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UK Dietary Advice: Pregnancy
Diet Guidelines for Healthy Eating in Pregnancy and When Breast Feeding
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Healthy Foods & Nutritional Advice For Pregnant Moms

UK Dietary Advice During Pregnancy

Healthy Balanced Diet When You're Pregnant

During pregnancy you need to make sure that your diet sufficiently healthy and balanced to provide you with enough energy and nutrients for the baby to grow and develop, and for your body to deal with the changes taking place.

What should I be eating?

It's important to try to eat a variety of foods including:

  • Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or a glass of juice). Aim for five portions a day.
  • Plenty of starchy foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes.
  • Protein such as lean meat and chicken, fish (aim for two servings of fish a week, including one of oily fish), eggs and pulses (beans and lentils). These foods will also supply you with iron.
  • Plenty of fibre. This helps prevent constipation and is found in wholegrain bread, pasta, rice, pulses and fruit and vegetables.
  • Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, which contain calcium.
  • Healthy snacks you might want to choose include sandwiches or pitta bread filled with cheese or lean ham, low fat yoghurts, fruit juices, vegetable and bean soups, or ready-to-eat dried fruits such as apricots.

Do I need extra iron during pregnancy?

Pregnant women can become deficient in iron, so make sure you have plenty of iron-rich foods. Have some foods containing vitamin C, such as a glass of fruit juice, with any iron-rich meals to help your body absorb iron. If the iron level in your blood becomes low, your GP or midwife will advise you to take iron supplements.

Good sources of iron include:

  • Red meat
  • Pulses
  • Bread
  • Green vegetables
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Although liver contains a lot of iron, you should avoid eating it.

Do I need to take any vitamin supplements?

You should take a daily folic acid supplement (400 mcg) until at least the twelfth week of your pregnancy. Ideally, you should have started to take these supplements before you were pregnant. You should also include foods containing folic acid in your diet, such as green vegetables and brown rice, fortified bread and breakfast cereals.

Folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. But don't take multivitamin tablets to get enough folic acid, as you may overdose on the other vitamins (see 'What should I avoid?' below).

If you have already had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect, consult your GP for advice.

What foods should I avoid during pregnancy?

You shouldn't eat the following foods because they can contain high levels of listeria, a germ that can cause miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illness in a new-born baby.

  • Soft mould-ripened cheese, such as Camembert, Brie and blue-veined cheese. There is no risk with hard cheeses (such as Cheddar), cottage cheese and processed cheese.
  • Pâté (any type).
  • Uncooked or undercooked ready-cooked meals. Make sure you heat ready-cooked meals until piping hot.

Other Dietary Health Advice During Pregnancy

AVOID raw eggs and food containing raw or partially-cooked eggs. Only eat eggs cooked enough for both the white and yolk to be solid. This is to avoid the risk of salmonella, which causes a type of food poisoning;

ALWAYS wash your hands after handling raw meat, and store raw foods separately from ready-to-eat foods. This is to avoid other types of food poisoning from meat (salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli O157);

ONLY eat meat that has been well cooked. Take particular care with sausages and minced meat.

ALWAYS wear gloves when you're gardening or dealing with cat litter and wash your hands afterwards. This is to avoid toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by a parasite found in meat, cat faeces and soil. The infection can be harmful to unborn babies;

DON'T have too much vitamin A. This means you should avoid taking high-dose multivitamin supplements and avoid eating liver and liver products such as pâté. You need some vitamin A, but if you have too much, levels could build up and be too high during pregnancy. Ask your GP or midwife if you want more information;

AVOID eating shark, swordfish and marlin. These have been shown to contain relatively high levels of methylmercury, which might affect the nervous systems of unborn babies.

CUT DOWN on foods containing fat and sugar, such as cakes and biscuits. This can help you keep your weight under control.

Do I need to cut out alcohol?

You should drink no more than 1 or 2 units of alcohol, once or twice a week. A unit is half a pint of ordinary strength beer, lager or cider, a small glass of wine or a single 25 ml measure of spirits.

Do I need to cut out caffeine?

You need to limit the amount of caffeine you have each day, but you don’t need to cut it out completely. Caffeine occurs naturally in a range of foods, such as coffee, tea and chocolate, and it’s also added to some soft drinks and ‘energy’ drinks. It's important not to have more than 300 mg of caffeine a day. This is because high levels of caffeine can result in babies having a low birth weight, or even miscarriage.

Roughly, 300 mg means any of these:3 mugs of instant coffee (100 mg each)

4 cups of instant coffee (75 mg each)

3 cups of brewed coffee (100 mg each)

6 cups of tea (50 mg each)

8 cans of cola (up to 40 mg each)

4 cans of ‘energy’ drink (up to 80 mg each)

8 (50 g) bars of chocolate (up to 50 mg each)
So, if you eat a bar of chocolate and drink 3 cups of tea, a can of cola and a cup of instant coffee in a day, you'll have reached your 300 mg limit.

Remember that caffeine is also found in certain cold and flu remedies, so always check with your GP or a health professional before taking any of these.

How much weight should I expect to gain?

Different women gain different amounts of weight, but this shouldn't be more than 10-12 kilograms or 22-28 pounds over the whole of the pregnancy.
If you gain too much weight this can affect your health and increase your blood pressure. But equally, it's important that you don't try to diet.

Where can I get more dietary advice during pregnancy?

You might find it useful to read The Pregnancy Book, which is published by health departments in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and is available free to first-time parents. The Health Education Board for Scotland produces a book called Ready Steady Baby, which is free to first-time parents in Scotland. If you haven't already got a copy of one of these, speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor, or contact your local health promotion unit.

Dietary Guidelines When Breastfeeding

In general, when you're breastfeeding you should try to eat a varied and balanced diet. Breast milk provides all the nutrients a baby needs for healthy development in the first months of life. It's important to try to eat a variety of foods including:

  • Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or a glass of juice). Aim for five portions a day.
  • Starchy foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes to give you the extra energy you'll need.
  • Plenty of fibre, found in wholegrain bread, pasta, rice, pulses and fruit and vegetables. After childbirth, bowel action can be disrupted and constipation is particularly painful, but fibre helps with both of these.
  • Protein such as lean meat and chicken, fish (aim for two servings of fish per week, including one of oily fish), eggs and pulses (beans and lentils).
  • Dairy foods, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, which contain calcium and are a useful source of protein.

Do I need to eat more food when breastfeeding?

Most women's bodies are very efficient at making breast milk, so you don't need to eat for two. As at any other time, it's important for you and your baby that you eat a healthy diet. Remember:

All food can be eaten in moderation while you are breastfeeding, unless you have a family history of allergy or intolerance and you may be advised otherwise.

As a general rule, if a food affects you it will probably affect your baby.

It is normal for breastfed infants to have loose stools.
It can be difficult to find the time to get enough to eat when you're looking after a small baby but three helpful hints are:

1. Keep meals simple so they don't take too long to prepare.
2. Make eating regularly a high priority.
3. Try eating smaller meals more frequently.

Do I need to drink more when breastfeeding?

It is important that you drink when you feel thirsty when you are breastfeeding. If your urine is dark and strong smelling you are not drinking enough. If you feel thirsty, this means that you're already dehydrated, so you need to drink more. It's a good idea to have a drink by your side before you settle down to breastfeed. Water, milk and unsweetened fruit juices are all good choices.

Your baby will essentially be taking small amounts of whatever substances you take in, so think carefully about your intake of alcohol and caffeine. They will affect the baby in the same way they affect you. If you do have alcohol or caffeine, have them occasionally, as regular or heavy intakes will affect your baby.

Should I avoid peanuts when breastfeeding?

Serious allergies to nuts and nut products and some seeds affect less than 1% of the population. But your baby may be at higher risk if you, the baby's father, brothers or sisters have allergies such as hayfever, asthma and/or eczema.

If your baby is in this higher-risk group, it would be sensible to avoid eating peanuts and peanut products while breastfeeding and during the introduction of solid foods. Until the child is at least three years old, peanuts and peanut products should be avoided. Children who are allergic to peanuts should not consume peanuts or peanut products.

If you think your child might be allergic to peanuts, contact your GP.

How can I lose weight after pregnancy, when breastfeeding?

It's not a good idea to try to lose weight while you're breastfeeding as you need to keep your energy levels up. If you eat a healthy balanced diet, restrict the amount of fat and sugar you eat, and are physically active, this will help you to lose any weight you put on during pregnancy.

Where can I get more information on diet, breastfeeding and pregnancy?

Speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor, or contact your local health promotion unit.

Source: UK Food Standards Agency

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