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Foods to avoid when pregnant

6-minute read

There are some foods you should not eat when you're pregnant because they might make you ill or harm your baby. Make sure you know the important facts about which foods you should avoid or take extra care with when you're pregnant. The best foods to eat are freshly cooked or freshly prepared food.

Some types of cheese

Don't eat mould-ripened soft cheese, such as brie, camembert and chevre (a type of goat's cheese) and others with a similar rind. You should also avoid soft blue-veined cheeses such as Danish blue or gorgonzola. These are made with mould and they can contain listeria, a type of bacteria that can harm your unborn baby.

Although infection with listeria (listeriosis) is rare, it is important to take special precautions in pregnancy because even a mild form of the illness in a pregnant woman can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or severe illness in a newborn baby.

You can eat hard cheeses such as cheddar, parmesan and stilton, even if they're made with unpasteurised milk. Hard cheeses don't contain as much water as soft cheeses so bacteria are less likely to grow in them. Many other types of cheese are okay to eat, but make sure they're made from pasteurised milk. They include cottage cheese, mozzarella, cream cheese, paneer, haloumi, goat's cheese and processed cheeses such as cheese spreads.

Pâté

Avoid all types of pâté, including vegetable pâtés, as they can contain listeria.

Raw or partially cooked eggs

Make sure that eggs are thoroughly cooked until the whites and yolks are solid. This prevents the risk of salmonella food poisoning. Don’t eat foods that contain raw and undercooked eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise. If you wish to have dishes that contain raw or partially cooked eggs, consider using pasteurised liquid egg. Don’t use cracked or dirty eggs.

Raw or undercooked meat

Cook all meat and poultry thoroughly so it is steaming hot and there is no trace of pink or blood. Take particular care with poultry, pork, sausages and minced meat, including burgers.

Don't eat rare meat. Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a parasite that can be found in meat, soil, cat faeces and untreated water. If you are pregnant the infection can damage your baby, but it's important to remember that toxoplasmosis in pregnancy is very rare.

If you feel you may have been at risk, discuss it with your doctor, midwife or obstetrician. If you are infected while you're pregnant, treatment for toxoplasmosis is available.

Wash all surfaces and utensils thoroughly after preparing raw meat. It's also important to remember to wash and dry your hands after touching or handling raw meat. This will help to avoid the spread of harmful bugs such as salmonella, campylobacter and E. coli that can cause food poisoning.

Liver products

Don't eat liver or liver products such as liver pâté or liver sausage, as they may contain a lot of vitamin A. Too much vitamin A can harm your baby.

Supplements containing vitamin A

Don't take high-dose multivitamin supplements, fish liver oil supplements or any supplements containing vitamin A.

Some types of fish

Fish contains protein and essential omega-3 fatty acids, so it is recommended in pregnancy.

However, some types of fish have higher levels of mercury, which can affect the baby’s developing nervous system. It’s important to limit your intake of fish with higher levels of mercury. Shark (flake), broadbill, marlin and swordfish should be eaten no more than once a fortnight and don’t eat any other fish during that fortnight. Orange roughy and catfish should be eaten no more than once a week, and no other fish should be eaten during that week.

For more information about mercury in fish, visit Food Standards Australia.

Raw shellfish

Eat cooked rather than raw shellfish as it can contain harmful bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning and have a higher risk of listeria contamination.

Pre-packaged salads

Pre-prepared or pre-packaged fruit or vegetable salads, including those from buffets and salad bars have a higher risk of listeria contamination.

Certain fruit and vegetables

Don’t eat rockmelon, due to a risk of listeria, or bean sprouts, due to salmonella.

Sushi

Don’t eat chilled seafood such as raw oysters, sashimi and sushi, smoked ready-to-eat seafood and cooked ready-to-eat prawns, which have a higher risk of listeria contamination.

The safest way to enjoy sushi is to choose the fully cooked or vegetarian varieties, such as those that include:

  • cooked seafood, for example fully cooked eel (unagi) or shrimp (ebi)
  • vegetables, for example cucumber (kappa) maki
  • avocado — for example California roll
  • fully cooked egg

Cold cured meats

Cold cured meats include salami, parma ham, chorizo and pepperoni. In Australia, pregnant women are advised to avoid eating cold cured meats or smoked fish as there is a small risk of these foods harbouring listeria, or the toxoplasma parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. These include:

  • cold meats from delicatessen counters and sandwich bars, and packaged, sliced ready-to-eat meats
  • cold cooked ready-to-eat chicken (whole, portions, or diced)

Unpasteurised milk

If you have milk, drink only pasteurised or UHT (ultra-heat treated) milk (also called long-life milk). If only raw (unpasteurised) milk is available, boil it first. Don’t drink unpasteurised goat’s or sheep’s milk or eat food that is made out of them, such as soft goat’s cheese.

Don't eat soft-serve ice-creams while you're pregnant as they have a higher risk of listeria contamination.

Alcohol

There is no safe level of alcohol that you can have during your pregnancy. Whether you are planning a pregnancy, already pregnant or breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option as alcohol can harm your unborn baby.

Caffeine

High levels of caffeine can increase the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight and experiencing a difficult birth. Caffeine is naturally found in lots of foods, such as coffee, tea and chocolate, and is added to some soft drinks and energy drinks. Some cold and flu remedies also contain caffeine. Talk to your midwife, doctor or pharmacist before taking these remedies.

You don’t need to cut out caffeine completely, but don’t have more than 200mg a day. The approximate amounts of caffeine found in food and drinks are:

  • 1 cup of instant coffee: 60mg
  • 1 shot of espresso coffee: 100mg
  • 1 cup of plunger coffee: 80mg
  • 1 cup of tea: 30mg
  • 375ml can of cola: 49mg
  • 250ml can of energy drink: 80mg
  • 100g bar of milk chocolate: 20mg

Don’t worry if you occasionally have more than 200mg, the risks are quite small. To cut down on caffeine, try decaffeinated tea and coffee, fruit juice or mineral water instead of regular tea, coffee and cola.

Energy drinks

Energy drinks are not recommended during pregnancy as they may contain high levels of caffeine, and other ingredients not recommended for pregnant women.

Foods with soil on them

Wash fruit, vegetables and salads to remove all traces of soil and visible dirt. Learn more about safe food preparation.

Peanuts and allergies

If you would like to eat peanuts or food containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) during pregnancy, you can choose to do so as part of a healthy balanced diet, unless you are allergic to them or your health professional advises you not to. Exclusion of any particular foods (including foods considered to be highly allergenic) from the maternal diet during pregnancy or breastfeeding is not recommended, as this has not been shown to prevent allergies in your baby.

Check out our handy guide to food and drink during pregnancy (infographic) that you can print off to stick on the fridge or keep in your bag.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2020


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