Dos and don'ts for a safer pregnancy
Things to do during pregnancy
Take folic acid and vitamin D supplements
Folic acid significantly reduces your baby’s risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida.
If you are pregnant, start taking 400 micrograms of folic acid as a supplement as soon as possible until the end of the first trimester (week 12 of your pregnancy).
Some people may need a higher dose of folic acid, for example if you have diabetes or epilepsy. This is only available on prescription. Find out more about folic acid.
You are also recommended to take a Vitamin D supplement during pregnancy and during breastfeeding. This helps your baby develop healthy bones, teeth and muscles.
These 2 supplements are the only ones you need in pregnancy, alongside a healthy, balanced diet.
Find out more about pregnancy supplements.
Having a balanced diet and eating well during pregnancy means having a good variety of foods, such as fruit and vegetable, meat, cheese, potatoes, beans and pulses. This will ensure you have the energy and nutrients you and your baby need during pregnancy.
If you feel you are struggling to follow a healthy diet during pregnancy, ask your midwife or GP for support. They might be able to refer you to a dietitian to help you.
Read all about how to eat well in pregnancy.
Staying active during pregnancy is great for you and your baby. It can help you sleep better, reduce anxiety and help you stay healthy through pregnancy.
If you were active before you became pregnant, you can continue at the same level. But listen to your body and slow down if you begin to feel uncomfortable. If you didn’t exercise much before you became pregnant, build up slowly and aim for 30 minutes each day.
Exercise does not have to be strenuous to make a difference. Even gentle walks are good.
Read all about exercise and pregnancy.
Avoid diving or playing contact sports
Most exercise is safe and healthy to continue during pregnancy. But there are some activities you should not do.
Read about activities that are best to avoid during pregnancy.
Monitor your baby’s movements
Feeling your baby move is a sign that they are well. You usually start to feel your baby moving when you’re between 18 and 24 weeks. If this is your first baby, you might not feel movements until after 20 weeks.
The movements can feel like a gentle swirling or fluttering. As your pregnancy progresses, you may feel kicks and jerky movements.
Get to know your baby’s pattern of movements and contact your midwife or maternity unit immediately if you think these have slowed down, stopped or changed. You should feel your baby move right up to and during labour.
Find out more about monitoring your baby’s movements.
Go to sleep on your side in the third trimester
Our advice is to go sleep on your side in the third trimester because research has shown that this is safer for your baby. This includes night sleep and daytime naps. If you wake up on your back, try not to worry, just settle back to sleep on your side.
Find out more about sleeping on your side in the third trimester.
Take care of your mental health
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health during pregnancy. Being pregnant is an emotional experience and it can be normal to experience mood swings or feel low from time to time. However, it’s important that you ask for help if these feelings become unmanageable or last longer than a couple of weeks.
You won’t be judged for how you feel. As many as 1 in 5 women develop mental health issues when they are pregnant and up to a year after birth. Your pregnancy care team understand that mental health conditions can affect anyone at any time.
Find out more about taking care of your mental wellbeing during pregnancy.
Consider having vaccinations that are offered
You’ll be offered vaccinations during pregnancy.
The whooping cough vaccine
Whooping cough (pertussis) is a respiratory infection that develops into severe coughing fits. This illness can be very severe, especially in very young babies. Pregnant people are recommended to have the vaccine to protect their baby until they are old enough to have their first vaccinations.
The best time to get vaccinated to protect your baby is from week 16 up to 32 weeks of pregnancy. But you can have the vaccine anytime from 16 weeks right up until labour. However, it may be less effective if you have it after 38 weeks.
There are no recommendations in the UK for your partner to have this vaccine.
The flu vaccine (between September and February)
All pregnant people are recommended to have the flu vaccine, whatever stage of pregnancy you are at. This is because having the flu in pregnancy can cause complications, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy.
Read more about having these vaccinations in pregnancy.
Pregnant people are recommended to have their COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible. Find out more about the COVID-19 vaccine in pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Carry your pregnancy notes with you
It’s a good idea to carry your antenatal notes everywhere you go as they contain all your medical and pregnancy history. This is particularly important if you need to go to the maternity unit, especially at short notice.
Make sure you’re prepared if you travel abroad
If you’re flying abroad make sure your travel insurance covers you for any pregnancy complications and take your maternity notes with you.
Long-distance travel (more than 4 hours) may increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or blood clots. Try to:
- wear compression or support stockings (available from the pharmacy or the airport), which will help reduce leg swelling
- drink plenty of water
- move around often.
If you intend to fly after 28 weeks check the airline’s policy. They may ask for a letter from your doctor or midwife confirming your due date, and that you aren't at risk of complications. Find out more about flying in pregnancy.
Be aware of red-flag symptoms
There are some symptoms that should always be checked with a midwife or doctor as they could be a sign that the baby is unwell. This include:
- bleeding from the vagina
- painful urination
- sudden, sharp or continuing abdominal pain or cramps
- persistent or severe headache
- swelling in face, hands or legs
- blurred vision, spots in front of eyes
- itching, especially on hands or feet
- baby’s movements slowing down or changing
- excessive or smelly vaginal discharge or if you think your waters have broken.
You should always contact your midwife if you feel that something is wrong with you or the baby. Even if you don't know exactly what it is. It's important to trust your instincts in pregnancy.
Things to avoid during your pregnancy
Try not to ‘eat for two’
Your baby will take all they need from you as they grow, so there’s no need for extra calories in the first or second trimester. In the third trimester, you might need an extra 200 calories if you are active. This is the equivalent to around half a sandwich.
Find out more about how much to eat in pregnancy.
Avoid losing weight during pregnancy
Cutting out food groups to try to lose weight may stop your baby getting nutrients they need for growth. Instead of restricting your diet, the best thing to do is manage your weight through eating a healthy, balanced diet, with a variety of foods from each of the main food groups.
Find out more about managing your weight during pregnancy.
Avoid certain foods during pregnancy
Some foods carry a small risk of infections during pregnancy, such as toxoplasmosis or listeriosis. These infections are rare but can cause problems for your developing baby.
Take a look at our list of foods to avoid during pregnancy.
You may also find it useful to read more about how to avoid infections during pregnancy.
High levels have been linked to pregnancy complications, so it is best to limit your caffeine intake as much as possible.
The current NHS guidelines recommend that you should have less than 200mg a day. This is about 2 cups of instant coffee.
Find out your daily caffeine intake with our caffeine calculator.
If you smoke, try to quit
If you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do for you and your baby.
Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of serious complications in pregnancy, including miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth.
Quitting smoking can be difficult, but it’s never too late to stop. Get support to quit smoking.
Avoid drinking alcohol
Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby. The more you drink, the greater the risk. There is no known safe level for drinking alcohol during pregnancy, so it’s best to avoid it completely during pregnancy.
Find out more about drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
Stay away from recreational drugs
Cocaine, meta-amphetamines, cannabis, psychoactive substances (so called ‘legal highs’) are all likely to increase risks of health problems.
If you are taking illegal drugs, it is important to talk to your midwife or doctor. They will not judge you and can give you the right care and support during your pregnancy. The more they know, the more they can help you and your baby to get the right treatment.
You can also get confidential (they will not speak to anyone else about your drug-use) extra support from Talk to Frank.
NICE (2014) Maternal and child nutrition. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph11
NICE (2014) Vitamin D: supplement use in specific population groups. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph56
NICE. Nutrition: improving maternal and child nutrition. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs98
NHS. Exercise in pregnancy. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/exercise/ (Page last reviewed: 20 January 2020 Next review due: 20 January 2023)
Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (2021) Your baby’s movements in pregnancy. https://www.rcog.org.uk/for-the-public/browse-all-patient-information-leaflets/your-babys-movements-in-pregnancy/
Heazell AEP, Li M, Budd J, Thompson JMD, Stacey T, Cronin RS, Martin B, Roberts D, Mitchell EA, McCowan LME. Association between maternal sleep practices and late stillbirth – findings from a stillbirth case-control study. BJOG2017; https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-0528.14967.
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2017) Maternal Mental Health – Women’s Voices: https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/information/maternalmental-healthwomens-voices.pdf
Public Health England: Vaccination against pertussis (Whooping cough) for pregnant women-2016 Information for healthcare professionals; 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/vaccination-against-pertussis-whooping-cough-for-pregnant-women
NHS. The flu jab in pregnancy. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/flu-jab/ (Page last reviewed: 10 September 2019 Next review due: 10 September 2022)
NHS. Travelling in pregnancy. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/travelling/ (Page last updated: 12 November 2018 Next update due: 12 November 2021)
NICE. Weight management before, during and after pregnancy. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph27
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Why your weight matters during pregnancy and after birth (Page last reviewed: Nov 2011) www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/pregnancy/pi-why-your-weight-matters-during-pregnancy-and-after-birth.pdf
NHS. Foods to avoid in pregnancy: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/foods-to-avoid-pregnant/ (Page last updated: 16 April 2020 Next update due: 16 April 2023)
NHS. Foods to avoid in pregnancy. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/foods-to-avoid/ (Page last reviewed: 16 April 2020 Next review due: 16 April 2023)
Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (2015) Smoking and pregnancy. https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/patients/patient-leaflets/smoking-and-pregnancy/
NHS. Drinking alcohol while pregnant. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/alcohol-medicines-drugs-pregnant/ (Page last reviewed: 29 January 2020 Next review due: 29 January 2023)
NICE (2011), 'Pregnancy and complex social factors (CG110) A model for service provision for pregnant women with complex social factors': http://guidance.nice.org.uk/CG110