Questions about diet in pregnancy

Common questions about diet in pregnancy answered.

I am pregnant. How much do I need to eat?

During pregnancy almost everyone is told by some well-meaning person to have a second helping, or to eat more of what they fancy, ‘...because you’re eating for two now’.

It’s not true!

Amazingly, your baby takes everything he or she needs from your body. Up until the third trimester (six months into your pregnancy) your baby grows well without any extra calories at all. It is more important that you ensure your diet is rich in nutrients such as iron, calcium and other vitamins and minerals so that your body can provide enough for the both of you.  In the last three months you may need a little extra food, but only up to 200 extra calories a day, which is about two slices of wholemeal toast and butter.

Not all calories are equal. Choosing 200 calories of healthy food, such as a low-fat yoghurt with banana, will provide you with essential nutrients, such as calcium, which is important for the growth of your baby. However, 200 extra calories from crisps will provide you with very few essential nutrients.

Is it too late to take folic acid?

Folic acid is a vitamin that helps in the early formation of your baby's neural tube, which will turn into the brain and the spine. Because of this, it is recommended that women who are trying for a baby start taking folic acid before they become pregnant and then carry on taking it for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

After 12 weeks, the baby's neural tube will have closed and so it is not necessary to take folic acid, but it is safe to take all the way through your pregnancy if you are taking a pregnancy multivitamin tablet that contains it (although expensive pregnancy multivitamins are not strictly necessary if you have a balanced diet as you only need folic acid and vitamin D).

It is unlikely that the lack of folic acid will have affected your baby’s development as the risk is small, but if you’re worried about not having taken folic acid during the early months of your pregnancy, talk to your doctor or midwife.

Read more about folic acid and other supplements.

What cheese can I eat now I'm pregnant?

The two groups of cheese to avoid in pregnancy are:

  • soft cheeses with white rinds, such as brie, camembert and mould-ripened goats’ cheese
  • soft blue cheeses, such as Danish blue, gorgonzola and Roquefort.

If you cook these cheeses to steaming hot, however, they are safe to eat.

All hard cheeses are safe to eat in pregnancy - this includes cheddar, parmesan and stilton. Soft cheeses that are not mould-ripened are safe to eat as long as they are pasteurised. This includes cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, cream cheese, paneer, ricotta and halloumi.

Find out more about what food to avoid in pregnancy.

Can I eat packaged salad during pregnancy?

If you buy prepared salad that is pre-washed, it's fine to eat as long as you make sure you keep it in the fridge and don't eat it after the use-by date. Check the ingredients in any packaged salads you buy to make sure they don't contain foods you should avoid in pregnancy.

If salad has been left out at room temperature for a long time, it's best not to eat it as bacteria can grow quickly.

If you buy bagged salad that has not been pre-washed, it should say 'wash before use' on the pack. In this case, as with all vegetables and fruits that have not been pre-washed, you should wash the salad thoroughly.

Can I eat seafood during pregnancy?

Fish is good for you and you should aim to eat at least two portions a week. You don't need to restrict white fish but there are some fish you should limit or avoid.

  • You should limit oily fish, such as tuna, mackerel and sardines, to no more than two portions a week, because they can contain pollutants, which can be harmful to your developing baby. However you should eat one portion a week as it contains omega-3 essential oils.
  • Tuna can also contain levels of mercury that could damage your baby's developing nervous system if you eat too much. Because of this, you should have no more than two fresh tuna steaks or four cans (140g drained weight) each week.
  • Avoid shark, swordfish and marlin completely as they contain high levels of mercury.

Can I eat sushi in pregnancy?

  • Sushi made with raw fish is normally safe to eat as the fish is frozen or cured if necessary, and this kills off any parasites that may be harmful. If you’re eating sushi in a restaurant, ask whether all shellfish has been cooked and whether the fish has been frozen. You should avoid any sushi containing raw shellfish.
  • Sushi sold in shops and supermarkets is not normally prepared there and should be fine to eat. The ready-made sushi bought in by shops or restaurants uses raw fish that will have been frozen before use.
  • If you make sushi yourself at home, make sure you freeze the fish for at least 24 hours before using it.

Can I eat shellfish in pregnancy?

  • Shellfish includes crustaceans, such as crab, lobster and prawns, and molluscs, such as mussels, cockles and oysters. Cooked shellfish is safe to eat but raw shellfish can cause food poisoning and you should avoid eating it during your pregnancy.

How much weight should I be putting in in pregnancy?

Doctors find it hard to say how much weight women should gain in pregnancy because everyone is different.

Most women put on between 10kg (22lb) and 12.5kg (28lb) during their pregnancy.

Some weight gain is expected in pregnancy as your body changes to support your baby and prepare for breastfeeding. The important thing is to keep weight gain to a safe and healthy level for you and your baby. Your doctor or midwife may be able to advise you on what’s right for you.

You are likely to gain weight for the following reasons:

  • more blood in your body
  • breasts getting bigger for breastfeeding
  • the uterus and placenta growing
  • the growing baby
  • extra fat stores for breastfeeding.

Women should not try to actively diet at any time in pregnancy, but some weight loss might happen because of morning sickness or if you have moved to a healthier diet.

Your midwife or doctor may weigh you at your first appointment, but after that they’re unlikely to check your weight, unless you’re overweight or underweight.

If you’re underweight, you may be referred for extra scans to monitor your baby’s growth because of the link between underweight mothers and low birth-weight babies. 

Read more about weight management and pregnancy.

I'm 11 weeks pregnant and finding it hard to eat a balanced diet as so many foods make me feel sick. Could this harm my baby? 

Many women feel nauseous during pregnancy, particularly in the first three months. When you are not keeping food down it is hard to feel like you are providing your baby with the right amount of nutrition.Try not to worry, your baby will get what they need from your body, even if you are not keeping food down.

Try to eat small amounts often to avoid your blood sugar levels getting too low. Drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine. There is some scientific evidence to suggestfoods or drinks containing ginger help with mild to moderate pregnancy sickness. It's worth a try! If you can't keep anything down, talk to your midwife. Find out more about pregnancy sickness.

How much coffee can I drink during pregnancy?

Too much caffeine intake interferes with blood flow in the placenta and can affect fetal growth.

You should try to limit the amount of caffeine you have to no more than 200mg a day.

This is the equivalent of two cups of instant coffee. One mug of filter coffee has around 140mg. The amount of caffeine in a cup of brewed coffee from a coffee shop can be higher, so it’s best to play it safe.

Try our caffeine calculator to see what your usual caffeine intake adds up to.

If you find it hard to restrict how much coffee or tea that you drink, switch to decaffeinated types instead. There are loads of brands available, both instant and for all kinds of coffee machines. Most coffee shops have decaffeinated versions of their drinks.

What can I eat to boost my iron levels now I'm pregnant?

Iron makes red blood cells for both you and your baby. Red blood cells carry oxygen around your body to your organs and tissues, as well as to your baby.

In pregnancy, the amount of blood and fluid in your body increases by almost 50% and some women find that they are short of red blood cells. This is called anaemia and will be picked up when you have your routine antenatal blood tests.

If you are anaemic, you may lack energy and feel very tired. If you are expecting twins you're more likely to be low in iron.

Foods containing iron include red and white meat, oily fish, eggs, pulses (peas, beans and lentils, for example), wholegrain or wholemeal breads, nuts, green leafy vegetables and dried fruit. Some breakfast cereals have added iron.

If your blood tests show that you are anaemic, your doctor or midwife will prescribe an iron supplement.

Your body can absorb iron more easily if you have food or drink containing vitamin C at the same time. Many fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamin C and this is another good reason to have them at every meal. Avoiding tea and coffee at meal times will also help your body absorb iron.

Read more about iron in pregnancy.

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Sources

  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2010) ‘Weight Management Before, During and After Pregnancy’, NICE Public Health Guidelines 27: http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph27

  • Bestwick JP et al. (2014). “Prevention of neural tube defects: a cross sectional uptake of folic acid supplementation in nearly half a million women.” Plos One 2014; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0089354

  • NHS Choices [accessed 29/06/2017] Foods to avoid in pregnancy (Page last reviewed: 23/01/2017, Next review due: 23/01/2020)

  • 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

  • NHS Choices [accessed 29/06/2017] Is it safe to eat sushi during pregnancy? (Page last reviewed: 06/02/2015)

  • RCOG (2011) Information for you: Why your weight matters during pregnancy and after birth, London, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

  • RCOG (2016) The Management of Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy and Hyperemesis Gravidarum, Green-Top Guideline No 69. https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/green-top-guid...

  • CARE Study Group (2008) ‘Maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy and risk of fetal growth restriction: a large prospective observational study’, BMJ 337: a2332, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2332

  • NHS Choices [accessed 29/06/2017] Should I limit caffeine during pregnancy? (Page last reviewed: 30/03/2015. Next review due: 01/03/2018) http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/limit-caffeine-during-pregnancy.aspx?Categor...

 
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Last reviewed on June 29th, 2017. Next review date June 29th, 2020.

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