Trying for a baby
A healthy diet is important at any time, but particularly when you're planning a pregnancy.
What to eat
When you're trying for a baby, as at other times, you should try to eat a healthy and varied diet.
This means trying to eat a variety of foods including:
- plenty of fruit and vegetables (fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or a glass of juice). Aim for at least five portions a day
- plenty of starchy foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes - try to choose wholegrain options
- protein such as lean meat and chicken, fish, eggs and pulses (beans and lentils). These foods will also supply you with iron (see below)
- try to eat fish at least twice a week including some oily fish. But don't have more than two portions of oily fish a week. This includes fresh tuna (not canned tuna, which does not count as oily fish), mackerel, sardines and trout
- dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, which contain calcium
Healthier snacks you might want to choose include sandwiches or pitta bread filled with chicken, cottage cheese or lean ham; low-fat yoghurts; vegetable and bean soups or fruit including fresh, canned in juice or dried fruit such as raisins or apricots.
Pregnant women can become deficient in iron so make sure you have plenty of iron-rich foods to build up your iron stores. Have some food or drink containing vitamin C, such as fruit or vegetables, or a glass of fruit juice, with any iron-rich meals because this might help your body absorb the iron.
Good sources of iron:
- red meat
- dried fruit
- green vegetables
- fortified breakfast cereals
What to avoid
Make sure you don't have too much vitamin A. This means you should avoid eating liver and liver products such as pâté and avoid taking supplements containing vitamin A or fish liver oils (which contain high levels of vitamin A).
You need some vitamin A, but if you have too much during pregnancy, this could harm your unborn baby. Ask your GP or midwife if you would like more information.
You should also avoid eating shark, swordfish and marlin and limit the amount of tuna you eat.
Don't eat more than two tuna steaks a week (weighing about 140g cooked or 170g raw) or four medium-size cans of tuna a week (with a drained weight of about 140g per can).
This is because of the levels of mercury in these fish. At high levels, mercury can harm an unborn baby's developing nervous system.
Should I avoid peanuts?It isn’t clear from the latest science if eating peanuts (or not eating them) when you’re pregnant affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy. So if you would like to eat peanuts or foods containing peanuts (such as peanut butter) when you’re trying to get pregnant, you can choose to do so, unless you’re allergic to them yourself.
You may have heard that some women have chosen not to eat peanuts when they are pregnant or breastfeeding. This is because the Government used to advise women that they may wish to avoid eating peanuts at these times if there is a history of allergy in their child's immediate family, such as asthma, eczema, hayfever, food allergy or other types of allergy. This was in case a woman eating peanuts when pregnant or breastfeeding increased the chance of her baby developing a peanut allergy. But this advice was changed in August 2009 because it isn’t clear from the latest research if eating peanuts at these times affects the chances of your baby developing a peanut allergy.
When you're trying to get pregnant you should take a daily 400 microgram (mcg) folic acid supplement from the time you stop using contraception until the 12th week of pregnancy.
This vitamin helps prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. If you would like to take your folic acid in a supplement that contains other vitamins, make sure it contains 400mcg folic acid.
You should also eat foods containing folate - the natural form of folic acid - such as green vegetables and brown rice as well as fortified bread and breakfast cereals.
If you have already had a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect or have diabetes you should take a higher dose of folic acid – 5 milligrams (mg) a day – for the same period of time, and ask your GP for further advice.
When you are trying to get pregnant, and during pregnancy, remember to avoid taking supplements containing vitamin A or fish liver oils (which also contain high levels of vitamin A).
When you're trying to get pregnant, it’s best to stop drinking alcohol altogether. But if you do drink, have no more than 1 or 2 units of alcohol, once or twice a week and don’t get drunk.
A unit is half a pint of standard strength beer, lager or cider, or a pub measure of spirit. A glass of wine is about 2 units and alcopops are about 1.5 units.
If you would like more information on planning a pregnancy, speak to your GP or health visitor, or contact your local health promotion unit.