Pregnancy and food safety
What to eat
A healthy diet
The best way to meet you and your baby’s nutritional needs is to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods and be as healthy as possible as early as possible.
These foods should include:
- Bread, cereals, rice, pasta and noodles—preferably wholegrain or wholemeal
- Vegetables and legumes
- Milk, yoghurt, hard cheese—preferably low fat
- Meat, fish, poultry, cooked eggs and nuts
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating from the Commonwealth Government Department of Health and Ageing recommends:
|Try to consume each day||1 serving =|
|Breads & Cereals
(including rice, pasta, noodles)
(preferably wholegrain or wholemeal)
|2 slices of bread
1 medium bread roll
1 1/3 cups of breakfast cereal
1 cup cooked rice, pasta or noodles
|Vegetables & legumes||5-6 servings||1/2 cup cooked vegetables
1 cup of salad vegetables
1/2 cup cooked dried beans, peas, lentils or canned beans
1 small potato
|Fruit||4 servings||1 medium apple
2 items of smaller whole fruits (apricots, kiwi fruit, plums)
1/2 cup fruit juice
1 cup canned fruit (no added sugar)
(meat, fish, poultry, cooked eggs, nuts)
|1 1/2 servings||65-100g cooked meat or chicken
80-120g fish fillet
1/3 cup peanuts or almonds
2 small eggs
|Calcium (milk, yoghurt, hard cheese)||2 servings||250ml of milk
250ml of calcium fortified soy beverages
40g (2 slices) of cheese
200g of yoghurt
Weight gain during pregnancy varies between women. It is normal to gain 12-14kg during pregnancy. So it is important not to diet or skip meals while youre pregnant your baby grows every day and needs you to maintain a balanced, healthy diet.
Vitamins, nutrients and minerals
During pregnancy your body needs extra vitamins, minerals and nutrients to help your baby develop. The best way of getting these vitamins is through your diet.
Folate is a B vitamin and is added to food or supplements as folic acid. Folate is important for your baby’s development during early pregnancy because it helps prevent birth abnormalities like spina-bifida.
The best way to make sure you get enough folate is to take a daily folic acid supplement of 400 to 600 micrograms (μg) one month before becoming pregnant and during the first three months of pregnancy. If you have a family history of neural tube defects you may need even more folate, so you should consult your doctor.
It is also important to eat foods that have added folic acid or are naturally rich in folate. Foods with folic acid added to them (fortified) include most breads, some breakfast cereals, and fruit juices. Check the nutrition information panel on the package to find out how much folate is present.
Foods naturally rich in folate include green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and salad greens, chick peas, nuts, orange juice, some fruits and dried beans and peas.
Pregnancy increases your need for iron. Your baby draws enough iron from you to last it through the first five or six months after birth so it’s vital that you consume more iron while pregnant. The recommended daily intake (RDI) of iron during pregnancy is 27mg per day. Taking a supplement may help to meet this recommended intake but you should only take iron supplements under your doctor’s advice.
Good sources of iron include:
- lean beef and lamb
- fish and shellfish
- breakfast cereals fortified with iron
- cooked legumes such as chick peas, lentils, kidney and lima beans
- dried fruits
- green vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and spinach
Eating foods high in vitamin C will also help you to absorb iron if you consume them at the same time. Try drinking a glass of orange juice when eating green vegetables or legumes. You also need to watch out for tea, coffee and cola because caffine reduces the body's absorption of iron.
Calcium is essential to keep bones healthy and strong. During the third trimester of pregnancy, your baby needs a large amount of calcium as they start to develop and strengthen their bones. If you’re not getting enough calcium in your diet, the calcium needed by your baby will be drawn from your own bones. To prevent this and the risk of osteoporosis later in life make sure you are getting enough calcium in your diet for both of you.
The recommended daily intake of calcium during pregnancy is 1000mg to 1300mg per day. Two serves of dairy foods, such as milk, hard cheese, yoghurt and calcium–fortified soy milk, should meet your daily requirements.
Iodine is important for everyone, but particularly for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Mild to moderate iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in the baby having learning difficulties and affect the development of motor skills and hearing.
In Australia, most breads, except organic varieties, are fortified with iodine which will help to address the iodine needs of most of the population. However, pregnant and breastfeeding women have higher requirements for iodine so some women may need to take a supplement. Talk to a doctor, midwife or accredited, practising dietitian for advice.
If you think you are not getting enough vitamins or nutrients please speak to your doctor.
Use this handy guide to assist in making decisions about what to eat and what to avoid during pregnancy.
It highlights some foods that are not recommended for pregnant women.
When you're pregnant, hormonal changes in your body lower your immune system which can make it harder to fight off illness and infections. Preventing foodborne illness and protecting yourself from other food risks during pregnancy is extremely important.
Remember the golden rules of food safety:
Keep it cold
Keep it clean
Keep it hot
Check the label
Salmonella can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, fever and headache. Pregnant women are not at an increased risk of contracting salmonellosis, but in rare cases it may trigger miscarriage.
It’s advisable to avoid foods that contain raw egg and always cook meat, chicken and eggs thoroughly. In addition, the NSW Food Authority recommends that pregnant women do not eat any type of sprout including alfalfa sprouts, broccoli sprouts, onion sprouts, sunflower sprouts, clover sprouts, radish sprouts, snowpea sprouts, mung beans and soybean sprouts, when raw or lightly cooked.
Listeria is a type of bacteria found in some foods which can cause a rare but dangerous infection called listeriosis. It usually takes about 30 days for the flu-like symptoms to occur, but it can take much longer. If Listeria is transmitted to your unborn baby it can lead to miscarriage, premature labour, or stillbirth.
Some foods may contain Listeria even when they’ve been stored correctly so the best way to avoid listeriosis is to follow these guidelines:
- Try to eat only freshly cooked food and well washed, freshly prepared fruit and vegetables. Leftovers can be eaten if they were refrigerated promptly and kept no longer than a day
- Avoid any foods that may have been made more than a day in advance, for example pre-made and pre-packaged salads, sandwiches and wraps
- Refrain from eating foods listed below
These mostly chilled, ready-to-eat foods should be avoided altogether:
Toxoplasmosis, while uncommon in pregnant women, can occur if you eat undercooked meats, or unwashed fruit and vegetables, particularly from gardens with household cats. Most commonly, however, infection is caused by touching cat faeces when cleaning the cat litter tray or contaminated soil in the garden. It is particularly important to avoid toxoplasmosis during pregnancy because it can lead to brain damage or blindness in your unborn child.
|Tips for avoiding toxoplasmosis:|
Eating fish safely
Fish are rich in protein and minerals, low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the development of the central nervous system in babies, before and after they are born.
Although it’s really important to eat fish during pregnancy and breastfeeding, you need to be careful about which fish you choose. That’s because some fish may contain mercury levels that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system.
The following table will help you safely include fish as an important part of a balanced diet.
|Pregnant & breastfeeding women & women planning pregnancy
1 serve equals 150g
|Children up to 6 years
1 serve equals 75g
Eat 2-3 serves per week of any fish and seafood not listed below
Eat 1 serve per week of these fish and no other fish that week:
Catfish or Orange Roughy (Deep Sea Perch)
Eat 1 serve per fortnight of these fish, and no other fish that fortnight:
Shark (Flake) or Billfish (Swordfish, Marlin)
- see also: mercury in fish wallet card (pdf, 120 kb)
Also watch out for...
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth or your baby could be born with foetal alcohol syndrome (slow growth before and after birth, and mental disabilities).
As it is not known whether there is a safe level of drinking during pregnancy, the National Health and Medical Research Council advises women that it is best not to drink during pregnancy.
Small amounts of caffeine are safe during pregnancy but excessive volumes may increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth. Caffeine is in coffee, tea, chocolate and cola (and some other soft drinks).
NSW Health recommends that pregnant women limit themselves to 200mg of caffeine daily. That amount would be obtained from about 1-2 cups of espresso style coffee, 3 cups of instant coffee, 4 cups of medium strength tea, 4 cups of cocoa or hot chocolate, or 4 cans of cola. Avoid double shots of espresso coffee and drinks marked as sports or energy drinks that contain caffeine.
Smoking is dangerous for your baby. Smoking increases the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, respiratory problems and SIDS. There is no safe level of smoking. For help to quit smoking call the Quitline on 13 18 48.
Also on this site
- Order pregnancy resources
- Booklet: Food safety during pregnancy (pdf, 299KB)
- Fish and mercury - questions & answers
- Download: Mercury in fish wallet card (pdf, 120KB)
- Infants & feeding food safety tips
- Roquefort cheese
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- Dangers of listeria media release 19 May 2007
- Listeria & unborn and newly born babies media release 15 October 2007
- Food safety leads to healthy babies media release 20 April 2008