Dos and don'ts for a safer pregnancy

Here is some information about what to do for a healthy pregnancy, such as taking folic acid, staying active and eating well.

Things to DO during pregnancy

DO 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. 

DO eat well 

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.

DO stay active

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.

DO 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

DO 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. 

DO 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

DO 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.

Covid-19 vaccine

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.

DO 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:

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.

DO go to all your appointments

Pregnancy appointments are there to check on your health and the baby's health and growth. There are some pregnancy complications that have no symptoms and can only be spotted by a midwife at your appointment. The appointments help keep your baby safe.

Things to avoid during your pregnancy

DON'T ‘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

DON'T diet 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

DON'T eat certain foods 

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.

DON'T overdo caffeine

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.

DON'T smoke

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 and your midwife is there to help and support, not judge. Get support to quit smoking.

DON'T drink 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

DON'T take 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.

NICE (2014) Vitamin D: supplement use in specific population groups. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

NICE. Nutrition: improving maternal and child nutrition. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

NHS. Exercise in pregnancy. (Page last reviewed: 20 January 2020 Next review due: 20 January 2023)

Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (2021) Your baby’s 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;

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2017) Maternal Mental Health – Women’s Voices:

Public Health England: Vaccination against pertussis (Whooping cough) for pregnant women-2016 Information for healthcare professionals; 2016

NHS. The flu jab in pregnancy. (Page last reviewed: 10 September 2019 Next review due: 10 September 2022)

NHS. Travelling in pregnancy. (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

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Why your weight matters during pregnancy and after birth (Page last reviewed: Nov 2011)

NHS. Foods to avoid in pregnancy: (Page last updated: 16 April 2020 Next update due: 16 April 2023)

NHS. Foods to avoid in pregnancy. (Page last reviewed: 16 April 2020 Next review due: 16 April 2023)

Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (2015) Smoking and pregnancy.

NHS. Drinking alcohol while 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': 

Review dates
Reviewed: 21 April 2022
Next review: 21 April 2025