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Pregnancy and baby

Have a healthy diet in pregnancy

A healthy diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle at any time, but is especially vital if you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy. Eating healthily during pregnancy will help your baby to develop and grow.

You can read through this article, or go directly to the sections you want by clicking these links:

Fruit and vegetables

Starchy foods (carbohydrates)

Protein

Dairy

Foods that are high in sugar or fat

Healthy snacks

Preparing food safely

Healthy Start vouchers

You don't need to go on a special diet, but it's important to eat a variety of different foods every day to get the right balance of nutrients that you and your baby need. 

It's best to get vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat, but when you're pregnant you need to take some supplements as well, to make sure you get everything you need.

Read more about vitamins and supplements in pregnancy

There are also certain foods that should be avoided in pregnancy.

You will probably find that you are hungrier than usual, but you don't need to "eat for two" – even if you are expecting twins or triplets.

Have a healthy breakfast every day, because this can help you to avoid snacking on foods that are high in fat and sugar.

Eating healthily often means just changing the amounts of different foods you eat so that your diet is varied, rather than cutting out all your favourites. You can use the Eatwell Guide to get the balance of your diet right. The eatwell plate shows you how much to eat from each food group.

You will need to be careful with your diet if you develop gestational diabetes – your doctor or midwife will advise you.

Fruit and vegetables in pregnancy

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables because these provide vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre, which helps digestion and can help prevent constipation.

Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day – these can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Always wash fresh fruit and vegetables carefully.

Find out what counts as a portion of fruit or vegetables.

Starchy foods (carbohydrates) in pregnancy

Starchy foods are an important source of energy, vitamins and fibre, and are satisfying without containing too many calories. They include bread, potatoes, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, maize, millet, oats, sweet potatoes, yams and cornmeal.

These foods should make up just over a third of the food you eat. Choose wholegrain instead of processed (white) varieties, or potatoes with their skins on, when you can as they contain more fibre.

Protein in pregnancy

Eat some protein foods every day. Sources of protein include:

  • beans 
  • pulses 
  • fish 
  • eggs
  • meat (but avoid liver) 
  • poultry 
  • nuts

Choose lean meat, remove the skin from poultry, and try not to add extra fat or oil when cooking meat. Read more about eating meat in a healthy way.

Make sure eggs, poultry, burgers, sausages and whole cuts of meat such as lamb, beef and pork are cooked all the way through. Check that there is no pink meat, and that juices have no pink or red in them.

Try to eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel. Find out about the health benefits of fish and shellfish. There are some types of fish you should avoid in pregnancy. For more information, see Foods to avoid in pregnancy

Dairy in pregnancy

Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, fromage frais and yoghurt are important in pregnancy, because they contain calcium and other nutrients that your baby needs.

Choose low-fat varieties wherever possible, such as semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, low-fat lower-sugar yoghurt and reduced-fat hard cheese. Aim for two to three portions a day.

If you prefer dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts, go for unsweetened, calcium-fortified versions.

For more information, read about the nutritional benefits of milk and dairy foods.

There are some cheeses you should avoid in pregnancy. To find out which ones, see Foods to avoid in pregnancy.

Foods that are high in fat, sugar or both

These include:

  • all spreading fats (such as butter)
  • oils
  • salad dressings
  • cream
  • chocolate
  • crisps
  • biscuits
  • pastries
  • ice cream
  • cake
  • puddings
  • fizzy drinks

If you're having foods and drinks that are high in fat and sugar, have these less often and in small amounts. 

Sugary foods and drinks are often high in calories which can contribute to weight gain. Having sugary foods and drinks can also lead to tooth decay. 

Fat is very high in calories, so eating too many fatty foods or eating them too often can make you put on weight. Having too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases the chance of developing heart disease. Try to cut down on saturated fat, and have small amounts of foods rich in unsaturated fat instead. Find out about saturated and unsaturated fat.

Healthy snacks in pregnancy

If you get hungry between meals, try not to eat snacks that are high in fat and/or sugar, such as sweets, biscuits, crisps or chocolate. Instead, choose something healthier, such as:

  • sandwiches or pitta bread filled with grated cheese, lean ham, mashed tuna, salmon, or sardines, with salad
  • salad vegetables, such as carrot, celery or cucumber
  • low-fat lower-sugar plain yoghurt or fromage frais with fruit
  • hummus with wholemeal pitta bread or vegetable sticks
  • ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
  • vegetable and bean soups
  • unsweetened breakfast cereals, or porridge, with milk
  • milky drinks
  • fresh fruit
  • baked beans on toast or a baked potato

Here are some more ideas for healthy food swaps.

Preparing food safely

  • Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil, which may contain toxoplasma, a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis – which can harm your unborn baby.
  • Wash all surfaces and utensils, and your hands, after preparing raw meat – this will help to avoid toxoplasmosis.  
  • Make sure that raw foods are stored separately from ready-to-eat foods, otherwise there's a risk of contamination. This is to avoid other types of food poisoning from meat (such as salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli).
  • Use a separate chopping board for raw meats.
  • Heat ready meals until they're steaming hot all the way through – this is especially important for meals containing poultry.

You also need to make sure that some foods, such as eggs, poultry, burgers, sausages and whole cuts of meat like lamb, beef and pork are cooked very thoroughly. For tips, read Foods to avoid in pregnancy.

Healthy Start vouchers for pregnant women

The Healthy Start scheme provides vouchers to pregnant women and families who qualify. The vouchers can be used to buy milk and plain fresh and frozen vegetables at local shops. You'll also get coupons that can be exchanged for free vitamins locally.

You qualify for Healthy Start if you're at least 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under four years old, and you or your family get:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Child Tax Credit (but not Working Tax Credit, unless your family is receiving Working Tax Credit run-on only*) and has an annual family income of £16,190 or less (2014/15)

If you are pregnant and under 18 years old, you qualify for Healthy Start vouchers regardless of your income.

*Working Tax Credit run-on is the Working Tax Credit you receive in the four weeks immediately after you have stopped working for 16 hours per week (single adults) or 24 hours per week (couples).

You can download a Healthy Start application form from Healthy Start, or call the Healthy Start helpline on 0345 607 6823 to order a copy. 

If you are claiming Universal Credit and are pregnant or have a child under four years old, call the Healthy Start helpline for information about any discretionary support that may be available.

You can also find out where to get Healthy Start vitamins near you.


Page last reviewed: 27/01/2015

Next review due: 27/01/2017

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