What’s a healthy diet for pregnancy?

Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP
15 December 2023
Next review due December 2026

What you eat and drink during pregnancy is really important for the health of both you and your baby. Here I’ll share what a healthy diet looks like before and during pregnancy.

pregnant woman sitting in bed

What should I eat before pregnancy?

There isn’t any special diet you need to follow if you’re trying to get pregnant. But it’s good to be as healthy as you can before pregnancy. Part of this means following a balanced diet. This includes eating plenty of fruit and veg. You should also eat a wide range of wholegrains, healthy fats, and proteins.

Make sure you’re getting lots of iron-rich foods. This might help to reduce your risk of developing anaemia. Iron-rich foods include:

  • red meat
  • lentils
  • leafy green vegetables
  • fortified cereals.

It’s important to get enough calcium too. Dairy foods and fortified dairy-free alternatives are good sources.

What foods should I avoid during pregnancy?

There are certain foods and drinks you should avoid when pregnant. These foods may be more likely to cause food poisoning, or contain substances that could be harmful to your baby. It’s a good idea to be aware of these before pregnancy, so you can plan to avoid them if you become pregnant.

Foods to avoid if you’re pregnant, include:

  • raw or undercooked meat, fish and eggs. This includes undercooked ready meals. Always make sure that these are well-cooked and hot all the way through
  • pâté (meat, fish, or vegetable)
  • unpasteurised milk or milk products
  • raw shellfish, such as prawns
  • unripened soft cheeses, such as Brie, Camembert, or blue-veined cheese (like Stilton)
  • unwashed fruit and vegetables
  • liver or liver products
  • fish that contain large amounts of mercury, such as shark, swordfish, and marlin (limit tuna to four medium-sized cans or two fresh steaks a week)

It used to be advised that you should avoid peanuts if you’re pregnant. This is no longer the case as there’s no good evidence that peanuts will affect your baby. It’s fine to eat peanuts when you’re pregnant.


If you have too much caffeine when you’re pregnant, it can potentially harm your baby. If you’re pregnant or could be pregnant, it’s best to limit the amount you have each day to no more than 200 milligrams (200 mg). This is equal to having roughly two mugs of instant coffee, three mugs of tea, two or three ‘energy drinks’ or five cans of cola.

Products that have a high level of caffeine added to them – such as energy drinks – must display this on the label. But be aware that natural caffeine-containing products, like tea, coffee or chocolate, don’t have to display this.


Alcohol can harm your baby, and the more you drink, the greater the risks. The greatest risks seem to be in the first trimester, and in people who drink more than 1 to 2 units a day. There’s no clear safe level though. So it’s safest if you don’t drink alcohol at all while you’re trying to get pregnant and throughout your pregnancy.

If you need support in stopping drinking or reducing your alcohol intake, talk to your GP or midwife. They may be able to refer you for specialist help.

What supplements should I take for pregnancy?

Below are two supplements that you should consider taking during pregnancy, as well as one to avoid.

Folic acid

It's important to start taking folic acid when you decide to try for a baby. You’ll usually need to take 400 micrograms (400 µg) a day for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This reduces the risk of your baby having a neural tube defect (NTD), such as spina bifida.

You may need to take a bigger dose of 5 milligrams (5 mg) if you’re assessed as being at higher risk of having a baby with an NTD. This may be if you’re obese, if you have certain health conditions, such as diabetes, or if you take anti-epileptic medicines. You might also need a higher dose of folic acid if you have an NTD, have a partner with an NTD, or had a previous pregnancy affected by NTD. Your GP or midwife will tell you if you need the higher dose.

Vitamin D

Your body produces vitamin D naturally when you expose your skin to the sun. You can also get small amounts of it from your diet, but it’s difficult to get enough from these sources alone. If you’re not getting enough vitamin D, it can affect your baby’s growth.

It’s recommended that you take 10 micrograms (10 µg) of vitamin D a day throughout pregnancy. It’s a good idea to start taking this before you’re pregnant to make sure you have enough vitamin D. You can buy pregnancy supplements that contain the right amount of both folic acid and vitamin D from most pharmacies and supermarkets.

Vitamin A

Make sure any supplements you’re taking don’t contain vitamin A or fish liver oils. If you get pregnant, too much vitamin A can be dangerous for your growing baby.

Samantha Wild
Dr Samantha Wild
Clinical Lead for Women's Health and Bupa GP



Julia Ebbens, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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