Eating some foods and drinks during pregnancy may increase the risk of harm to you and your baby.
Foods to avoid in pregnancy
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.
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.
- mould-ripened soft cheeses, such as brie, camembert and others with a similar rind, including goats' cheese
- soft blue-veined cheeses, such as Danish blue, gorgonzola and Roquefort.
Why? There’s a risk that these cheeses could contain listeria.
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
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.
*Recent research suggests that there is “very low” risk of salmonella from UK eggs produced under the Red Lion code and that they are safe to eat in pregnancy. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is currently reviewing its advice to pregnant women. Find out more.
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.)
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.
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
You should limit your caffeine intake to no more than 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
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.
In pregnancy it's important to eat well. If you are used to eating foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat, you can make a few changes that will be good for you and your baby.
Avoiding alcohol may be easy if, like lots of women, you go off the taste early in your pregnancy. But for some others, it can be a challenge.
It depends on the type of medication. Some types of medication for mental health problems have risks for your baby if you take them when you are pregnant or when you are breastfeeding.
Drinking a lot of caffeine in pregnancy has been linked to miscarriage and low birth weight so the current advice is to limit your caffeine intake to no more than 200mg a day during your pregnancy.
Food hygiene is important for everyone but it’s particularly good to be careful how you prepare, handle and store food now you're pregnant.
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2. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2008) ‘Antenatal Care’, NICE Clinical Guidelines 62: http://publications.nice.org.uk/antenatal-care-cg62 [accessed 18 January 2015].
3. Food Standards Agency (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
4. Macdonald S, Magill-Cuerden J (2012) Mayes’ Midwifery, 14th edition, London, Ballière Tindall, p. 424; ‘Foods to avoid in pregnancy’, NHS Choices: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/foods-to-avoid-pregnant.aspx#Peanuts [accessed 18 January 2015]
5. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2008) ‘Antenatal Care’, NICE Clinical Guidelines 62: http://publications.nice.org.uk/antenatal-care-cg62 [accessed 18 January 2015].
6. Food Standards Agency (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
7. NHS Choices, Listeriosis, http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/listeriosis/Pages/causes.aspx [accessed 18/02/2015]
9. NHS Choices, Eggs, http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/eggs-nutrition.aspx [accessed 19/02/2015]
10. 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
11. NHS Choices, Should pregnant and breastfeeding women avoid some types of fish?’ : http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/should-pregnant-and-breastfeeding-women-avoid-some-types-of-fish.aspx?CategoryID=54&SubCategoryID=216#close [accessed 18 January 2015]
12. NHS Choices, ‘Can I eat shellfish during pregnancy?’, http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/can-I-eat-shellfish-during-pregnancy.aspx [accessed 18 January 2015]
13. NHS Choices, “Alcohol in pregnancy.” NHS choices 2013; accessed onlinehttp://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/alcohol-medicines-drugs-pregnant.aspx accessed on 07.02.2015
14. Patra J et al. (2011). “Dose response relationship between alcohol consumption before and during pregnancy and the risk of low birthweight, preterm and small for gestational age (SGA)- a systematic review and meta-analyses.” BJOG 2011;118:1411-1421
15. Alcohol and pregnancy, Information for you (RCOG 2015) https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/pregnancy/pi-alcohol-and-pregnancy.pdf Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
16. 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.a233
17. NHS Choices, 'Caffeine in pregnancy', http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/limit-caffeine-during-pregnancy.aspx?CategoryID=54&SubCategoryID=216 [accessed 12/11/2014]
18. ‘Pregnant women advised to limit caffeine consumption’, Food Standards Agency, 3 November 2008 (archived content):http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20120206100416/http://food.gov.uk/news/newsarchive/2008/nov/caffeinenov08[accessed 18 January 2015]
19. Frazier AL, et al. (2014). “Prospective study of peripregnancy consumption of peanuts or tree nuts by mothers and the risk of peanut and tree nut allergy in their offspring.” JAMA Pediatr 2014;168:156-162
20. NHS Choices: ‘Peanuts’ in ‘Foods to avoid in pregnancy’, http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/foods-to-avoid-pre... 18 January 2015] http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/917.aspx?CategoryID=54
ℹLast reviewed on August 1st, 2016. Next review date August 1st, 2019.
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