To reduce the risk of getting a food-borne illness during pregnancy and eating foods that may harm your baby there are certain things you may need to give up or take care with when you’re pregnant.
Meat and fish
Pâté (all types), as on rare occasions pâté can contain listeria bacteria, which can be harmful to you and your baby. Raw or undercooked meat, including cured uncooked meats for example parma ham (prosciutto) and salami. These can carry bacteria that cause food borne illnesses and parasites which on rare occasions can cause an infection called toxoplasmosis. Meat should be cooked thoroughly with no pink meat or blood left (rare meat). However, cold cooked meats like turkey, ham and chicken are safe to eat. Liver contains very high levels of vitamin A, which can harm your baby. Shark, marlin and swordfish, as they can contain high levels of mercury that can harm your baby’s developing nervous system.
Tuna can also contain mercury, so you should not eat more than two tuna steaks or four cans a week. Raw shellfish, as it carries a risk of food poisoning. Thoroughly cooked shellfish is safe to eat. Raw or lightly cooked wild fish, in dishes such as sushi, unless the fish has been frozen first. Wild fish can sometimes contain parasitic worms but freezing or cooking kills any worms. Sushi containing farmed fish, such as farmed salmon, is very unlikely to contain parasitic worms. Fish is great for your baby’s health and development, but you should not eat more than two portions of oily fish and certain non-oily fish (dogfish, sea bass, sea bream, turbot, halibut, crab) a week because they can contain pollutants, which may harm your baby.
Cheese and dairy
Soft blue cheeses (such as gorgonzola and Roquefort), soft cheeses with white rinds (mould ripened – such as brie and camembert) and soft cheeses made from unpasteurised milk, unless thoroughly cooked to kill any bacteria in the cheese. Pasteurised soft cheeses like cream cheese, cottage cheese and mozzarella are safe. All hard cheeses are safe to eat, even if unpasteurised or with blue veins (such as stilton), because they contain less water and so bacteria is less likely to grow. Unpasteurised (raw) milk and foods containing it, unless thoroughly cooked, as they can contain bacteria that are harmful to you and your baby.
Raw or partially cooked eggs, as well as products containing raw eggs such as homemade mayonnaise, salad dressings and some ice creams. Raw eggs might contain salmonella which can cause food poisoning. Most shop-bought mayonnaises, dressings and ice creams contain pasteurised eggs so are safe to eat, but check if you are eating out at a restaurant as they may make their own.
Alcohol should be avoided during pregnancy. In 2016, the UK Department of Health updated the guidelines for alcohol consumption and clarified that the safest approach was to not drink alcohol at all during pregnancy, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum, removing the previous advice to limit alcohol intake to no more than 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice per week.
Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, some sports/energy drinks, some soft drinks and some cold and flu remedies. A high caffeine intake has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage and a low birth weight.
You should limit your intake of caffeine to around 200mg per day, roughly 2 mugs of instant coffee, one and a half mugs of filter coffee or 2 and a half mugs of tea. Coffee from a coffee shop or restaurant may contain higher levels of caffeine compared to coffee made at home, if you are concerned about the level of caffeine, opt for a reduced strength or decaffeinated coffee.
Herbal teas should be drunk in moderation (around four cups a day), as little is known about the safety of drinking herbal teas during pregnancy.
In the past the advice was to avoid eating peanuts during pregnancy, if the parents had a history of allergies. Based on new research, the advice was changed, so if you wish you can now choose to eat peanuts or food containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) during pregnancy as part of a healthy balanced diet, unless you are allergic to them or your midwife or doctor advises you not to.
Vitamin and fish oil supplements
Supplements or multivitamins containing vitamin A. Fish liver oil also contains vitamin A and should therefore be avoided. High levels of vitamin A can harm your baby.