Take care with some foods
There are some foods you should not eat when you're pregnant because they might make you ill or harm your baby. Make sure you know the important facts about which foods you should avoid or take extra care with when you're pregnant. You can read this whole page or click on the links below to go directly to the topic you want to know about.
Some types of cheese Pâté
Raw or partially cooked eggs Raw or undercooked meat
Cold cured meats Liver
Supplements containing vitamin A Some types of fish
Raw shellfish Sushi
Peanuts Unpasteurised milk
Foods with soil on them Caffeine
Some types of cheese
Don't eat mould-ripened soft cheese, such as brie and camembert, whether it's made with cows' or goats' milk. You should also avoid soft blue-veined cheeses, such as Danish blue, gorgonzola and roquefort.
This is because soft cheeses like this are less acidic than hard cheeses and they 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 is important to take special precautions in pregnancy because even a mild form of the illness in a pregnant woman can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illness in a newborn baby.
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 is possible for hard cheese to contain listeria, but the risk is considered to be low.
Many other types of cheese are OK to eat, but make sure they're made from pasteurised milk. These include cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, cream cheese, paneer, ricotta, halloumi, goats' cheese and processed cheeses such as cheese spreads.
Thorough cooking should kill any bacteria in cheese, so it should be safe to eat cooked mould-ripened soft cheese, such as brie or camembert, 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.
Avoid all types of pâté, including vegetable pâtés, as they can contain listeria.
Raw or partially cooked eggs
Make sure that eggs are thoroughly cooked until the whites and yolks are solid. This prevents the risk of salmonella food poisoning. Avoid foods that contain raw and undercooked eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise. If you wish to have dishes that contain raw or partially cooked eggs, you should consider using pasteurised liquid egg.
Raw or undercooked meat
Cook all meat and poultry thoroughly so it is steaming hot and there is no trace of pink or blood. Take particular care with poultry, pork, sausages and minced meat, including burgers.
Avoid rare meat. The Department of Health previously advised that it was fine to eat whole cuts of beef and lamb rare, as long as the outside had been properly cooked. As a precaution, this advice has now been removed while a food safety committee (The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food) looks into the issue of toxoplasmosis.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite that can be found in meat, soil, cat faeces and untreated water. If you are pregnant the infection can damage your baby, but it's important to remember that toxoplasmosis in pregnancy is very rare.
If you feel you may have been at risk, discuss it with your GP, midwife or obstetrician. If you are infected while you're pregnant, treatment for toxoplasmosis is available. Treatment can reduce the risk of the baby becoming infected. Where the baby is infected, treatment may reduce the risk of damage.
Wash all surfaces and utensils thoroughly after preparing raw meat. It's also important to remember to wash and dry your hands after touching or handling raw meat. This will help to avoid the spread of harmful bugs such as salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli 0157 that can cause food poisoning.
Cold cured meats
Cold cured meats include salami, parma ham, chorizo and pepperoni. Some countries advise pregnant women to avoid eating cold cured meats or smoked fish as there is a small risk of these foods harbouring listeria or the toxoplasma parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. Currently in the UK pregnant women aren't advised to avoid these products. However, you might choose to avoid cured meats and smoked fish while you are pregnant if you are concerned about these risks.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is reviewing its toxoplasmosis and listeria advice to vulnerable groups, including pregnant women, and we'll post the reviewed advice on this page as soon as it's available.
Find out about healthy eating in pregnancy, including healthy snacks.
Don't eat liver or liver products such as liver pâté or liver sausage, as they may contain a lot of vitamin A. Too much vitamin A can harm your baby.
Supplements containing vitamin A
Don't take high-dose multivitamin supplements, fish liver oil supplements or any supplements containing vitamin A.
Some types of fish
Don't eat shark, marlin and swordfish, and 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)
These types of fish contain high levels of mercury that can damage your baby's developing nervous system. Don't eat more than two portions of oily fish a week. Oily fish includes fresh tuna (but not canned tuna), salmon, mackerel, sardines and trout.
Eat cooked rather than raw shellfish as they can contain harmful bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning.
It's fine to eat sushi and other dishes made with raw fish when you're pregnant as long as the fish used to make it has been frozen first. This is because occasionally fish contains small parasitic worms that could make you ill. Freezing kills the worms and makes raw fish safe to eat.
Lots of the sushi sold in shops is not made at the shop. This type of sushi should be fine to eat, because if a shop or restaurant buys in ready-made sushi, the raw fish used to make it must have been frozen at minus 20ºC for at least 24 hours. If you're in any doubt, you might wish to avoid eating the kinds of sushi that contain raw seafood 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
Fresh, raw seafood is potentially risky because it can contain parasites, although freezing and cooking kills the parasites.
If a shop or restaurant makes its own sushi on the premises, the fish might not have been frozen. If you're concerned, ask the staff.
If you make your own sushi at home, freeze the fish for at least 24 hours before using it.
Some raw fish used to make sushi, such as smoked salmon, doesn't need to be frozen before it's used. This is because smoking kills any worms in the fish.
If you would like to eat peanuts or food containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) during pregnancy, you can choose to do so as part of a healthy balanced diet, unless you are allergic to them or a health professional advises you not to.
You may have heard that in the past some women have chosen not to eat peanuts when they were pregnant. This is because the government previously advised women that they may wish to avoid eating peanuts if there was a history of allergy (such as asthma, eczema, hay fever, food allergy or other types of allergy) in their child's immediate family.
This advice has now been changed because the latest research has shown that there is no clear evidence to say if eating peanuts during pregnancy affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy.
If you have milk, drink only pasteurised or UHT (ultra-heat treated) milk – sometimes also 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.
Soft ice creams should be fine to eat when you're pregnant, as they are processed products made with pasteurised milk. However, if you have any concerns about eating these products, you might wish to avoid them while you're pregnant.
Foods with soil on them
Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil and visible dirt.
High levels of caffeine can result in babies having a low birth weight, 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 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 can of energy drink: 80mg
- one 50g bar of plain (dark) chocolate: around 50mg
- one 50g bar of milk chocolate: around 25mg
So if you have, for example, one bar of chocolate and one mug of filter coffee, 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.