Take the recommended supplements
A balanced diet should provide all the nutrients you need during your pregnancy, however it’s advised you take two vitamins in particular:
- Folic acid
Taking a supplement of Folic Acid (400 micrograms per day) as well as eating more foods rich in folate for the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy will help minimise the risk of neural tube defects. For women with a BMI over 30 it’s advised that a higher folic acid supplementation of 5mg (milligrams) per day is taken. This needs to be prescribed as it is not available over the counter – and of course the good news is that prescriptions are free when you’re pregnant
Foods rich in folate include:
Vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, asparagus, kale, spinach, spring greens, broccoli, and other green vegetables. Overcooking these will reduce the amount of the vitamin, so keep them crunchy. Steaming will retain the most amount of the vitamin.
Fortified breads and cereals which have folic acid added to them can also be good sources
Other good sources include oranges, vegetables like cauliflower, lettuce, parsnips and peas, brown rice, eggs, cooked soya beans, baked beans and chickpeas.
- Vitamin D
It’s advised that you take vitamin D during your pregnancy to provide your baby with enough vitamin D for the first few months of his or her life. A supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day when you are pregnant and during breast-feeding is recommended.
Some women choose to take these supplements individually and some may choose to take a multivitamin pregnancy supplement. It is not advisable to take any non-pregnancy supplements. Please talk to your midwife or GP about this for advice.
Avoid liver and Vitamin A supplements
Liver, liver products (such as liver pâté or liver sausage) and supplements containing vitamin A can be toxic to a developing baby, so avoid these during your pregnancy.
When pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.
Limit your caffeine intake to no more than 200mg a day – high levels can lead to low birth weight or even miscarriage. Here’s the average caffeine content in some drinks:
- 1 mug instant coffee = 100mg
- 1 mug filter coffee = 140mg
- 1 mug tea = 75mg
- 1 can cola = up to 40mg
Eating fish is beneficial during pregnancy however pollutants in oily fish can affect the development of your unborn baby, so you’re recommended to limit oily fish (ie kippers, mackerel, salmon (plain or smoked), sardines, trout, fresh tuna, whitebait) to no more than two portions per week.
Avoid swordfish, shark and marlin and limit the amount of tuna you eat to no more than two tuna steaks (1 portion = 140g cooked) or 4 medium sized cans a week. This is to prevent you having high levels of mercury which can harm the baby’s developing nervous system. It's also recommended that fish oil supplements are avoided.
Food safety during pregnancy
As well as ensuring that your diet provides enough essential nutrients, there are a number of food safety issues which pregnant women are advised to consider. These recommendations are made to reduce the risk of harm to the developing baby. Eating certain foods does not necessarily mean the baby will be harmed but it can increase the risk:
To reduce the risk of food-borne infections such as Salmonella and Listeria it is advised that the following are avoided:
- soft ripened and blue veined cheeses
- pâté (all types including vegetable)
- raw shellfish
- unpasteurised milk and its products
- raw or partially cooked eggs and foods containing them (such as chocolate mousse and home-made mayonnaise)
For more in-depth details on what foods to avoid during pregnancy visit NHS choices...
General food handling guidelines
- Wash hands before preparing food and after handling raw meat
- Wash fruit and vegetables well, especially if they’re going to be eaten raw
- Store raw meat covered at the bottom of the fridge, separate from cooked foods
- Defrost frozen meat thoroughly before cooking
- Check that meat, poultry and shellfish are thoroughly cooked
- Re-heat cooked-chilled food thoroughly
- Check foods are eaten within use-by dates.
Read more about healthy eating during pregnancy...