Your pregnancy and baby guide : Foods to avoid in pregnancy

There are some foods to avoid or take care with 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 precautions with when you're pregnant.


Cheeses to avoid in pregnancy

Soft cheeses with white rinds

Do not eat mould-ripened soft cheese (cheeses with a white rind) such as brie and Camembert. This includes mould-ripened soft goats' cheese, such as chèvre. These cheeses are only safe to eat in pregnancy if they've been cooked thoroughly, until steaming hot all the way through.

Soft blue cheeses

You should also avoid soft blue-veined cheeses such as Danish blue, Gorgonzola and Roquefort. Soft blue cheeses are only safe to eat in pregnancy if they've been cooked thoroughly, until steaming hot all the way through.

It's advised pregnant women avoid some soft cheeses because they're less acidic than hard cheeses and contain more moisture, which means they can be an ideal environment for harmful bacteria, such as listeria, to grow in.

Although infection with listeria (listeriosis) is rare, it's important to take special precautions in pregnancy. Even a mild form of the illness in a pregnant woman can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illness in a newborn baby.

If you're pregnant and showing signs of listeria infection, seek medical help straight away.

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Cheese that are safe in pregnancy

All hard cheeses are safe in pregnancy

You can eat hard cheeses, such as cheddar, parmesan and Stilton, even if they're made with unpasteurised milk. Hard cheeses do not contain as much water as soft cheeses, so bacteria are less likely to grow in them. It's possible for hard cheese to contain listeria, but the risk is considered to be low.

Soft cheeses that are safe to eat in pregnancy

Other than mould-ripened soft cheeses, all other soft types of cheese are OK to eat, provided they're made from pasteurised milk.

These include:

  • cottage cheese
  • mozzarella
  • feta
  • cream cheese
  • paneer
  • ricotta
  • halloumi
  • some types of goats' cheese
  • processed cheeses, such as cheese spreads

Cooked soft cheeses that are safe to eat in pregnancy

Thorough cooking should kill any bacteria in cheese, so it should be safe to eat cooked mould-ripened soft cheese, such as brie, Camembert and chèvre, and cooked soft blue cheese, such as Roquefort or Gorgonzola, or dishes that contain them.

It's important to make sure the cheese is thoroughly cooked until it's steaming hot all the way through.

Further information

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Raw or partially cooked eggs

Avoid some raw or partially cooked eggs if you're pregnant

Some eggs are produced under a food safety standard called the British Lion Code of Practice. Eggs produced in this way have a logo stamped on their shell, showing a red lion.

Lion Code eggs are considered very low risk for salmonella, and safe for pregnant women to eat raw or partially cooked. You can eat raw hen eggs or food containing lightly cooked hen eggs (such as soft-boiled eggs, mousses, soufflés and fresh mayonnaise) provided that the eggs are produced under the Lion Code.

If they are not Lion Code, make sure eggs are thoroughly cooked until the whites and yolks are solid to prevent the risk of salmonella food poisoning. Salmonella food poisoning is unlikely to harm your baby, but it can give you a severe bout of diarrhoea and vomiting.

If you do not know whether the eggs used are Lion Code or not (for example, in a restaurant or cafe), ask the staff or, to be on the safe side, follow the advice for non-Lion Code eggs.

Non-hen eggs such as duck, goose and quail eggs should always be cooked thoroughly.

Find out more about storing and handling eggs safely.

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Pâté

Avoid all types of pâté in pregnancy, including vegetable pâtés, as they can contain listeria.

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Meat and game

Raw or undercooked meat is risky in pregnancy

Do not eat raw or undercooked meat, including meat joints and steaks cooked rare, because of the potential risk of toxoplasmosis.

Cook all meat and poultry thoroughly so it's steaming hot and there's no trace of pink or blood – especially with poultry, pork, sausages and minced meat, including burgers.  

Wash all surfaces and utensils thoroughly after preparing raw meat to avoid the spread of harmful bacteria. Wash and dry your hands after touching or handling raw meat.

Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite found in raw and undercooked meat, unpasteurised goats' milk, soil, cat poo, and untreated water.

If you're pregnant, the infection can damage your baby, but it's important to remember toxoplasmosis in pregnancy is very rare.

Toxoplasmosis often has no symptoms, but if you feel you may have been at risk, discuss it with a GP, midwife or obstetrician. If you're infected while you're pregnant, treatment for toxoplasmosis is available.

Read more about toxoplasmosis.

Be cautious with cold cured meats in pregnancy

Many cold meats, such as salami, prosciutto, chorizo and pepperoni, are not cooked, they're just cured and fermented. This means there's a risk they contain toxoplasmosis-causing parasites.

It's best to check the instructions on the packet to see whether the product is ready to eat or needs cooking first.

For ready-to-eat meats, you can reduce any risk from parasites by freezing cured or fermented meats for 4 days at home before you eat them. Freezing kills most parasites and makes the meat safer to eat.

If you're planning to cook the meat – for instance, pepperoni on pizza – you do not need to freeze it first.

If you're eating in a restaurant that serves cold cured or fermented meats, they may not have been frozen. If you're concerned, ask the staff or avoid eating it.

Pre-packed meat is safe to eat if you're pregnant

Pre-packed meats such as ham and corned beef are safe to eat in pregnancy. Some websites based in other countries may suggest that you avoid pre-packed meats when pregnant, but this is not the advice in the UK.

Liver can harm your unborn baby

Do not eat liver or products containing liver, such as liver pâté, liver sausage or haggis, as they may contain a lot of vitamin A. Too much vitamin A can harm your baby.

Game

It's best to avoid eating game that has been shot with lead pellets while you're pregnant, as it may contain high levels of lead. Venison and other large game sold in supermarkets is usually farmed and contains no or very low levels of lead. If you're not sure whether a product may contain lead, ask the retailer.

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Vitamin and fish oil supplements

Do not take high-dose multivitamin supplements, fish liver oil supplements, or any supplements containing vitamin A.

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Fish and shellfish

You can eat most types of fish when you're pregnant. Eating fish is good for your health and the development of your baby, but you should avoid some types of fish and limit the amount you eat of some others.

Fish to avoid

When you're pregnant or planning to get pregnant, you should not eat shark, swordfish or marlin.

Fish to restrict

You should also limit the amount of tuna you eat to:

  • no more than 2 tuna steaks a week (about 140g cooked, or 170g raw each), or
  • 4 medium-size cans of tuna a week (about 140g when drained)

This is because tuna contains more mercury than other types of fish. The amount of mercury we get from food is not harmful for most people, but could affect your baby's developing nervous system if you take in high levels of mercury when you're pregnant.

When you're pregnant, you should also avoid having more than 2 portions of oily fish a week, such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring, as it can contain pollutants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Remember, tuna does not count as oily fish, so you can eat tuna (2 tuna steaks or 4 medium-size cans) on top of the maximum amount of 2 portions of oily fish.

Shellfish

Always choose cooked, rather than raw, shellfish – including mussels, lobster, crab, prawns, scallops and clams – when you're pregnant, as raw shellfish can contain harmful bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning. Cold pre-cooked prawns are fine.

Read more about eating shellfish in pregnancy.

Smoked fish in pregnancy is safe

Smoked fish, which includes smoked salmon and smoked trout, is considered safe to eat in pregnancy.

Sushi

It's fine to eat raw or lightly cooked fish in dishes such as sushi when you're pregnant, as long as any raw wild fish used to make it has been frozen first.

This is because, occasionally, wild fish contains small parasitic worms that could make you ill. Freezing kills the worms and makes raw fish safe to eat. Cooking will also kill them.

Certain farmed fish destined to be eaten raw in dishes like sushi, such as farmed salmon, no longer need to be frozen beforehand.

This is because farmed fish are very unlikely to contain parasitic worms as a result of the rearing methods used. If you're unsure, contact the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for advice.

Lots of the sushi sold in shops is not made at the shop. This type of sushi should be fine to eat. If a shop or restaurant buys ready-made sushi, the raw fish used to make it will have gone through an appropriate freezing treatment.

If you're in any doubt, you might want to avoid eating the kinds of sushi that contain raw fish, such as tuna.

The safest way to enjoy sushi is to choose the fully cooked or vegetarian varieties, which can include:

  • cooked seafood – for example, fully cooked eel (unagi) or shrimp (ebi)
  • vegetables – for example, cucumber (kappa) maki
  • avocado – for example, California roll
  • fully cooked egg

If a shop or restaurant makes its own sushi on the premises, it must still be frozen first before being served. If you're concerned, ask the staff.

If you make your own sushi at home, freeze the fish for at least 4 days before using it.

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Peanuts

You can eat peanuts or food containing peanuts, such as peanut butter, during pregnancy, unless you're allergic to them or a health professional advises you not to.

You may have heard peanuts should be avoided during pregnancy. This is because the government previously advised women to avoid eating peanuts if there was a history of allergy – such as asthma, eczema, hay fever and food allergy – in their child's immediate family.

This advice has now changed because the latest research has shown no clear evidence that eating peanuts during pregnancy affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy.

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Milk and yoghurt

Stick to pasteurised or ultra-heat treated (UHT) milk, which is sometimes called long-life milk.

Do not drink unpasteurised goats' or sheep's' milk, or eat foods made from them, such as soft goats' cheese.

All types of yoghurt, including bio, live and low fat, are fine. Just check that any homemade yoghurt is made with pasteurised milk, and, if not, avoid it.

Ice cream

Soft ice creams should be fine to eat when you're pregnant, as they are processed products made with pasteurised milk and eggs, so any risk of salmonella food poisoning has been eliminated.

For homemade ice cream, use a pasteurised egg substitute or follow an egg-free recipe.

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Foods with soil on them

Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil and visible dirt.

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Caffeine

Consuming high levels of caffeine when you're pregnant can result in your baby having a low birthweight, which can increase the risk of health problems in later life. Too much caffeine 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.

Green tea can contain the same amount of caffeine as regular tea.

Some cold and flu remedies also contain caffeine. Talk to a midwife, doctor or pharmacist before taking these remedies.

You do not need to cut out caffeine completely, but do not have more than 200mg a day.

The approximate amount of caffeine found in food and drinks is:

  • a mug of instant coffee: 100mg
  • a mug of filter coffee: 140mg
  • a mug of tea: 75mg
  • a can of cola: 40mg
  • a 250ml can of energy drink: 80mg (larger cans of energy drink may have up to 160mg caffeine)
  • a 50g bar of plain (dark) chocolate: most UK brands contain less than 25mg
  • a 50g bar of milk chocolate: most UK brands contain less than 10mg

If you have 1 can of cola and 1 mug of filter coffee, for example, you have reached almost 200mg of caffeine. Do not worry if you occasionally have more than this amount, as the risks are 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.

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Herbal teas

There's little information on the safety of herbal teas in pregnancy, so it's best to drink them in moderation.

The FSA recommends drinking no more than around 4 cups of herbal tea each day during pregnancy, and to seek advice from a GP or midwife if you're unsure about which herbal products are safe to consume.

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Alcohol

If you're pregnant or planning to get pregnant, the safest approach is to not drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.

Drinking alcohol in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink, the greater the risk.

Find out more about alcohol in pregnancy.

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Liquorice

You can have moderate amounts of liquorice sweets or liquorice teas in pregnancy – there's no recommendation to avoid them. However, you should avoid the herbal remedy liquorice root.

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Have a healthy diet in pregnancy

Find out about healthy eating in pregnancy, including healthy snacks.

Read more about how to avoid food poisoning in pregnancy.

You can find pregnancy and baby apps and tools in the NHS Apps library.

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