Pregnancy and baby

Foods to avoid in pregnancy

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 partly cooked eggs Raw or undercooked meat
Caffeine Liver
Vitamin/fish oil supplements Cold cured meats
Peanuts Fish
Milk and yoghurt Raw shellfish
Ice cream Smoked fish
Foods with soil on them Sushi
Herbal teas Liquorice
Game

 

 

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 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.

Below 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, providing they're made from pasteurised milk. These include:

  • cottage cheese
  • mozzarella
  • feta
  • cream cheese
  • paneer
  • ricotta
  • halloumi
  • 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 cheese and pregnancy:

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 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 vomiting.

Avoid foods that contain raw and undercooked eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise. If you wish to eat dishes that contain raw or partially cooked eggs, consider using pasteurised liquid egg.

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.  

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite that can be found in raw and undercooked meat, unpasteurised goats' milk, 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. 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, they are just cured and fermented. This means that 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), then 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 in pregnancy, but this is not the advice in the UK.

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.

Game

It's best to avoid eating game that has been shot with lead pellets while you are 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 if you take in high levels of mercury when you're pregnant, this could affect your baby's developing nervous system.

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, because it can contain pollutants such as 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 or swordfish). 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 is no need to limit the amount of white fish and cooked shellfish you eat when you're pregnant or breastfeeding, apart from shark, swordfish and marlin.

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.

Read more about eating shellfish in pregnancy.

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 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 because of the rearing methods used. If you're unsure, contact the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for advice.

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 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 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 been 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 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 (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 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

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 GP or midwife if you are unsure about which herbal products are safe to consume. Bear in mind that green tea contains caffeine (see Caffeine).

Liquorice

You can eat liquorice in pregnancy  there is no recommendation to avoid it.

Read more about how to avoid food poisoning in pregnancy.

Find out about healthy eating in pregnancy, including healthy snacks.

Page last reviewed: 13/01/2015

Next review due: 13/01/2017

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