It's important to eat a healthy, balanced and varied diet both before and during pregnancy to ensure that you're providing enough nutrients for yourself and for your baby.
In fact, nutritional needs during pregnancy are very similar to those for the rest of the population with a few exceptions, including some foods that you should avoid and some nutrients that you should eat more of (see below).
Unfortunately, being pregnant doesn't mean you can start eating for two! Ideally you shouldn't gain more than 12kg (28lbs) in weight during pregnancy. Putting on too much weight may cause an increase in blood pressure and could also increase the risk of gestational diabetes, both of which can be harmful to the baby.
Whilst you need to eat healthily and try not to eat too much, you should also not try to lose weight, as it is important that you are providing your growing baby and yourself with a nutritious diet.
It's important to stay active during pregnancy as it helps promote general health and well-being. However, if you don't normally exercise regularly and are thinking of starting during pregnancy, you should discuss this with your GP or midwife.
The advice on fish consumption is the same during pregnancy as for the rest of the population - eat at least 2 portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily. Oily fish provide the long chain omega 3 fats that are essential for the growth and development of the baby, especially the brain and vision.
However, during pregnancy (and for women who are thinking of becoming pregnant) the Food Standards Agency advises women to limit their oily fish consumption to a maximum of 2 portions a week. This upper limit has been set to avoid the risk of exposure to the environmental pollutants, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
If you're planning a pregnancy, are of child bearing age or are pregnant, the Department of Health recommend a daily 400microgram (0.4mg) folic acid supplement until your 12th week of pregnancy. Folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect such as spina bifida. It is also important to eat more foods that are a natural source of folic acid (folate) such as fortified breakfast cereals and green vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
More iron is needed during pregnancy for the growth of the placenta and baby - go for iron rich foods such as red meat, pulses, fortified cereals and green vegetables. Vitamin C can help to absorb iron from your food so try eating a price of fruit or drinking a glass of fruit juice with your meals. Drinking tea and coffee can make it harder for your body to absorb iron so try not to drink too frequently or with meals Women who already have low iron intakes may need to take an iron supplement from their GP to avoid iron deficiency anaemia.
Whilst pregnant you will need to make sure that you have sufficient vitamin D in your diet. Good dietary sources of vitamin D include fortified margarines and low fat spreads, fortified breakfast cereals, oily fish and meat. However the best source of vitamin D is summer sunlight as it is synthesised by the action of sunlight on the skin (do take care not to burn though).
If you are of Asian origin or always cover up your skin in the sun you are at a greater risk of being vitamin D deficient and you may need a supplement containing 10 micrograms of Vitamin D per day. You should ask your GP for more information.
Including camembert and brie (and those which contain a similar rind) - these cheeses may contain listeria which can be harmful to your baby
Avoid unpasturised and raw eggs including where they are used as ingredients in foods such as mayonnaise to avoid food poisoning from salmonella.
Limit the amount of foods you eat which have a high vitamin A content such as liver, liver products (e.g. pate)and fish liver oils; though vitamin A is essential for good health, high intakes, especially in early pregnancy, may be harmful to your baby and increase the risk of birth defects
These could lead to food poisoning which is harmful to your baby. Make sure your meals are piping and prepared to cooking instructions before eating.
It is advised that these fish are avoided during pregnancy due to the risk of exposure to methylmercury (a pollutant) which at high levels can be harmful to the development of the baby
Whether fresh or canned is best limited to 2 steaks of 140g cooked weight per week or 4 (140g drained weight) cans of tuna.
Limit your intake to no more than 200mg per day (around 2 cups of coffee) as recent government research suggests that too much caffeine can result in low birth weights and may also increase the possibility of miscarriage.
Coffee, tea and chocolate all naturally contain caffeine but it also found in some medicines. It can also be added to some soft drinks and energy drinks, so always check the ingredients list (where the caffeine content should be declared)
The amount of caffeine in food and drink will vary, The Food Standards Agency advises using the following information as a guide:
|Food or Drink||Average Amount of Caffeine|
|1 mug of instant coffee||100mg|
|1 mug brewed coffee||140mg|
|1 mug of tea||75mg|
|1 bar (50g) plain chocolate||50mg|
|1 bar (50g) milk chocolate||25mg|
|1 can of cola||40mg|
The Government has recently changed its advice on eating peanuts during pregnancy. The latest research shows there is no clear evidence that eating or avoiding peanuts while you are pregnant has any effect on your child's chances of developing a peanut allergy.
So if you are pregnant - you can include peanuts or foods containing peanuts as part of your healthy and balanced diet. You should always avoid peanuts if are allergic or your health professional advises you not to eat them.
If you're following a vegan or vegetarian diet whilst pregnant you may have difficulty meeting your requirements for certain vitamins and minerals, particularly riboflavin, vitamin B12, calcium, iron and zinc. However with careful dietary planning all these nutrients can be obtained.
For further information on pregnancy and vegan/vegetarian diets the following websites are good sources of information:
Food cravings and food aversions during pregnancy are not particularly well understood. There are plenty of theories about why we have them but there is little scientific evidence behind any of them. However we do know that providing your diet is nutritionally balanced, food cravings or aversions are not likely to cause any harm to your child.
Try eating small, regular meals and snacks and avoid bingeing or consuming overly large meals. You should also try to avoid fatty or highly seasoned foods. Some indigestion remedies available are suitable for pregnant women but do check with your GP or pharmacist before you take them.
For more advice on pregnancy visit
The British Nutrition Foundation
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