eating well in pregnancy - a bowl of salad leaves in sauce

By Helen Crawley

Eating a healthy balanced diet is incredibly important during and in the lead up to pregnancy, both for you and your baby. Whether finding out is a surprise or you’ve been planning it for a while, becoming pregnant makes most women start to think a bit more carefully about their own diet.


If you’re planning to get pregnant, it’s a good idea to take a daily 400ug folic acid supplement, and as soon as you find out you’re expecting, it’s strongly advised. We also recommend that all pregnant women take a 10ug vitamin D supplement while pregnant, too. Both these vitamins can be found in Healthy Start women’s vitamins, which may be offered free of charge in your area (you may be eligible for coupons for the Healthy Start scheme, which you can apply for online) or can be bought in pharmacies. You don’t need to take lots of other expensive supplements, and these ones are recommended as a ‘safety net’ for the population – you can get these things from a good diet, but many women don’t.

What shouldn’t I be eating?

Some of the advice on eating well during pregnancy can sound a bit scary and confusing, but the most important thing to remember is to eat a good, varied, balanced diet.

Some of the advice regarding foods to avoid – usually unpasteurised foods and drinks and undercooked foods – is given to lower the risk of food poisoning. You’ll also come across advice to avoid having too much of some nutrients or contaminants, such as liver, pate, some types of fish, such as shark and swordfish. If you eat these foods occasionally, the risk of anything going wrong is low, but public health advice always has a cautionary approach, so don’t be anxious.

Should I be eating more that usual?

You don’t need to eat any more than usual until the last trimester where you may need some extra energy if you’re still fairly active. Most women find that they eat around the same amount of food as normal, and provided a good range of foods are eaten you should get all the nutrients you need.

If you avoid certain food groups then it may become more difficult: avoiding dairy products, for example, makes it harder to get all the riboflavin, iodine and calcium you need; avoiding meat and fish means that you’ll need to eat a good range of alternatives, such as eggs, peas, beans, lentils, nuts, soya products, cereals and vegetables to get all the iron and zinc you need.

You can get advice on the sorts of foods, and amounts that will meet a typical woman’s energy and nutrient needs in pregnancy in the link below.

Which drinks should I avoid?

In the early stages, many women find that they no longer want to drink tea, coffee, alcohol and canned drinks that have a ‘metallic’ taste – these are all are all good things to avoid throughout pregnancy.

If you’d like recommendations on how much caffeine is safe to drink during pregnancy, please see the info below.

Drinks which contain caffeine – such as coffee, tea, cola and energy drinks – should be limited in pregnancy. Have no more than 200mg of caffeine a day.

  • 1 mug of filter coffee = 140mg
  • 1 mug of instant coffee = 100mg
  • 1 mug of tea = 75g
  • 1 can of cola = 30—50mg
  • 1 can of energy drink = 80mg or more

Decaffeinated coffee and tea can be drunk freely. However, many women still opt for decaffeinated drinks only during pregnancy, which can also be useful in not disturbing sleep. Always hydrate with water as your first choice of drink.

What about alcohol?

Drinking alcohol during the first three months of pregnancy is not recommended. Consuming small amounts of alcohol after this time does not appear to be harmful to you baby, but you should not drink more than one or two units in one go, and not more than once or twice a week.

For more helpful advice and information, visit:

About the author

Helen Crawley

As a registered public health nutritionist and dietician with over 30 years experience, Helen’s expert advice and recipes tick all the boxes for nutrition, budget and ease.

Helen Crawley