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Food to avoid while pregnant

In this article, we will look at the food and substances, and a few other things you should avoid while pregnant.
Danish Blue and Brie Cheese on a cutting board

Research has shown that there are certain things to avoid during your pregnancy. You may also get additional information from your midwife or doctor on other things to avoid that are specific to you and your baby.

For instance, most foods are safe to have during your pregnancy but there are some that you should avoid because they might make you ill, or be harmful to your baby.

Let’s take a closer look.

Foods to avoid

  • Foods that are not pasteurised, or are mould-ripened, may contain bacteria that is dangerous for your baby, such as listeria.
  • Unpasteurised dairy (milk and cheese) – pasteurisation kills bacteria in milk through heating.
  • Soft cheeses such as brie and camembert
  • Blue cheeses such as Danish blue, Gorgonzola and Roquefort
  • Cured or fermented meat (these can be made safe by freezing or cooking before eating)
  • Liver – including liver sausage, haggis and pâté containing liver. These should be avoided as they contain high levels of Vitamin A.
  • Certain types of fish should be avoided or limited as they contain too much mercury and other pollutants, such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
  • Shark, swordfish, and marlin
  • Tuna – limit to one 150g cooked weight fresh tuna steak or two 240g cans (140g drained weight) per week.
  • Raw fish

Toxoplasmosis infection is rare but if you get it can be very harmful to your unborn baby. Foods that are more likely to carry the toxoplasma parasite include:

  • Uncooked or undercooked ready‑prepared meals
  • Raw or partially cooked meat, especially poultry
  • Unwashed vegetables and salad
  • Foods made with raw or under-cooked eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise and raw or under-cooked meat.

Drinks to avoid

  • Alcohol should be avoided as there is no known safe limit during pregnancy.
  • Caffeine should be limited to 200 milligrams (mg) a day. This is about the same as 2 mugs of instant coffee or three mugs of tea. Too much caffeine can increase your risk of having a miscarriage. It can also increase your baby’s risk of being small or growing slowly.

Other substances to avoid

  • Smoking is a major risk factor for you and your baby for lots of different reasons. It is never too late to stop and improve your and your baby’s health. Quitting smoking can be difficult so ask for help from your midwife or doctor.
  • Recreational drugs such as cocaine, meta-amphetamines, cannabis, psychoactive substances (so called ‘legal highs’) are all likely to increase risks of health problems. If you are taking illegal drugs it is really important to talk to your midwife or doctor. They will not judge you and can give you the right care and support during your pregnancy.

Other things to avoid

  • You should avoid sleeping on your back after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Sleeping on your side can reduce the risk of stillbirth. (If you roll over in the night and end up sleeping on your back, that’s OK, just turn on your side when you wake up).
  • You should avoid handling animal waste or cleaning cats’ litter boxes during pregnancy to avoid the risk of getting infections like toxoplasmosis. If you cannot avoid this, wear gloves and wash your hands well afterwards.
  • You should also avoid coming into contact with animals that are giving birth, particularly sheep. This is due to the risk of being infected by toxoplasmosis, a disease spread by cats, sheep and pigs. As it causes abortion in sheep, you particularly need to avoid sheep at lambing time.
  • Try to avoid listening to other women’s horror stories about birth – their experience is not your experience; you have no idea of what their pregnancy and labour was like, what problems they had, or how they usually react to stress or pain.
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