Bupa Dietary Advice in Pregnancy

Eating for two

Your diet will need to provide you with enough energy and nutrients for your baby to grow and develop.

In general you should stick to the usual healthy eating principles. Base your meals around starchy foods such as pasta, potatoes and rice and try to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Eat moderate amounts of sources of protein – such as meat, fish, beans or dairy products – and only small amounts of foods and drinks containing fat and/or sugar.

You may feel more hungry than usual, but there is no need to ‘eat for two’. Putting on too much weight can raise your blood pressure, so don’t be tempted to drastically increase how much you eat.

You will usually gain between 7 and 12.5kg while you’re pregnant. This varies from person to person and will depend on how much you weighed before you became pregnant. Naturally, most of this weight is due to your growing baby. Don’t try to lose weight during your pregnancy – this could be dangerous for you and your baby. If you’re overweight, talk to your GP about how much weight you should gain during your pregnancy, as it may be lower than usual.

Changes to your diet

Certain components of your diet are particularly important while you’re pregnant and you shouldn’t eat particular foods. These are discussed below.

Folic acid

Folic acid helps reduce the risk of your baby having a birth defect such as the condition spina bifida.

You should take a 400-microgram folic acid supplement every day from when you start trying to become pregnant until you’re 12 weeks’ pregnant. If you weren’t taking folic acid before, start as soon as you find out that you’re pregnant. If you have diabetes you will usually need to take more folic acid. Speak to your doctor for advice. Folic acid can interfere with certain anti-epilepsy medicines. If you’re taking medicines to treat epilepsy, speak to your doctor for advice.

As well as taking your folic acid supplements, try to eat plenty of foods that contain folate (the natural form of folic acid), including green leafy vegetables, brown rice and some breakfast cereals that are fortified with folic acid (it’s added during manufacturing).

Iron-rich foods

It’s common for women to develop iron deficiency during their pregnancy. This is because your developing baby and placenta need iron to grow, and their supply of iron is taken from your blood. To help prevent iron deficiency, eat plenty of foods that are rich in iron. Red meat, fortified breakfast cereals and green leafy vegetables are all good sources of iron. Vitamin C helps your body to absorb iron, so include plenty of fruit, vegetables and fruit juices in your diet.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for bone health. Your growing baby needs a good supply of it to grow and develop healthily. Vitamin D is produced naturally by your body when your skin is exposed to sunlight and can also be obtained from some foods, such as oily fish.

The Department of Health advises that if you’re pregnant, you should take supplements containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day to make sure you get enough. Taking more than this – up to 25 micrograms of vitamin D a day (two high-strength 12.5-microgram tablets) – may also help to reduce your risk of a number of cancers, although more research needs to be done to be certain.

Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your supplements and ask your pharmacist or GP for advice if you are unsure.

Calcium-rich foods

It’s important to eat plenty of calcium-rich foods, as calcium helps your baby’s bones to develop. Foods that contain lots of calcium include dairy products, some green leafy vegetables and fish where you eat the bones, such as sardines.

Eating safely

There are certain foods that you shouldn’t eat while you’re pregnant because they put you at risk of food poisoning or may harm your baby. You shouldn’t eat the following foods.

  • Mould-ripened soft cheeses. Cheeses such as Camembert, brie and soft blue cheeses can contain a harmful bacterium called listeria. Although it’s rare, listeria infection can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or serious illness in your newborn baby. You can eat other types of cheese including hard cheeses such as cheddar and processed cheese such as mozzarella and cheese spreads.
  • Pâté. This can also contain listeria.
  • Shark, swordfish and marlin. Generally, eating fish is good for you and your baby. However, these types of fish can contain mercury. High levels of mercury can harm your baby’s developing nervous system.
  • Raw shellfish. This can contain harmful bacteria and viruses that can give you food poisoning.
  • Liver or liver products. These contain lots of vitamin A, which may be bad for your baby. Likewise, don’t take vitamin supplements that contain large amounts of vitamin A, including cod liver oil.
  • More than two portions of oily fish a week. This is because oily fish can contain low levels of pollutants, which can be harmful if they build up in your body over time. Oily fishes include fresh tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines.
  • Home-made dishes that contain raw egg such as mousses and mayonnaise. Shop-bought versions of these products are fine because the egg is usually pasteurised.
  • Unpasteurised milk and milk products, as they haven’t had the harmful germs destroyed. Only drink pasteurised or UHT milk.

Other precautions that you should take to avoid food poisoning include the following:

  • If you eat meat, make sure that it’s well cooked with no pink bits.
  • Always wash your hands after touching raw meat.
  • If you eat eggs, make sure they are fully cooked until both the white and the yolk are solid.
  • If you eat ready meals, make sure you heat them until they are piping hot all the way through.


The Department of Health recommends that if you’re pregnant, it’s best not to drink alcohol at all. This is because alcohol passes through your blood to your baby and your baby’s liver can’t process alcohol as well as yours can. Drinking alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy may increase your risk of miscarriage. However, it can continue to affect your baby’s development throughout your pregnancy.

If you choose to drink after the first three months, don’t drink any more than one to two units once or twice a week.


Caffeine is found naturally in tea, coffee, colas and some energy drinks. High levels of caffeine can cause your baby to have a low birth weight and even cause miscarriage. You should have no more than 200mg of caffeine a day. This is around the same as two mugs of instant coffee, two to three mugs of tea or five cans of cola.

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The anxieties we had with our IVF pregnancy were allayed with the extra scans at Thornbury hospital with Tom Farrell. Helen (Sheffield)