Tommy's PregnancyHub

Foods to avoid in pregnancy

Now you’re pregnant, there are some foods and drinks that are best avoided or limited because of small risks to the safety of your baby.

Eating some foods and drinks during pregnancy may increase the risk of harm to you and/or your baby.

Raw or undercooked meat

Avoid undercooked meat, especially sausages or minced meat. Be careful to cook them thoroughly so there’s no trace of pink or blood. Although the risk is low, you may also prefer to avoid raw cured meat, such as Parma ham, chorizo, pepperoni and salami. It’s safest to eat well-cooked meat when you’re pregnant.

Why? There is a risk of toxoplasmosis, a tiny parasite that lives in raw meat, soil and cat poo and can harm the baby.

Unpasteurised milk and dairy products

All milk sold in shops, supermarkets and restaurants in the UK is pasteurised and fine to drink. If you are a farmer or use farmers’ markets, however, you might come across unpasteurised milk and products made from it. You should avoid these. This also applies to goat's milk and sheep's milk. If you only have access to unpasteurised milk, boil it before using.

Why? There is an increased risk of toxoplasmosis, listeriosis and Campylobacter.

Liver and other foods containing vitamin A

Avoid liver and liver products, such as liver pâté and liver sausage. It's not safe to take multivitamins containing vitamin A or fish liver oils, such as cod liver oil. Also steer clear of any foods that have vitamin A added (they may say 'fortified with vitamin A').

Why? Liver has high levels of vitamin A, and too much of this can harm your baby.

Pâté

Avoid all types of pâté, including vegetable pâté.

Why? They may contain listeria. These are bacteria that can cause an infection called listeriosis. Listeriosis can harm a baby during pregnancy or cause severe illness in a newborn. Liver pate can also have high levels of vitamin A, which is harmful to the baby.

Certain cheeses

Avoid:

  • mould-ripened soft cheeses, such as brie, camembert and others with a similar rind, including goats' cheese (unless cooked until steaming hot). 
  • soft blue-veined cheeses, such as Danish blue, gorgonzola and Roquefort (unless cooked until steaming hot). 

Why? There’s a risk that these cheeses could contain listeria.

Find out more on the NHS website.

Undercooked ready meals

It’s important to follow the cooking instructions on the pack of any ready meals you eat. Also, check that the meal is piping hot all the way through before you eat it. This is especially important for meals containing poultry, such as chicken or turkey.

Why? There’s a risk that these could contain listeria.

Raw eggs or undercooked eggs (excepting Lion Code)

It’s important that any eggs you eat are cooked until the yolks and whites are solid all the way through. Using eggs in cooked recipes is safe but avoid foods that have raw egg in them, such as homemade mayonnaise or mousse.

Why? There’s a risk of salmonella, a common cause of food poisoning that can harm the baby and make you very unwell.

Red Lion eggs are an exception

British red lion eggs logo

Eggs that are produced under a food safety standard called the British Lion Code of Practice have a much lower risk of salmonella and are safe to eat raw or partially cooked.

  • Each egg has a logo stamped on their shell, showing a red lion. 
  • Cartons have the quality mark on the label
  • It only appears on hen eggs

Lion Code eggs are considered very low risk for salmonella, and safe for pregnant women to eat raw or partially cooked. 

What happens if I get Salmonella?

Salmonella food poisoning is unlikely to harm your baby, but it can give you a bad bout of diarrhoea and vomiting.

Certain kinds of fish

Fish is good for you and you should aim to eat at least two portions a week, including one portion of oily fish, such as fresh tuna, mackerel or sardines. However, there are some types of fish you should avoid and some you should limit:

  • Avoid shark, swordfish and marlin as they have high levels of mercury, which could affect your baby’s nervous system.
  • Limit tuna to no more than two fresh steaks or four medium cans of tinned tuna a week because it also has high levels of mercury.
  • Limit oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, herring, pilchards) to no more than two portions a week as they contain pollutants.
  • Avoid eating raw shellfish, such as oysters, as they may give you food poisoning. (Cooked shellfish are fine – these include cold pre-cooked prawns.)
Top tip

Try to avoid eating from your toddler’s plate or with their knife and fork. It can put you at risk of a viral infection called Cytomegalovirus (CMV), which is often contracted by young children at nurseries. The virus is harmless to children but could have harmful effects on an unborn baby.

Alcohol

It's safest to avoid alcohol completely during pregnancy, especially in the first three months. If you do choose to drink after that, keep it to a maximum of one or two units, no more than once or twice a week.

Why? Alcohol can harm you and your baby, and experts cannot be sure that any amount of alcohol is safe.

Find out more about alcohol in pregnancy.

Caffeine

Drinking a lot of caffeine in pregnancy has been linked to miscarriage and low birth weight.

Caffeine is found in:

  • tea and coffee
  • cola and other soft drinks
  • chocolate

You should limit your caffeine intake as low as possible below 200mg a day during your pregnancy.

A can of cola has around 40mg of caffeine, a mug of tea has around 75mg, a bar of plain chocolate has around 50mg, a cup of instant coffee has around 100mg, a mug of filter coffee has around 140mg.

It can add up quickly - you will reach your limit with, for example:

  • one bar of plain chocolate and one mug of filter coffee
  • two mugs of tea and one can of cola

Work out how much caffeine you have each day with this counter.

Can I eat peanuts during my pregnancy?

Doctors used to say you shouldn’t eat peanuts or peanut butter if you or your baby’s dad have asthma, eczema or allergies. This was because it was thought that eating peanuts might make the baby more likely to be allergic to them. But the latest research has shown no clear evidence that eating peanuts during pregnancy affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy.

What if I've already eaten something risky?

Don't panic. If it didn't make you ill at the time, it's unlikely to have affected you or your baby. Talk to your doctor or midwife if you're worried about something you've eaten.

  1. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (published 2008, updated 2017) ‘Antenatal Care for uncomplicated pregnancies’, NICE Clinical Guidelines 62: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg6
  2. FSA (2012), Advisory Committee on the Microbial Safety of Food, Ad hoc group on Vulnerable Groups, Risk profile in relation to toxoplasma in the food chain, Food Standards Agency, London, England
  3. Review of advice to consumers (including vulnerable groups) on eating raw or lightly cooked shell eggs and their products in the UK [accessed 21 June 2017] https://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/help-shape-our-policies/review-of-advice-to-consumers-on-eggs
  4. Oken E et al. (2008). “Maternal fish intake during pregnancy blood mercury levels and child cognition at age 3 years in a US cohort.” Am J Epidemiol 2008;167:1171-1181
  5. NHS Choices [accessed 27/06/2017] Drinking alcohol while pregnant (Page last reviewed: 14/01/2017 Next review due: 14/01/2020) http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/alcohol-medicines-drugs-pregnant.aspx
  6. CARE study group 2008. “Maternal Caffeine intake during pregnancy and risk of fetal growth restriction: a large prospective observational study.” BMJ 2008;337: doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2332
  7. NHS Choices [accessed 27/06/2017] Should I limit caffeine in pregnancy? Page (last reviewed: 30/03/2015 Next review due: 01/03/2018) http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/limit-caffeine-during-pregnancy.aspx?CategoryID=54&SubCategoryID=216
  8. NHS Choices [accessed 27/06/2017] Peanuts’ in ‘Why should I avoid some foods in pregnancy?, Page last reviewed: 01/04/2015. Next review due: 01/03/2018) http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/foods-to-avoid-pregnant.aspx#Peanuts
Review dates

Last reviewed: 27 June, 2017
Next review: 27 June, 2020