Eating well when you're pregnant
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, and will keep you fit and well.
You can read through this article, or go directly to the sections you want by clicking these links:
Fruit and vegetables
Starchy foods (carbohydrates)
Foods that are high in sugar or fat
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 is 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. You can find out more about vitamins and supplements in pregnancy.
You should also avoid certain foods in pregnancy: see Foods to avoid.
You will probably find that you are more hungry 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 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 prevents constipation.
Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day – these can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced. Always wash them carefully.
Cook vegetables lightly in a little water, or eat them raw but well washed to get the benefit of the nutrients they contain. Find out what counts as a portion in 5 A DAY: what counts?
Starchy foods (carbohydrates) in pregnancy
Starchy foods are an important source of 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 be the main part of every meal. Eat wholemeal instead of processed (white) varieties when you can.
Protein in pregnancy
Sources of protein include:
- meat (but avoid liver)
Eat some protein every day.
Choose lean meat, remove the skin from poultry, and cook it using only a little fat. 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: see Foods to avoid.
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. For example, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk, low-fat yoghurt and half-fat hard cheese. Aim for two to three portions a day.
Here's more information on the nutritional benefits of milk and dairy foods.
There are some cheeses you should avoid in pregnancy: see Foods to avoid.
Foods that are high in sugar, fat or both
- all spreading fats (such as butter)
- salad dressings
- ice cream
- fizzy drinks
You should eat only a small amount of these foods. Sugary foods and sugary drinks contain calories without providing any other nutrients, and can contribute to weight gain, obesity and tooth decay.
Fat is very high in calories, and eating too many fatty foods is likely to 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 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 from the following nutritious snacks:
- 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 yoghurt or fromage frais
- hummus with bread or vegetable sticks
- ready-to-eat apricots, figs or prunes
- vegetable and bean soups
- unsweetened breakfast cereals, or porridge, with milk
- milky drinks or unsweetened fruit juices
- 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 – toxoplasmosis 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 piping 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: see Foods to avoid.
Healthy Start vouchers for pregnant women
The Healthy Start scheme provides vouchers to pregnant women who qualify, 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 (2012/13)
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 at the Healthy Start website, or call the Healthy Start helpline on 0845 607 6823 and order a copy.
You can also find out where to get Healthy Start vitamins near you.