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Foods to avoid in pregnancy

Most foods and drinks are safe to have during pregnancy. But there are some things you should be careful with or avoid.

Cheese, milk and other dairy

What you can eat

  • pasteurised or unpasteurised hard cheeses, such as cheddar, Gruyere and parmesan
  • pasteurised semi-hard cheeses, such as Edam and Stilton
  • pasteurised soft cheeses, such as cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, cream cheese, paneer, ricotta, halloumi, goats' cheese without a white coating on the outside (rind) and processed cheese spreads
  • soft or blue cheese (pasteurised or unpasteurised) that has been cooked until steaming hot
  • pasteurised milk, yoghurt, cream and ice cream

What to avoid

  • any other foods made from unpasteurised milk, such as soft ripened goats' cheese
  • pasteurised or unpasteurised mould-ripened soft cheeses with a white coating on the outside, such as Brie, Camembert and chèvre (unless cooked until steaming hot)
  • pasteurised or unpasteurised soft blue cheeses, such as Danish blue, Gorgonzola and Roquefort (unless cooked until steaming hot)
  • unpasteurised cows' milk, goats' milk, sheep's milk or cream

Why

There's a small chance that unpasteurised or soft ripened dairy products may contain Listeria bacteria. This can cause an infection called listeriosis.

Listeriosis can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, or make your newborn baby very unwell.

Soft cheeses with a white coating on the outside have more moisture. This can make it easier for bacteria to grow.

Cooking cheese until it's steaming hot kills bacteria, reducing the risk of listeriosis.

Meat and poultry

What you can eat

  • meats such as chicken, pork and beef, as long as they're well-cooked with no trace of pink or blood; be especially careful with poultry, pork, sausages and burgers
  • cold, pre-packed meats such as ham and corned beef

What to be careful with

  • cold cured meats, such as salami, pepperoni, chorizo and prosciutto (unless cooked thoroughly)

What to avoid

  • raw or undercooked meat
  • liver and liver products
  • all types of pâté, including vegetarian pâté
  • game meats such as goose, partridge or pheasant

Why

There's a small risk of getting toxoplasmosis if you eat raw and undercooked meat, which can cause miscarriage.

Cured meats are not cooked, so they may have parasites in them that cause toxoplasmosis.

Liver and liver products have lots of vitamin A in them. This can be harmful to an unborn baby.

Game meats may contain lead shot.

Eggs

What you can eat

  • raw, partially cooked and fully cooked British Lion hen eggs (they have a lion stamp on them) and hen eggs produced under the Laid in Britain scheme
  • foods made with raw hen egg, such as mousse and mayonnaise, if made with British Lion eggs or hen eggs produced under the Laid in Britain scheme
  • well cooked eggs (white and yolk) from any hen eggs that are not British Lion eggs or produced under the Laid in Britain scheme
  • well cooked eggs (white and yolk) of all other eggs, including duck, goose or quail

What to avoid

  • raw or partially cooked hen eggs that are not British Lion or produced under the Laid in Britain scheme
  • raw or partially cooked duck, goose or quail eggs

Why

British Lion hen eggs and hen eggs produced under the Laid in Britain scheme are less likely to have salmonella in them.

Salmonella is unlikely to harm your unborn baby, but you could get food poisoning.

You should cook all eggs thoroughly, unless they are British Lion hen eggs or hen eggs produced under the Laid in Britain scheme.

Fish

What you can eat

  • cooked fish and seafood
  • sushi, as long as the fish has been cooked thoroughly
  • cooked shellfish, such as mussels, lobster, crab, prawns, scallops and clams
  • cold pre-cooked prawns

What to be careful with

  • smoked fish, such as smoked salmon and trout

Smoked fish and listeria

Due to a listeria outbreak linked to smoked fish, people at higher risk of serious infection (including people who are pregnant) should only eat smoked fish products that have been thoroughly cooked.

When cooking smoked fish products at home, make sure they are steaming hot all the way through.

Find out more about the listeria outbreak in smoked fish from the Food Standards Agency

What to limit

  • you should eat no more than 2 portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, trout, mackerel or herring
  • you should eat no more than 2 tuna steaks (about 140g cooked or 170g raw) or 4 medium-size cans of tuna (about 140g when drained) per week
Information:

Tuna does not count as an oily fish

You can have 2 tuna steaks, or 4 medium-size cans of fish, as well as 2 portions of oily fish.

What to avoid

  • swordfish
  • marlin
  • shark
  • raw shellfish

Why

You should limit tuna because it has more mercury in it than other fish. If you eat too much mercury, it can be harmful to your unborn baby.

You should limit oily fish because they can have pollutants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls in them. If you eat too much of these, they can be harmful to your unborn baby.

You should avoid raw shellfish because they can have harmful bacteria, viruses or toxins in them. These can make you unwell and give you food poisoning.

Other foods and drinks

Caffeine

You can have caffeine, but no more than 200mg per day.

There is:

  • 100mg in a mug of instant coffee
  • 140mg in a mug of filter coffee
  • 75mg in a mug of tea (green tea can have the same amount of caffeine as regular tea)
  • 40mg in a can of cola
  • 80mg in a 250ml can of energy drink
  • less than 25mg in a 50g bar of plain dark chocolate
  • less than 10mg in a 50g bar of plain milk chocolate

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to your baby.

If you're pregnant or planning to get pregnant, the safest approach is to not drink alcohol at all.

This keeps risks to your baby to a minimum.

Herbal teas

You should drink no more than 4 cups of herbal tea a day.

Liquorice

Liquorice is safe to eat. But you should avoid liquorice root.

Fruits, vegetables and salads

Be careful with fruits, vegetables and salads as they can have soil on them, which can make you unwell.

Make sure to thoroughly wash all fruits, vegetables and salad ingredients.

Peanuts

You do not need to avoid eating peanuts when you're pregnant.

Only avoid eating peanuts if you're advised to by a healthcare professional or if you have a nut allergy.

Vitamins

Do not take high-dose multivitamin supplements, or any supplements with vitamin A in them.

Urgent advice: Call 111 if:

Try not to worry if you've eaten one of the foods to avoid.

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Page last reviewed: 16 April 2020
Next review due: 16 April 2023