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Frequently Asked Questions About Food in Pregnancy

The A-Z of good antenatal Nutrition

Alcohol

  • There is no definite safe level of alcohol intake for pregnancy.
  • It is best to avoid alcohol completely as it can impact on baby’s development.

Constipation

  • Pregnancy hormones and pressure from the growing uterus can make constipation more likely.
  • Eat wholemeal bread, high fibre breakfast cereal, fruit (fresh, dried or tinned) and lots of vegetables (fresh, frozen, raw or cooked) daily.
  • Include different types of fibre from beans, lentils, chickpeas, oats, nuts and seeds several times a week
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids daily, at least 2 litres.
  • Exercise regularly at a mild or moderate intensity (e.g. brisk walking or swimming).

Caffeine

  • High intakes of caffeine can increase your risk of having a low birth weight baby.
  • Limit caffeine-containing drinks such as coffee, tea, cola or energy drinks.
  • Limit coffee to 2 mugs per day or 4 mugs of tea or 1 mug of coffee and 2 mugs of tea.
  • De-caff varieties of tea and coffee are widely available.
  • Avoid medications that contain caffeine – check the label or ask your pharmacist for more information.

Calcium content of full-fat and low-fat dairy

  • Low-fat dairy products (milk, cheese and yogurt) contain exactly the same amount of calcium as full-fat dairy products – the only difference is the fat content.

Cheese

  • Some cheeses should be avoided during pregnancy if they are unpasteurised because they can carry listeria. These include soft, mould-ripened cheese (e.g. Brie, Camembert, Chevre/ goats cheese) and blue-vein cheese (e.g. Danish Blue and Stilton).
  • Hard cheeses (Cheddar, Edam, Emmental and Parmesan) and Feta, Cottage, mozzarella, mascarpone and spreadable cheeses are safe.
  • Cooking destroys all bacteria that can be harmful in pregnancy, so any cheese in cooked dishes is safe e.g. quiche, lasagne, pizza.
  • If you are overweight or obese opt for low-fat varieties.

Eating for two

  • It is the quality of what you eat – not always the quantity – that is most important. Eat more nourishing foods and limit ‘junk’.
  • You only need on average an extra 20 calories a day in the 1st trimester, 85 calories extra in the 2nd trimester, and 200-400 calories extra in the 3rd trimester.

A healthy snack might be:

  • 1 medium banana or
  • 1 slice of toast with butter or
  • 20g of almonds (handful) and fruit
  • Fruit and yoghurt
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Vegetables and humus
  • Eggs

Eggs

  • Fresh, well-cooked eggs are safe to eat during pregnancy.
  • Avoid soft-boiled eggs and foods that are made with raw eggs, e.g. homemade mayonnaise, homemade mousse, homemade ice cream, homemade Caesar dressing and homemade unbaked cheesecakes.

Fish

  • Oily fish like mackerel, salmon, trout and herring are rich in omega 3 oils and vitamin D. Include these fish 1-2 times a week.
  • Shark, marlin, swordfish and Bluefin can contain high levels of mercury so these should be avoided during pregnancy.
  • Tuna contains moderate levels of mercury: limit tuna to 2 medium (140g) tins or 1 steak per week.
  • Avoid raw fish sushi.
  • Shellfish are safe to eat as long as they are fully cooked.

Folic acid

  • To help prevent neural tube defects (NTD) you should take a 400µg folic acid supplement daily before (when stopping contraception) and up to the 12th week of pregnancy.
  • Folic acid is also important for healthy red blood cells.
  • You should also include folate-rich foods (green vegetables, fortified bread, citrus fruit and cereals) in your diet.
  • If you have diabetes, had a previous NTD-affected pregnancy, take drugs for epilepsy or are obese you should speak to your doctor about taking a higher dose of folic acid before and up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

Heartburn

  • Try eating small regular meals and snacks and avoid large meals.
  • Avoid fatty, fried and spicy foods.
  • Avoid eating 1 hour prior to bed time.
  • Avoid drinking too much with meals. Sip drinks in between meals instead.

Herbal teas and herbal remedies

  • Do not drink more than 2 cups of fruit, berry, mint or chamomile tea a day. Use teabags rather than loose leaves, and try to make weak tea rather than strong tea.

Iron

  • Include foods high in good quality (haem) iron such as meat, dark poultry and fish every day.
  • Combine plant sources of iron (leafy green vegetables and beans), eggs or fortified breakfast cereals with vitamin C-rich foods to aid iron absorption, e.g. a fresh orange or berries with fortified breakfast cereal, grilled tomatoes with scrambled eggs.

Meat

  • Avoid raw or undercooked meat and fish.

Nuts

  • All nuts are safe to eat during pregnancy, even if there is a strong family history of nut allergy, asthma or eczema.
  • Unsalted and unroasted nuts are a healthy snack because they are high in protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.
  • Only avoid them if you have a nut allergy yourself.

Nausea

  • Eat little and often through the day choosing mainlystarchy foods such as toast, crackers.
  • Cold, bland, non-greasy foods are often better tolerated.
  • Drink fluids often through the day to prevent dehydration.
  • You may find ginger-rich foods or drinks, or wrist acupressure travel bands help.
  • Some nausea and food aversion is common in pregnancy and in most cases, should have eased by 16 - 20 weeks.
  • Severe nausea, vomiting and weight loss needs medical attention.

Supplements

  • Extra folic acid is necessary for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Take a 400µg tablet daily.
  • A supplement of 5µg Vitamin D daily is also recommended.

Vitamin A

  • Vitamin A is an essential nutrient, but high amounts are not recommended during pregnancy.
  • Because liver is high in vitamin A, you should avoid it and its products, such as fish liver oils, liver paté and liver sausage.
  • Avoid multivitamin tablets that may contain high levels of Vitamin A.
  • Beta carotene is a pre-cursor of vitamin A found in some vegetables and fruit and is safe in pregnancy

Weight Gain

  • You can expect to gain 0.5kg a week on average from the second trimester onwards.
  • It should be slightly less if you are overweight and more if you were underweight before pregnancy or carrying twins or more.

Whipped ice-cream

  • Avoid soft-whip ice cream as it may carry harmful bacteria.

Zinc and other minerals

  • Minerals and trace elements like magnesium, copper, selenium, iodine and zinc are also important for healthy fetal growth and development.
  • They are all provided in a balanced diet that contains wholegrain starches, fruit & vegetables, milk & yogurt, fish & meat, nuts & seeds.

For more information on foods to avoid or limit, food hygiene and food safety, please see the other INDI factsheets in the ‘Women’s Health’ section.

Further Information / Useful Links:

Updated by Fiona Dunlevy MINDI, Laura Harrington MINDI and Orna O Brien MINDI December 2015. Review date: November 2018.

© 2015 Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute, INDI. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in its entirety provided the source is acknowledged. This information is not meant to replace advice from your medical doctor or individual counselling with dietitian.  It is intended for educational and informational purposes only.

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