Foods to Avoid During Pregnancy
There are some foods to avoid or take care with when you're pregnant as they might make you ill or harm your baby.
Make sure you know the important facts about which foods you should avoid or take precautions with when you're pregnant.
Cheeses to avoid in pregnancy
Soft cheeses with white rinds
Don't eat mould-ripened soft cheese (cheeses with a white rind) such as brie and camembert. This includes mould-ripened soft goats' cheese, such as chèvre. These cheeses are only safe to eat in pregnancy if they've been cooked.
Soft blue cheeses
You should also avoid soft blue-veined cheeses such as danish blue, gorgonzola and roquefort. Soft blue cheeses are only safe to eat in pregnancy if they've been cooked.
It's advised pregnant women avoid some soft cheeses because they're less acidic than hard cheeses and contain more moisture, which means they can be an ideal environment for harmful bacteria, such as listeria, to grow in.
Although infection with listeria (listeriosis) is rare, it's important to take special precautions in pregnancy – even a mild form of the illness in a pregnant woman can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illness in a newborn baby.
If you're pregnant and showing signs of listeria infection, seek medical help straight away.
Cheeses that are safe to eat in pregnancy
All hard cheeses are safe in pregnancy
You can eat hard cheeses, such as cheddar, parmesan and stilton, even if they're made with unpasteurised milk. Hard cheeses don't contain as much water as soft cheeses, so bacteria are less likely to grow in them. It's possible for hard cheese to contain listeria, but the risk is considered to be low.
Soft cheeses that are safe to eat in pregnancy
Other than mould-ripened soft cheeses, all other soft types of cheese are OK to eat, provided they're made from pasteurised milk.
- cottage cheese
- cream cheese
- goats' cheese
- processed cheeses, such as cheese spreads
Cooked soft cheeses that are safe to eat in pregnancy
Thorough cooking should kill any bacteria in cheese, so it should be safe to eat cooked mould-ripened soft cheese, such as brie, camembert and chèvre, and cooked soft blue cheese, such as roquefort or gorgonzola, or dishes that contain them.
It's important to make sure the cheese is thoroughly cooked until it's steaming hot all the way through.
Pâté in pregnancy
Avoid all types of pâté, including vegetable pâtés, as they can contain listeria.
Avoid some raw or partially cooked eggs if you're pregnant. Non-hen eggs such as duck, goose and quail eggs should always be cooked thoroughly.
Raw or undercooked meat is risky in pregnancy
Do not eat raw or undercooked meat, including meat joints and steaks cooked rare, because of the potential risk of toxoplasmosis.
Cook all meat and poultry thoroughly so it's steaming hot and there's no trace of pink or blood – especially with poultry, pork, sausages and minced meat, including burgers.
Wash all surfaces and utensils thoroughly after preparing raw meat to avoid the spread of harmful bugs. Wash and dry your hands after touching or handling raw meat.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite found in raw and undercooked meat, unpasteurised goats' milk, soil, cat poo, and untreated water.
If you're pregnant, the infection can damage your baby, but it's important to remember toxoplasmosis in pregnancy is very rare.
Toxoplasmosis often has no symptoms, but if you feel you may have been at risk, discuss it with your doctor, midwife or obstetrician. If you're infected while you're pregnant, treatment for toxoplasmosis is available.
Be cautious with cold cured meats in pregnancy
Many cold meats, such as salami, prosciutto, chorizo and pepperoni, are not cooked, they're just cured and fermented. This means there's a risk they contain toxoplasmosis-causing parasites.
It's best to check the instructions on the pack to see whether the product is ready to eat or needs cooking first.
For ready-to-eat meats, you can reduce any risk from parasites by freezing cured or fermented meats for four days at home before you eat them. Freezing kills most parasites and makes the meat safer to eat.
If you're planning to cook the meat – for instance, pepperoni on pizza – you don't need to freeze it first.
If you're eating out in a restaurant that sells cold cured or fermented meats, they may not have been frozen. If you're concerned, ask the staff or avoid eating it.
Pre-packed meat is safe to eat if you're pregnant
Pre-packed meats such as ham and corned beef are safe to eat in pregnancy. Some websites based in other countries may suggest that you avoid pre-packed meats when pregnant, but this is not the advice in the UK.
Liver can harm your unborn baby
Don't eat liver or products containing liver, such as liver pâté, liver sausage or haggis, as they may contain a lot of vitamin A. Too much vitamin A can harm your baby.
It's best to avoid eating game that has been shot with lead pellets while you're pregnant, as it may contain higher levels of lead. Venison and other large game sold in supermarkets is usually farmed and contains no or very low levels of lead. If you're not sure whether a product may contain lead shot, ask a retailer.
Vitamin and fish oil supplements
Don't take high-dose multivitamin supplements, fish liver oil supplements, or any supplements containing vitamin A.
Fish in pregnancy
You can eat most types of fish when you're pregnant. Eating fish is good for your health and the development of your baby, but you should avoid some types of fish and limit the amount you eat of some others.
Fish to avoid:
When you're pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you shouldn't eat shark, swordfish or marlin.
Fish to restrict:
You should also limit the amount of tuna you eat to:
- no more than two tuna steaks a week (about 140g cooked or 170g raw each), or
- four medium-sized cans of tuna a week (about 140g when drained)
This is because tuna contains more mercury than other types of fish. The amount of mercury we get from food isn't harmful for most people, but could affect your baby's developing nervous system if you take in high levels of mercury when you're pregnant.
When you're pregnant, you should also avoid having more than two portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring, as it can contain pollutants like dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Remember, fresh tuna is an oily fish, so if you eat two fresh tuna steaks in one week, you shouldn't eat any other oily fish that week.
Tinned tuna doesn't count as oily fish, so you can eat this on top of the maximum amount of two portions of oily fish (as long as it's not fresh tuna).
But remember not to eat more than four medium-sized cans of tinned tuna a week when you're pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
Fish that's safe to eat:
There's no need to limit the amount of white fish and cooked shellfish you eat when you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
Shellfish in pregnancy
Always eat cooked, rather than raw, shellfish – including mussels, lobster, crab, prawns, scallops and clams – when you're pregnant, as they can contain harmful bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning. Cold pre-cooked prawns are fine.
Smoked fish in pregnancy is safe
Smoked fish, which includes smoked salmon and smoked trout, is considered safe to eat in pregnancy.
Sushi and pregnancy
It's fine to eat raw or lightly cooked fish in dishes like sushi when you're pregnant, as long as any raw wild fish used to make it has been frozen first.
This is because, occasionally, wild fish contains small parasitic worms that could make you ill. Freezing kills the worms and makes raw fish safe to eat. Cooking will also kill them.
Certain farmed fish destined to be eaten raw in dishes like sushi, such as farmed salmon, no longer need to be frozen beforehand.
This is because farmed fish are very unlikely to contain parasitic worms as a result of the rearing methods used.
Lots of the sushi sold in shops is not made at the shop. This type of sushi should be fine to eat – if a shop or restaurant buys in ready-made sushi, the raw fish used to make it will have been subject to an appropriate freezing treatment.
If you're in any doubt, you might want to avoid eating the kinds of sushi that contain raw fish, such as tuna.
The safest way to enjoy sushi is to choose the fully cooked or vegetarian varieties, which can include:
- cooked seafood – for example, fully cooked eel (unagi) or shrimp (ebi)
- vegetables – for example, cucumber (kappa) maki
- avocado – for example, California roll
- fully cooked egg
If a shop or restaurant makes its own sushi on the premises, it must still be frozen first before being served. If you're concerned, ask the staff.
If you make your own sushi at home, freeze the fish for at least four days before using it.
Peanuts are safe in pregnancy
You can eat peanuts or food containing peanuts, such as peanut butter, during pregnancy, unless you're allergic to them or a health professional advises you not to.
You may have heard peanuts should be avoided during pregnancy. This is because the government previously advised women to avoid eating peanuts if there was a history of allergy – such as asthma, eczema, hay fever and food allergy – in their child's immediate family.
This advice has now changed because the latest research has shown no clear evidence that eating peanuts during pregnancy affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy.
Milk and yoghurt in pregnancy
Stick to pasteurised or ultra-heat treated (UHT) milk, which is sometimes called long-life milk.
If only raw (unpasteurised) milk is available, boil it first. Don't drink unpasteurised goats' or sheep's milk, or eat foods made from them, such as soft goats' cheese.
All types of yoghurt, including bio, live and low fat, are fine. Just check that any homemade yoghurt is made with pasteurised milk, and, if not, avoid it.
Ice cream in pregnancy
Soft ice creams should be fine to eat when you're pregnant, as they are processed products made with pasteurised milk and eggs, so any risk of salmonella food poisoning has been eliminated.
For homemade ice cream, use a pasteurised egg substitute or follow an egg-free recipe.
Foods with soil on them
Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil and visible dirt.
Caffeine in pregnancy
High levels of caffeine can result in babies having a low birthweight, which can increase the risk of health problems in later life. Too much caffeine can also cause miscarriage.
Caffeine is naturally found in lots of foods, such as coffee, tea (including green tea) and chocolate, and is added to some soft drinks and energy drinks.
Some cold and flu remedies also contain caffeine. Talk to your midwife, doctor or pharmacist before taking these remedies.
You don't need to cut out caffeine completely, but don't have more than 200mg a day.
The approximate amount of caffeine found in food and drinks is:
- one mug of instant coffee: 100mg
- one mug of filter coffee: 140mg
- one mug of tea: 75mg
- one can of cola: 40mg
- one 250ml can of energy drink: 80mg (larger cans of energy drink may have up to 160mg caffeine)
- 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
So, if you have one can of cola and one mug of filter coffee, for example, you have reached almost 200mg of caffeine. Don't worry if you occasionally have more than this amount – the risks are small.
To cut down on caffeine, try decaffeinated tea and coffee, fruit juice or mineral water instead of regular tea, coffee, cola and energy drinks.
Herbal and green teas in pregnancy
There's little information on the safety of herbal and green teas in pregnancy, so it's best to drink them in moderation.
The FSA recommends drinking no more than around four cups of herbal or green tea a day during pregnancy, and to seek advice from your doctor or midwife if you're unsure about which herbal products are safe to consume.
Bear in mind that green tea contains caffeine.
You can have moderate amounts of liquorice sweets or liquorice teas in pregnancy – there's no recommendation to avoid them. However, you should avoid the herbal remedy liquorice root.
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