Foods to avoid during Pregnancy
Take care with some foods
There are some foods you should not eat 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 extra care 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
Don't eat mould-ripened soft cheese, such as brie, camembert and chevre (a type of goats' cheese) and others with a similar rind. You should also avoid soft blue-veined cheeses such as Danish blue or gorgonzola. These are made with mould and they can contain listeria, a type of bacteria that can harm your unborn baby. 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.
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. Many other types of cheese are OK to eat, but make sure they're made from pasteurised milk. This includes cottage cheese, mozzarella, feta, cream cheese, paneer, ricotta, halloumi, goats' cheese and processed cheeses such as cheese spreads.
Avoid all types of pâté, including vegetable pâtés, as they can contain listeria.
Raw or partially cooked eggs
Make sure that eggs are thoroughly cooked until the whites and yolks are solid. This prevents the risk of salmonella food poisoning. 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 you should consider using pasteurised liquid egg.
Raw or undercooked meat
Cook all meat and poultry thoroughly so it is steaming hot and there is no trace of pink or blood. Take particular care with poultry, pork, sausages and minced meat, including burgers.
Avoid rare meat. 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.
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. It’s also important to remember to wash and dry your hands after touching or handling raw meat. This will help to avoid the spread of harmful bugs such as salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli 0157 that can cause food poisoning.
Don't eat liver or liver products such as liver pâté or liver sausage, as they may contain a lot of vitamin A. Too much vitamin A can harm your baby.
Supplements containing vitamin A
Don't take high-dose multivitamin supplements, fish liver oil supplements or any supplements containing vitamin A.
Some types of fish
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.
If you would like to eat peanuts or food containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) during pregnancy, you can choose to do so as part of a healthy balanced diet, unless you are allergic to them or your health professional advises you not to.
You may have heard that some women have, in the past, chosen not to eat peanuts when they were pregnant. This is because the government previously advised women that they may wish 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 to say if eating or not eating peanuts during pregnancy affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy.
If you have milk, drink only 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 goat's or sheep's milk or eat food that is made out of them, such as soft goat's cheese.
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 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 amounts of caffeine found in food and drinks are:
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 quite 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.
Cold meats and smoked salmon
Some countries advise pregnant women not to eat cold meats or smoked fish because of the risk of listeria. In the UK, we don't advise women to avoid these products because the risk is low. The risk of listeria is much higher with cheeses such as camembert, brie or chevre (a type of goat's cheese) and others with a similar rind, or pâté, which you shouldn't eat during pregnancy. However, if you are concerned, you might also choose to avoid cold meats and smoked fish while you are pregnant.
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