There’s so much confusion about what you can and can’t eat, drink and do during pregnancy so I thought I’d put a guide here. Different countries guidelines vary, for example the French on the whole don’t avoid any cheeses (Homage de Fromage!), I’m going by the UK government recommendations, If you’re not sure about anything please ask your care provider.
Foods to definitely avoid
Soft cheeses containing unpasteurised milk, cheeses that are mould ripened like Brie and Camembert and blue veined cheese like Roquefort or Saint Agur unless they are cooked. These cheeses are more likely to contain the Listeria bacteria which is rare, but can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or illness in the newborn.
It’s worth remembering you can still eat them if they’re cooked – bring on the baked Camembert and Broccoli and Stilton soup! No, wait, I need to be sick again…..
All hard cheeses are safe to eat including stilton even if made with unpasteurised milk.
Certain types of fish contain higher levels of mercury which in excess can affect the baby’s nervous system and should be avoided or reduced: swordfish, shark and marlin are off the menu (I’ve yet to meet anybody who eats any of these), tuna is fine as long as it’s no more than 2 medium sized steaks or 4 tins of tuna a week. Avoid raw or partially cooked shellfish to prevent food poisoning, cooked peeled prawns are fine. Smoked fish, including smoked salmon is fine to eat. Sushi can be eaten (especially vegetarian sushi!) but only if any raw wild fish has been frozen first to kill off any parasites. Don’t eat more than 2 portions of oily fish (fresh tuna, salmon, mackerel) per week.
Peanuts and nuts are safe in pregnancy unless you yourself are allergic!
Pate, including vegetable pate is a no-no as it can potentially contain Listeria, bad luck for anyone pregnant over Christmas like I was (twice)!
Eggs need to be cooked through thoroughly, no raw or partially cooked eggs, the whites must be solid. Home made mayonnaise is out but you could put in liquid pasteurised egg instead. There is a small risk of salmonella which doesn’t harm the baby directly but could cause nasty food poisoning.
Toxoplasmosis: be careful when handling and preparing raw meat and cook all meat thoroughly to reduce the risk of toxoplasmosis – this is a rare infection that often has no symptoms yet can affect the baby. Got a cat? Day to day contact is fine but if they use a litter tray you get out of doing that one! Coming into contact with cat faeces is a no no as it could again contain toxoplasmosis. Dog poo is fine though! Be careful when gardening and with soil as it could be contaminated with cat faeces. As a precaution wash fruit and vegetables before eating.
Cured meats have a small risk of containing toxoplasmosis – again they’re ok if cooked like pepperoni on a pizza and if you freeze them first it kills off the bacteria. Use common sense, pepperami – probably ok, air dried ham from the Delhi round the corner – cook or freeze first! Read the labels.
Avoid liver as it has a high vitamin A content and don’t take vitamin supplements unless they are pregnancy ones as too much vitamin A can affect the baby’s facial development.
Caffeine – limit the amount of caffeine you take in as high levels can affect the baby’s birth weight or cause a miscarriage, but don’t panic if you have more because the risk is small. The advised limit is no more than 200mg per day. and be aware of the sources of caffeine, it’s not just coffee and tea. Some green teas contain caffeine too. As a rough guide:
- one mug of instant coffee: 100mg
- one mug of filter coffee: 140mg
- one mug of tea: 75mg
- one can of cola: 40mg
- one can of energy drink: 80mg
- one 50g bar of plain (dark) chocolate: most UK brands contain less than 25mg
- one 50g bar of milk chocolate: most UK brands contain less than 10mg
Be careful with any complementary therapies you use as they are not all safe in pregnancy, only buy with consultation.
References: NHS choices website