Eating guidelines for mother and baby

Safefood advises that pregnant women do not need to go on a special diet, but should follow basic healthy eating guidelines to get the right balance of nutrients for mother and baby.


Ignore the old wives tale that you should eat for two during pregnancy. It is best to start pregnancy at a healthy weight. Pregnant women need to put on at least 7kg (15lb ) while pregnant and the average weight gain during pregnancy is 11.5 to 12.5kg (25 to 28lb ).

If you are underweight, you may need to gain more weight and if you are overweight, you may need to gain less than outlined above. Do not try to lose weight during your pregnancy – regular gentle physical activity, such as walking or swimming will help maintain a healthy weight.

Folic acid supplements

Healthy levels of folic acid around the time of conception reduce the risk of a baby being born with neural tube defects such as spina bifida. All women who are of childbearing age and who are sexually active are advised to take a supplement of 400mg of folic acid each day

When pregnant, women should continue to take the supplement each day for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.


Pregnant women need extra iron to make new blood cells for a developing baby. Lean red meat is the best source of iron in the diet. Other good sources are chicken and turkey — especially the dark meat — and oily fish. Other foods that contain iron include peas, beans, lentils, eggs, wholegrain bread, dried fruit, green vegetables, and some breakfast cereals (check the label ). Having some salad, vegetables, citrus fruits, or a glass of fruit juice with meals will boost iron absorption.


It is important to include extra calcium in a diet to allow a baby’s bones to grow and develop, while looking after the mother’s bones too. Dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yoghurt are the best sources of calcium. Pregnant women should have five servings of dairy foods each day.

Avoid unpasteurised dairy products, because of the risk of listeria food poisoning which is dangerous for pregnant women. Other foods that have some calcium are green leafy vegetables (like broccoli or cabbage ), tinned fish where the bones can be eaten (like sardines or salmon ), nuts, soya products, baked beans, and calcium-enriched juice drinks, breads or breakfast cereals (check the labels ).

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is needed by your body to absorb calcium from food. Good food sources of vitamin D include oily fish, such as herring, mackerel, and sardines, and egg yolks. Small amounts of everyday sunlight will allow your body to make vitamin D.

Fish and omega fats

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are important for the developing baby’s brain and eyes. These fatty acids are found in: oily fish (like herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon, trout ); white fish (like cod, plaice, whiting ); some vegetables oils (rapeseed, canola, flaxseed, linseed, walnut ).

When pregnant, women should aim to eat two portions of fish each week, one of which is oily. Some types of fish can contain levels of mercury that are too high for an unborn baby so avoid shark, swordfish, and marlin, and limit tuna intake to four tins per week, or two tuna steaks per week.

Things to limit during pregnancy:

Vitamin A — avoid taking fish liver oil or supplements that contain vitamin A or eating liver while pregnant.

Alcohol — avoid completely during pregnancy.

Caffeine — keep caffeine intake below 200mg per day.

Raw shellfish.

Allergies — some guidelines recommend avoiding peanuts during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and the first three years of childhood. While the evidence is not conclusive, it is important to be vigilant, especially if there is a history of atopic disease (asthma, eczema, etc, ) in the family.

Foods to avoid:

Soft cheeses that are ripened by mould — Brie, Camembert, Stilton and Danish Blue.

Paté made from meat, vegetables, or fish.

Pre-packed salads, coleslaws, and ready-to-eat foods from delicatessens.

Undercooked or raw eggs — due to the risk of salmonella food poisoning.

Cook food thoroughly.

Thorough cooking of food kills listeria bacteria.

Ensure food is cooked thoroughly and piping hot all the way through and if eating out, order hot meals.

Only eat smoked fish such as salmon, chilled pre cooked meats, and cured and smoked meats if they are home cooked or reheated thoroughly.

For more information visit or call the safefood helpline on 1850 404 567.


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