you'll get is important for keeping you and baby healthy). However, unpasteurised milk is not safe because it could contain bacteria.

This is also the case for sheep's milk and goat's milk – so make sure to check the label – and any dairy consumed when you're pregnant.

Yoghurt and ice cream

As long as they have been made with pasteurised milk, yoghurt is also fine along with shop-bought cream and ice-cream. If you're getting fancy and making your own ice-cream, you could use an egg substitute or an egg-free recipe in order to avoid the very low salmonella risk (see below).

Eggs

Eggs can sometimes contain salmonella, which shouldn't harm your baby, but can make you very ill with food poisoning. Advice used to be to avoid all runny or uncooked eggs and any products containing them (including mayonnaise) but the latest advice suggests eggs produced in the UK adhering to the Lion code (even raw or lightly cooked) are safe to eat during pregnancy.

Find out how you can eat eggs safely during pregnancy.

Meat and fish

raw and cooked meat, fish and prawns

Can I eat meat during pregnancy?

In short, yes, but there are exceptions. Make sure the meat you're eating is completely cooked, and don't eat anything raw or underdone (now's not the time for a rare steak). This is because raw meat can carry a risk of toxoplasmosis.

First thing I did when I got home from hospital after having my baby was get the brie, pâté and Cava out. I'm not lying when I say it was better than sex.

Liver and pate (even vegetarian kinds) need to be avoided completely because liver contains high levels of vitamin A which can harm your baby's development, and pate can contain listeria.

Get more info on cooking and eating meat safely when you're pregnant.

Can I eat fish and shellfish while pregnant?

Generally speaking fish is good for you and helps your baby's development, so do include it in your pregnancy diet. However, there are some varieties of fish and seafood you need to avoid.

Any fish which contains high levels of mercury – marlin, swordfish and shark – are a bad idea, as mercury can affect your baby's developing nervous system. Limit your consumption of oily fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines) to no more than three portions per week.

You can have as much white fish and cooked shellfish as you like – this includes cold, pre-cooked prawns and smoked fish. Sushi is safe to eat as well, including varieties with raw fish, so long as it has been frozen before serving.

Caffeine and alcohol

women drinking wine and coffee

Can I have caffeine during pregnancy?

There's no need to go cold turkey with caffeine while you're pregnant, but if you're a serious coffee drinker or Diet Coke addict, you'll want to cut down your intake to 200mg a day – which amounts to about one Americano and a small bar of chocolate (yes, there's caffeine in chocolate – sorry).

I switched to decaf tea and coffee, and reduced the amount of Coke I was drinking. But if I was at a friend's house and they offered a cuppa I’d have it without hesitation.

Too much caffeine can cause your baby to have a low birth weight and may cause miscarriage, so you'll need to think about your diet and where you can make changes.

Remember that caffeine is also in tea (including some herbal and green teas), some foods, and some cold and flu remedies – it's worth talking to your doctor before taking them.

Can I drink alcohol while I'm pregnant?

Advice on drinking during pregnancy is constantly changing. Experts don't seem to be able to agree on what level is safe, so current advice from the NHS is to avoid all alcohol throughout pregnancy.

The reason drinking when pregnant is considered dangerous, is because alcohol crosses the placenta. Your baby's developing liver isn't able to process it as fast as your liver can, so there are concerns this could increase your risk of miscarriage and your baby's chance of having a low birthweight. Heavy drinking can also lead to foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which can cause serious health problems for your baby, such as heart defects.

That said, some recent research suggests that an all-out ban for pregnant women is causing needless stress, when there is no hard evidence to show that an occasional drink during pregnancy causes any developmental issues. Alcohol

If you continued drinking alcohol before knowing you were pregnant, or have indulged in the occasional glass of vino while upduffed, try not to worry too much – but do be aware of the potential risks and put off that boozy night out till after your baby is born (you'll certainly have earned it!).

Soil

Unless you have a bad case of pica, it's doubtful you are going to be eating handfuls of earth, but make sure you wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly as soil can contain toxoplasma.

Unpasteurized or “freshly squeezed” juice from a juice bar or supermarket can also be a risk, so it's best avoided – if you want to make your own juice at home, wash all fruit and vegetables thoroughly before squeezing.

Toxoplasma is also found in cat poo (not that you should eat that even when you're not pregnant) so take care when cleaning Fluffy's litter tray, or – better still – get someone else to do it for the time being.

Vitamins and supplements

Folic acid

It's important to make sure you're eating well and getting the right nutrients while you're pregnant, but avoid high-dose multivitamin supplements, fish liver oil supplements, and any supplements containing vitamin A, which can affect your baby's development.

Do take folic acid though, especially in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy – it helps create new cells, which is important when you've got a tiny person growing inside of you.

Other foods on the 'safe for pregnancy' list

Can I eat peanuts in pregnancy?

The latest research says there is no clear evidence that eating or avoiding peanuts (or any other nuts or nut-based foods) during pregnancy affects whether your baby develops a nut allergy. So now you can get in a bag of dry-roasted while you're nursing your lime and soda. Hooray!

What about liquorice?

There's no recommendation to avoid liquorice sweets or teas whilst you're pregnant – but avoid the herbal remedy liquorice root as it's been linked to premature labour.

Other tips for food safety in pregnancy

  • Use a food thermometer when cooking meat or fish to ensure it's cooked all the way through.
  • Avoid prepackaged salads (especially ones containing eggs, chicken, ham, or seafood).
  • Steer clear of buffet/picnic food that's been sitting out for longer than two hours.
  • Reheat leftovers until steaming.
  • Peel fruit and veg (or wash them really well) and keep them refrigerated to avoid the risk of bacteria growing.