Foods that can harm you or your baby
There are some foods to avoid or take care with 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 precautions 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
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 chevre. 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.
The advice to avoid some soft cheeses is because they 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.
These are the symptoms of listeria. 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 is 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. These include:
- 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 chevre, 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.
Read more about:
Pâté in pregnancy
Avoid all types of pâté, including vegetable pâtés, as they can contain listeria.
Avoid raw or partially cooked eggs if you're pregnant
Make sure that eggs are thoroughly cooked until the whites and yolks are solid to prevent the risk of salmonella food poisoning. Salmonella food poisoning is unlikely to harm your baby, but it can give you a severe bout of diarrhoea and vominting.
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, consider using pasteurised liquid egg.
Raw or undercooked meat is risky in pregnancy
Try not to eat rare meat because of the potential risk of toxoplasmosis.
Cook all meat and poultry thoroughly so it's steaming hot and there is no trace of pink or blood - especially with poultry, pork, sausages and minced meat, including burgers.
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.
Toxoplasmosis often has no symptoms. But 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.
Wash all surfaces and utensils thoroughly after preparing raw meat to avoid the spread of harmful bugs. And wash and dry your hands after touching or handling raw meat.
Read more about toxoplasmosis.
Be cautious with cold cured meats in pregnancy
Many cold meats such as salami, Parma ham, chorizo and pepperoni are not cooked, just cured and fermented, so there's a risk that 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/fermented meats for four days at home before you eat them. Freezing kills most parasites and so makes the meat safer to eat.
If you're planning to cook the meat (for instance, pepperoni on pizza) then you don't need to freeze it first.
If you're eating out in a restaurant that sells cold cured/fermented meats they may not have been frozen. If you're concerned, ask the staff or avoid eating it.
Smoked fish in pregnancy is safe
Smoked fish, which includes smoked salmon and smoked trout, is considered safe to eat in pregnancy.
Pre-packed meat is safe to eat if you're pregnant
Pre-packed meats like ham and corned beef are safe to eat in pregnancy. Some other sites (maybe from other countries such as the USA) may suggest that you avoid pre-packed meats in pregnancy but here in the UK we do not.
Liver can harm your unborn baby
Don't eat liver, or liver-containing products 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.
Vitamin and fish oil supplements to avoid in pregnancy
Don't take high-dose multivitamin supplements, fish liver oil supplements or any supplements containing vitamin A.
Some types of fish are risky in pregnancy
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.
Avoid raw shellfish when you're pregnant
Eat cooked rather than raw shellfish (including mussels, lobster, crab, prawns, scallops and clams) as they can contain harmful bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning. Cold pre-cooked prawns are fine.
Read more about eating shellfish in pregnancy.
Sushi and pregnancy
It's fine to eat raw or lightly cooked fish in dishes such as 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 due to the rearing methods used. If you're unsure contact the Food Standards Agency for advice.
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 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
Go ahead and eat peanuts or food containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) during pregnancy, unless you are allergic to them or a health professional advises you not to.
You may have heard that peanuts should be avoided during pregnancy. This is because the government previously advised women that they may want 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 showing that eating peanuts during pregnancy affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy.
Milk and yogurt in pregnancy
Stick to 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.
All types of yogurt, including bio, live, low-fat etc are fine. Just check with homemade yogurt that it 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 home-made 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 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.
Read more about how to avoid food poisoning in pregnancy.
Find out about healthy eating in pregnancy, including healthy snacks.