There is a lot of advice available on Internet for pregnant women to support them to eat well in pregnancy. The body adapts in pregnancy to ensure that calcium from food and drink is well absorbed, but it is important to make sure that women have adequate amounts of the nutrients and vitamins that are very important for healthy bones.
It is recommended that all pregnant women take a daily vitamin supplement that contains 400 micrograms of folic acid and 10 micrograms of vitamin D in pregnancy.
Keeping healthy when you are having a baby depends on both the amount and the type of food you eat before you become pregnant and during your pregnancy. Simply being a correct weight for your height does not necessarily mean that you are eating healthily.
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Some foods are best avoided if you are planning to become pregnant or if you are already pregnant, as they may contain substances that could affect your unborn baby’s development.
To eat healthily, you should aim to do the following.
- Base your meals on starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice and pasta, choosing wholegrain if possible. These foods are satisfying without containing too many calories.
- Eat at least five portions of different fruit and vegetables every day rather than foods that are higher in fat and calories. Potatoes do not count towards your five-a-day target, and a portion of pure fruit juice only counts as one of your five-a-day, no matter how much you drink.
- Eat a low-fat diet and don’t increase the number of calories you eat. Eat as little fried food as possible and avoid drinks that are high in added sugars, and other foods such as sweets, cakes and biscuits that have a high fat or sugar content.
- Instead, eat fibre-rich foods such as oats, beans, lentils, grains and seeds, as well as wholegrain bread, brown rice and wholemeal pasta.
- Eat some protein every day; choose lean meat, and try to eat two portions of fish a week. Lentils, beans and tofu are also a good source of protein.
- Eat dairy foods for calcium but choose low-fat varieties such as skimmed milk or low-fat yogurt.
- Watch the portion size of your meals and snacks and note how often you eat. Do not ‘eat for two’.
- Always eat breakfast.
- Limit your caffeine intake to 200 milligrams (mg) per day, for example two mugs of instant coffee. Be aware that other drinks such as tea and energy drinks also contain caffeine.
This information is for you if you want to know more about eating healthily in pregnancy. It also gives you advice about using vitamin supplements before you get pregnant and during pregnancy.
1. Can I eat spicy food and curry when I am pregnant?
There is no need to avoid spicy food or curry if you enjoy these and eat them regularly. Some women experience heartburn in the last trimester of pregnancy and some women may find spicy food is
linked to heartburn at this stage.
There is no evidence that eating hot and spicy food will encourage labour to begin.
2. Can I eat pineapple and other acidic fruits?
There is no need to avoid foods like pineapple or other acidic fruits if these are enjoyed. These fruits can be a good source of vitamin C and other important nutrients.
3. I don’t like drinking milk. Where else can I get my calcium?
Any foods made from milk contain calcium – such as yoghurt, fromage frais and cheese. Women may like processed cheese triangles or soft cheeses on toast or in jacket potatoes, yoghurt served with fruit or breakfast cereal, or grated cheese sprinkled on savoury dishes or omelettes.
4. Is it safe to have probiotic drinks when I am pregnant?
It is fine to drink or eat live probiotic drinks or yoghurts when pregnant, but they do not provide any special benefits for most people. Probiotic drinks can be high in sugar and are expensive and eating a good mixed diet is more important.
5. Can I eat shellfish like prawns?
As long as shellfish like prawns are cooked thoroughly, it is fine to eat them when you are pregnant.
6. Can I have honey when I am pregnant?
It is fine for pregnant women to eat honey, but it is advised that babies under 1 year of age are not given honey due to a very low, but serious, risk of infant botulism (food poisoning).
7. Is it OK to eat peanuts?
The latest research shows that there is no clear evidence to say if eating or avoiding peanuts during pregnancy affects the chances of a baby developing a peanut allergy. Obviously if someone has a peanut allergy they should not eat peanuts or foods containing peanuts.
8. I am a vegetarian. Is it OK not to eat meat during my pregnancy?
It is perfectly possible to eat well as a vegetarian and to get all the nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy. Women will have a blood test in pregnancy to find out if they have sufficient iron and iron is provided as a supplement if necessary to any woman who has a low iron status.
It is important to eat a good, varied vegetarian diet, and there are lots of ideas in this resource for meals made with pulses, cereals, dairy products, fruit and vegetables.
9. Is it alright to carry on eating fast food like fried chicken when I am pregnant?
As long as food is cooked well and safely in fast food restaurants, it will not cause harm. However, a diet that contains a lot of fast food will be high in salt and fat and low in other important nutrients, so think about eating a wider variety of foods.
Fast food is also very expensive, and for the same price as one take-away meal you can eat well for a whole day. So it is worth thinking about how you can add some home-prepared meals and snacks to your week.
10. Do I need chocolate and sweets for energy when I am pregnant?
The body is able to convert any carbohydrate food to sugars, so you don’t need to eat sweet things to get energy. Starchy foods such as bread, potatoes, rice, yam and chapattis can provide energy. The sugars in fruit and vegetables also provide energy.
The sugars in starchy foods and fruit and vegetables are released more slowly by the body, so they keep you going for longer. Sugary foods and drinks are often low in other nutrients and contain the type of sugars that damage teeth, so it is a good idea to have only small amounts of these.
11. Is it safe for me to diet while I am pregnant?
Trying to lose weight by dieting during pregnancy is not recommended as it may harm the health of your unborn baby. If you are concerned about your weight, your midwife can advise you and may refer you to a dietician.
12. Is it safe to eat fish while I am pregnant?
In general, eating fish is a healthy option during pregnancy, but the current advice from the Department of Health is to eat no more than two portions of oily fish, such as mackerel or salmon, a week.
This is because too much of a substance found in oily fish (mercury) can be harmful to an unborn baby’s development. Also, pregnant women should not eat more than two fresh tuna steaks or four medium-sized cans of tuna a week, and should avoid eating shark, swordfish or marlin.
13. I have been told not to eat liver while I am pregnant. Why?
Liver can contain high levels of vitamin A, which in high doses can harm the development of an unborn baby’s nervous system. It is rare for women in developed countries like the UK to be deficient in vitamin A so you should avoid eating foods such as liver and liver products like pâté.
14. Is it safe to eat peanuts while I am pregnant or breastfeeding?
You can eat peanuts or foods containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) while pregnant or breastfeeding. Eating peanuts does not appear to affect your baby’s chances of developing a peanut allergy.
Don’t eat them if you’re allergic to them.
15. How can I reduce the risk of infection from food?
You can pick up some infections, such as listeria, salmonella or toxoplasmosis, from contaminated food. These can harm your unborn baby.
16. Do I need extra vitamins (vitamin supplements) when I am pregnant?
Vitamins are needed for growth and development. There are 13 important vitamins: vitamins A, C, D, E and K and the vitamin B series. Apart from vitamin D, which we get from sunlight, most vitamins come from our diet.
16. When may I need extra vitamin K?
Vitamin K is needed for our blood to clot properly. Newborn babies have low levels of vitamin K, which puts them at risk of bleeding . To prevent this, you will be offered vitamin K for your baby after birth.
You do not need to take vitamin K supplements yourself during pregnancy unless it is thought that your baby is at particular risk of bleeding. This could be because you are taking certain medicines for epilepsy or if you have liver disease.
17. When may I need extra vitamin C?
Although routine supplements of vitamin C are not specifically recommended when you are pregnant, this vitamin helps iron to be absorbed. This may be of benefit during pregnancy, at a time when women are at risk of becoming anaemic.
18. Can I get help to buy vitamins?
If you are on certain benefits and/or are under the age of 18 years, help may be available to provide you with free supplements. You can buy folic acid or pregnancy multivitamins from any pharmacy or supermarket. There is no evidence that expensive brands are any better than cheaper ones.