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Food & getting pregnant: the things to know

Rainbow ready

Don’t just eat your greens; eat your reds and yellows too! Brightly coloured fruit and veg is bursting with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals as well as fibre which helps with your digestion. Whizz up a smoothie or prepare chopped up fruit to snack on and aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg each day.

Something fishy

Try to eat two portions of fish a week, one of which should be oily.

Oily fish, such as sardines, mackerel, salmon and trout contain fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have plenty of pregnancy benefits including lowering your risk of pre-term birth and preeclampsia, while still providing you with the regular non-pregnancy benefits such as easing depression. You should avoid eating more than two portions of oily fish a week as they may contain pollutants.

During pregnancy, or when you’re trying, you shouldn’t eat any shark, swordfish or marlin. You should also limit your tuna intake to no more than two 140g tuna steaks or four 140g cans of tuna per week. These fish may contain more mercury than other types of fish which can affect your baby’s nervous system.

There is no limit on the amount of white fish and cooked shellfish you can eat. It is advisable to eat only cooked shellfish rather than raw shellfish. Raw fish, if wild rather than farmed, can be eaten if it is frozen first. This is because some wild fish may contain small parasitic worms and freezing the fish first kills the worms and makes it safe to eat. 


Pump up the iron

Menstruation depletes women’s iron stores on a monthly basis but pregnancy comes with its own iron-store challenges as your blood volume increases and your baby helps itself to your supplies! Stock up now to stave off postpartum anemia. Red meat is one of the best sources; poultry and fish are good too, as are dark green leafy vegetables like spinach. If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet you might like to speak with your health practitioner or doctor about an iron supplement. Opting for fortified foods can help too.

Refined carbs

The usual carbohydrate culprits like white bread, white rice and pasta short-change your body because the process of refining strips them of key nutrients. A pregnancy diet should be packed full of nutrients so switching for whole-grains is a great place to start.


The critical time for conception is between ovulation and menstruation so if you want the occasional tipple then the safe day (when you probably want it most) is the first day of your period.

The Chief Medical Officers for the UK recommend that if you’re pregnant or trying, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum as drinking during pregnancy ca lead to long-term harm to the baby.

For more information, please visit NHS Choices for further information. 

Coffee alert

Drinking high levels of caffeine can be dangerous for your baby and may result in a low birth weight, or even lead to miscarriage. When you are trying to get pregnant, this is a great time to reduce your caffeine intake in preparation for pregnancy.

Coffee, tea, green tea, chocolate, some fizzy drinks and energy drinks contain caffeine. It is advisable to check food labels and aim to keep your caffeine intake to under 200mg a day during pregnancy. 


Lurking Listeria

Listeriosis is a rare, but potentially life threatening, infection caused by the foodborne bacteria, Listeria. If a healthy adult gets infected, they will probably only experience mild symptoms. However, it can cause serious problems during pregnancy. 

Listeria can be found in lots of foods but is most commonly an issue with unpasteurised milk and dairy products made with unpasteurised milk, soft cheeses such as brie and camembert and ready to eat foods such as deli meats, pates and sandwiches. Try to avoid these higher risk foods. 

Don’t panic if you are trying to get pregnant/are pregnant and have eaten any of these foods recently. They do not always cause an infection. For more information on prevention and symptoms visit the NHS’ page on Listeriosis. 


Plenty of protein

Remember that non-meat sources of protein are important too. Mix up your meat with vegetable or dairy proteins like tofu, soybeans or peas and nuts.

Fertility folic

Folic acid is crucial, this B vitamin protects against neural tube birth defects like spina bifida. Your baby’s neural tube forms three to four weeks after conception, before many women realise they are pregnant, so play it safe by taking a 400 microgram supplement when you are planning to conceive. Talk to your healthcare professional or pharmacist about supplementation, and don’t worry if you get pregnant unexpectedly, start taking folic acid as soon as you find out. 

B safe

Vitamin B12 safe! A deficiency in this has also been linked to birth defects and as it is found primarily in animal based foods. Vegan and vegetarian women are most at risk and might like to consider a pregnancy multivitamin to ensure they get the recommended 2.4micrograms a day.

If you are planning to conceive, it is a great time to start thinking how you can prepare your body to help give your baby the best start. There is a wealth of information out there and guidelines and recommendations can vary from country to country so for the most up to date and clear advice, talk to your healthcare professionals.

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