Foods to avoid or limit during pregnancy
Not every food is safe to eat during pregnancy. Some foods may be harmful to you or your baby because of the way they’re cooked or because of germs or chemicals they contain. Here’s why:
- Raw meat, fish and eggs can contain harmful germs that can give you food poisoning, like salmonella infection. Cooking them fully kills the germs, which helps keep you and your baby from getting sick.
- Many dairy products, like milk, eggs and cheese, are pasteurized. This means they’re heated to kill any bad germs. If the product label doesn't say “pasteurized,” pick a different product. Unpasteurized dairy products can give you food poisoning, like listeriosis.
- Some foods contain chemicals, like caffeine or mercury. You can pass these harmful chemicals to your baby during pregnancy.
What foods should you limit during pregnancy?
These foods are OK to eat during pregnancy in limited amounts:
- Fish that have small amounts of mercury. Mercury is a metal that’s often found in water. Fish get mercury from the water they swim in. By eating fish that contain mercury, you can pass the metal to your baby during pregnancy. This can cause brain damage and affect your baby’s hearing and vision. During pregnancy, it’s OK to eat fish that doesn’t have a lot of mercury. You can eat up to 12 ounces a week of shrimp, salmon, pollock, catfish and canned light tuna. It’s also OK to eat 6 ounces a week of albacore (white) tuna.
- Food and drinks that have caffeine. Limit the caffeine you get each day to 200 milligrams. This is about the amount in one 12-ounce cup of coffee. Caffeine amounts in coffee depend on the brand you drink and how it's made. So check the label on the package, or ask at your coffee shop. Instead of drinking regular coffee, try coffee that's decaffeinated (has a smaller amount of caffeine). Caffeine is also found in tea, chocolate, soda and some over-the-counter medicine. Read labels on food, drinks and medicine to know how much caffeine you're getting.
What foods are completely off limits during pregnancy?
Don’t eat these foods during pregnancy. They can be really harmful to you and your baby.
Certain meats and fish
- Raw or undercooked meat, including beef, poultry and pork. This includes hotdogs and deli meat (like ham or bologna).
- Raw fish, especially shellfish
- Fish that can be high in mercury, like shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Always check with your local health department before you eat any fish you catch yourself.
- Refrigerated pates, meat spreads or smoked seafood
Certain dairy products
- Raw or lightly cooked eggs or foods made with them. This includes cake batter and raw cookie dough.
- Soft-scrambled eggs
- Unpasteurized juice or milk or any foods made with them
- Unpasteurized soft cheeses, such as brie, feta, Camembert, Roquefort, queso blanco, queso fresco and Panela
- Raw sprouts, especially alfalfa sprouts
- Herbal products, like pills and teas. Herbal products are made from herbs, which are plants used in cooking or medicine. We don’t know enough about herbal products to know if they’re safe to use during pregnancy. So it’s best not to use them while you’re pregnant.
- Nonfood items, like clay, starch, paraffin or coffee grounds. Tell your provider if you crave anything like this that’s not food.
For more information
Last reviewed July 2012
See also: Food safety
Most common questions
How much weight should I gain during my pregnancy?
The exact amount of weight you need to gain depends on how much you weigh before pregnancy and your Body Mass Index (BMI). Below are some guidelines, but talk to your health provider about your specific pregnancy weight gain goals.
If you began pregnancy at a healthy weight, you should gain 25 to 35 pounds over the 9 months. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, you should put on about 1 pound every week in the second and third trimesters.
If you began pregnancy underweight, you should probably gain about 28 to 40 pounds. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, try to gain slightly over a pound a week in the second and third trimesters.
If you began pregnancy overweight, you should gain only 15 to 25 pounds over the 9 months. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, you should put on slightly over ½ pound every week in the second and third trimesters. While you don't want to gain too much weight, never try to lose weight during pregnancy because that could harm your baby.
If you were obese (with a BMI over 30) at the start of your pregnancy, you should gain only 11 to 20 pounds over the 9 months. If you gain between 1 and about 4 ½ pounds in the first trimester, aim for gaining slightly under ½ pound every week in the second and third trimesters.
Is it safe to eat cold cuts when I'm pregnant?
It's not safe for pregnant women to eat deli meats (such as ham, turkey, salami and bologna) or hot dogs unless the food has been thoroughly heated and is steaming hot. These foods can cause a form of food poisoning called listeriosis and is caused by bacteria. Heating deli meats until steaming hot will kill the bacteria if it's present.
Listeriosis is especially dangerous during pregnancy. Most people don't get sick when they eat food contaminated with listeria. But healthy pregnant women are more likely than other healthy adults to get listeriosis and are more likely to become dangerously ill from it.
The flu-like symptoms of listeriosis can sometimes advance to potentially life-threatening meningitis (infection of the membranes covering the brain, with symptoms such as severe headache and stiff neck) and blood infection. Contact your health care provider if you're pregnant and you develop any of these symptoms.
Is it safe to eat fish raw or seared during pregnancy?
You should avoid all raw or seared fish when you're pregnant. (Seared fish are typically not fully cooked throughout.) Raw fish, including sushi and sashimi, and undercooked finfish and shellfish (including oysters, clams, mussels and scallops) are more likely to contain parasites or bacteria than cooked fish.
Avoid swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tile fish, even when cooked. These fish have more mercury than other fish. Mercury can be transferred to your growing baby and cause serious health problems. Stay away from game fish, too, until you check its safety with your local health department. A game fish is any fish caught for sport, such as trout and bass.
The USDA recommends that pregnant women limit their fish consumption to 12 ounces of a variety of cooked fish per week.