Listeriosis is a flu-like illness which you can get from food that contains listeria bacteria. Although it’s rare in the UK, listeriosis can cause stillbirth, miscarriage or severe illness in newborn babies.
Don't eat foods where high levels of listeria are occasionally found. For example:
- Soft and blue veined cheeses, such as camembert, brie and stilton. There’s no risk of listeria from hard cheese such as cheddar or from cottage cheese or processed cheese.
- Pâté: all types of pâté, including vegetable pâté.
- Some prepared salads, such as potato salad and coleslaw.
- Ready meals or reheated food, unless they’re piping hot all the way through.
Campylobacter and salmonella
Campylobacter and salmonella are bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Campylobacter is found in:
- raw meat and poultry,
- unpasteurised milk, and
- untreated water.
Food poisoning from campylobacter can cause miscarriage and early (premature) labour.
Salmonella is found in:
- raw meat and poultry,
- unpasteurised milk, and
- raw eggs and raw egg products.
Although salmonella food poisoning is unlikely to harm your baby, it’s advisable to not eat foods that may contain salmonella.
- Don't eat foods containing raw or partially cooked eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise, and some mousses and sauces. Only eat eggs if they’re cooked until both the white and the yolk are solid.
- Don't eat unpasteurised dairy products.
- Don't drink from a contaminated water supply.
- Cook all meat and poultry thoroughly. Take extra care with products made from minced meat, such as sausages and burgers. Make sure they’re cooked until piping hot all the way through and no pink meat is left.
- Take extra care with meat at barbeques, parties and buffets. Bacteria breed quickly on food that’s left uncovered in a warm place.
- Make sure that raw meat doesn’t come into contact with other food (for example, in the fridge), particularly food that’s already cooked, or food that will be eaten raw.
Always remember to wash your hands after handling or touching raw meat, or if you come into contact with animals.
Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite found in cat faeces. It can also be present in:
- raw or undercooked meat, and
- soil left on unwashed fruit and vegetables.
Although rare, toxoplasmosis can be passed to the unborn baby, which can cause serious problems.
To reduce the risk of toxoplasmosis, don't eat the following foods:
- unwashed raw fruit and vegetables,
- raw or undercooked meat,
- cured meats, such as Parma ham and salami, and
- unpasteurised goats' milk or goats' cheese.
You should also avoid contact with soil or faeces that might contain the toxoplasmosis parasite. Always wear gloves if you’re gardening or changing a cat litter tray. If possible, ask someone else to do it for you.
While you're pregnant, make sure your diet doesn't include too much vitamin A. You do need some but if too much vitamin A builds up in your body, it can harm your unborn baby. Eating a normal, well-balanced diet should give you all the vitamin A your body needs.
Liver contains high levels of vitamin A, so don't eat:
- liver, and
- liver products such as pâté.
Check with your GP or midwife before you take any high-dose multivitamins or cod liver oil supplements as these may contain vitamin A.
Fish to limit
When you’re pregnant, don't eat too much of some types of fish.
Oily fish is good for your health. However, you should limit how much you eat because it contains pollutants, such as dioxins and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).
Pregnant women should eat no more than two portions of oily fish a week. Examples of oily fish include:
- fresh tuna (not canned tuna, which doesn't count as oily fish),
- sardines, and
Tuna also contains a high level of mercury (see below). Don't eat more than two fresh tuna steaks or four medium-sized cans (about 140g per can) of tuna a week. This is about six rounds of tuna sandwiches or three tuna salads.
Fish to avoid
Don't eat some types of fish while you’re pregnant. Some fish contain a high level of mercury, which can damage your baby's developing nervous system. Don't eat:
- swordfish, and
Also don't eat raw shellfish. This will reduce your chances of getting food poisoning, which can be particularly unpleasant when you're pregnant.
The Department of Health advises that pregnant women, and women who are trying to conceive, should not drink alcohol and should not get drunk. Heavy drinking during pregnancy is associated with low birth weight and more serious problems such as foetal alcohol syndrome.
However, if you do decide to drink alcohol while you're pregnant, limit the amount that you drink. The Department of Health and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advise that pregnant women should not drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week. Binge drinking (drinking several units of alcohol in one session) should be avoided.
Limit the amount of caffeine you drink each day. Caffeine affects the way your body absorbs iron, which is very important for your baby's development. High levels of caffeine can result in a baby having a low birth weight or even miscarriage.
Caffeine occurs naturally in a range of foods, such as coffee, tea and chocolate. It's also added to some soft drinks and energy drinks.
It's important not to have more than 200mg of caffeine a day, which is roughly equivalent to:
- two mugs of instant coffee,
- one mug of filter coffee,
- two mugs of tea,
- five cans of regular cola, or
- four (50g) bars of plain chocolate (milk chocolate has less caffeine in it than in dark chocolate).
Some cold and flu remedies also contain caffeine, so always check with your pharmacist before taking any medicines while you’re pregnant.