Life really is a bitch. If ever you needed a stiff gin, it’s now. I mean, you’re just finding out your body, not to mention your whole life, will soon be overtaken by a little person you haven’t even met.
Oh, hold on, you can’t have one. What with growing another human being inside of you, alcohol (and cigarettes) are rightly on the forbidden list. Sure, that’s ok, you think. You can hold off on the sake when going for sushi, but you can still enjoy the old Tuna maki or two washed down by a refreshing cup of green tea, right?
Stop right there. It may sound healthy, but how safe is it? It’s not as safe as you think.
When you’re pregnant, you need to know what foods & drinks to avoid/limit because of small risks to the safety of your baby. This makes eating out tricky, especially if you’re into foods like charcuterie, cheese boards, and sushi.
I was a vegetarian during pregnancy, and cutting out specific cheeses was harder than foregoing the glass of champagne during the first toast. Don’t get me wrong, it was for a greater good; baby’s health is what matters most. It’s just difficult to ascertain what food and drinks to avoid during pregnancy, mainly when you’re eating out and don’t have access to any food labeling.
Also, no one wants to dine out with a food bore.
So, to help you during this exciting but arduous time in your life, I have listed below what food and drinks to avoid or limit during pregnancy based on NHS guidelines. Keep this list handy for your next time on the (alcohol-free) razz with the girls.
Ps, looking for some alternatives? Look here.
Drinks to avoid during pregnancy
According to the NHS, the Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend that if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby at a minimum.
Why should you avoid alcohol during pregnancy?
When drinking during pregnancy, alcohol passes from your blood through the placenta and to your baby. A baby’s liver develops after her other organs and it only matures at the later stages of pregnancy. As you can imagine, it’s much harder for a baby to process alcohol than it is for you. So, if your baby has been exposed to too much alcohol, her development can be severely impacted.
Drinking during pregnancy (especially in the first trimester) can lead to miscarriage, premature birth and your baby having a lower birth weight.
Drinking during both the second and third trimester can lead to health problems after the baby is born, such as learning difficulties, severe behavioral problems or FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome).
Knowing all of this should make it a no-brainer to ditch wine o’clock if the taste and smell of alcohol haven’t put you off already during your first bouts of nausea.
Did you have a few nights out before you found out you were pregnant? Make sure you hold off on any more drinks now. If you are worried about any G&T’s consumed before you spotted the double blue lines, then please check with your local health provider. It’s quite common, so you’re not alone in this.
Herbal teas during pregnancy
Avoid the following herbal teas (due to a risk of side-effects):
- St John’s wort
- Don Quai
- Pennyroyal (link to miscarriage)
- Licorice root
- Sage tea (link to miscarriage)
- Parsley tea (link to miscarriage)
Unpasteurized fruit juice
Only drink pasteurized fruit and vegetable juice (i.e. stay clear from unlabelled bottles purchased at a farmer’s market).
Drinks to limit during pregnancy
While you don’t have to avoid it completely, high levels of caffeine consumed during pregnancy can result in a lower birth weight, which could cause health problems in later life. The recommended amount of caffeine, based on UK & US guidelines, is a maximum of 200mg a day.
Just do be aware that caffeine is found in more food and drinks than you might think. Obviously, coffee, tea, and cola contain the substance, but who knew you need to check herbal tea, your favorite cereal (Quaker Cocoa Blasts, anyone?) and chocolate ice cream for caffeine levels too?
Check out the levels of caffeine in these drinks:
- one mug of filter coffee: 140mg
- one mug of builder’s tea: 75mg
- one mug of instant coffee: 100mg
- a 230 ml (around one cup) serving of green tea: around 35mg (the strength depends on whether you make it with bags [more caffeine] or loose tea leaves [less])
- one 250ml can of energy drink: 80mg, with larger cans containing up to 160mg of caffeine
- one can of cola: 40mg
- “decaffeinated” coffee: between 2 and 12mg
Other teas containing caffeine are:
- English breakfast tea
- Earl grey
- Green tea/matcha
- Lapsong souchong
- Golden monley black
This list is not exhaustive, so please always check the label or ask your local health provider.
Apart from the teas listed above, you should be able to drink most fruit and herbal teas. The NHS advises to drink them in moderation (one or two cups should be fine). Vary them and avoid any sleepy tea blends containing valerian.
Avoid drinking unpasteurized milk. If that’s the only milk available, then boil it first to make it safe for you to drink. The same goes for sheep and goat’s milk.
(Diet) fizzy drinks
If you have come this far in the article, you may now be thinking there is not much left for you to quench your thirst with, and you’re right. Try not to resort to too many full-sugar or diet fizzy drinks. While not much research has gone into assessing whether diet drinks affect the baby’s health, there was a study done fifteen years ago on rats, which concluded that aspartame can cause birth defects.
However, the researchers fed the rats a dose of aspartame that you would reach if you had 70 diet drinks a day. Unless you’re a raging cola addict, you will be unlikely to reach that amount, so you could have the occasional fizzy drink. But be aware of the chemicals, aspartame, or sugars they contain.
Foods to avoid during pregnancy
Food with soil on them: unwashed vegetables are to be avoided. Wash salad and vegetables and remove all traces of soil and visible dirt.
Homemade yogurt with unpasteurized milk.
Don’t eat raw eggs while pregnant to avoid the risk of salmonella. When you boil, fry, or poach eggs, make sure the yolks and whites are cooked solid. Make sure to avoid other foods that contain raw eggs, such as mousse or homemade mayonnaise.
While cheese makes a great snack due to its high calcium content, it’s important you avoid all unpasteurized (or raw milk) cheese when pregnant. Also, be aware that even if soft, mold-ripened and soft, blue-veined cheeses are made from pasteurized milk, they still are not safe to eat. These cheeses are moister than other cheeses, creating an environment for listeria bacteria to grow.
I have outlined a list of them below. Make sure you buy cheese whole and intact, instead of at a deli or cheese counter, to cut out the risk of cross-contamination.
Unsafe soft cheeses
- Blue Brie
- Chevre (goat’s cheese with a white rind)
- Pont l’Eveque
- Vacherin Fribourgeois
Unsafe blue cheeses
- Bleu d’Auvergne
- Blue Wensleydale
- Shropshire Blue
- Danish blue
Unpasteurized sheep/goats cheese
- Torta del cesar
This list is by no means exhaustive, so please check with your local health provider.
Yes, it’s safe to eat halloumi when pregnant, and check out the other cheeses you can eat here.
Fish to avoid
Thanks to their high levels of mercury (this can affect your baby’s nervous system), these fish need to be skipped when pregnant:
- Raw shellfish including raw oysters and raw prawns
Fish to limit
While fish certainly contains good nutrients for you and the development of baby, limit your intake of the following types to a maximum of two portions a week:
- Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, herring, pilchards) as they contain pollutant
- Tuna (high levels of
Limit: two thoroughly cooked fresh steaks a week or four medium (140 grams when drained) cans weekly
While some say you can eat lightly cooked fish in sushi when it’s made with raw fish that was frozen first, bypass it. I avoided any sushi made with raw fish. I stuck to vegetarian (avocado maki is still my favorite) and sushi containing fully cooked fish. Sushi can be a bit of a minefield, and if in doubt, contact the Food Standards Agency for advice.
As a rule of thumb, avoid all raw and undercooked meat and poultry. Eating these foods can put you at risk of contracting toxoplasmosis and salmonella.
Avoid deli meats, as they can contain listeria.
Avoid for the same reason as above.
Avoid all types of pates, including vegetable pâté, as they may contain listeria. The NHS advises against eating liver pâté, liver sausage, or haggis, as they contain a lot of vitamin A, which can harm your baby.
Make sure you cook these fully through, and the meal is piping hot when it’s served to you. This is especially important for meals that include chicken or turkey.
Current advice, based on the latest research, is that, yes, you can eat peanuts. But watch this; food advice tends to change.
Chocolate does contain the dreaded caffeine, so you might have to switch to milk chocolate. See for yourself:
One bar of 50g dark chocolate contains 25mg (in most UK brands)
One bar of 50g milk chocolate contains less than 10mg (in most UK brands)
So the good news is that chocolate is fine, in moderation.
If you go through all the bother of making your own ice-cream, just make sure you follow an egg-free substitute.
Soft ice creams should be ok to eat as they are processed products made with pasteurized milk and eggs. Vegan ice cream is safe too.
Moderate amounts of licorice are allowed, just don’t eat a bag every day.
Fruit needs to be washed to take all traces of soil and visible dirt away.
While mangoes are good for you, they do contain vitamin A, so eat mangoes in moderation when pregnant.
I hope our comprehensive guide of what food and drinks to avoid was helpful. If you’re now crying in your herbal tea and wondering what’s left to consume, have a look at our handy list of what to eat and drink when pregnant.