Keeping Your Baby Healthy During Pregnancy

pregnant person eating healthy in kitchen

Do you have questions about what you can do to help keep your baby healthy during pregnancy? Read on to get important information about alcohol, caffeine, energy drinks, supplements and more. 

Alcohol and pregnancy

It is recommended that you avoid alcohol while you are pregnant.  Drinking alcohol can cause birth defects known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). There is no amount of alcohol at any time during pregnancy that has been shown to be safe. You should also avoid:

  • Non-alcoholic versions of drinks such as beers and wines.  Most of these drinks contain at least 0.5% alcohol by volume. 

  • Alcohol in cooking.  Although some alcohol evaporates (“ is cooked off”), it is hard to know how much alcohol remains in your food.

If you need support avoiding alcohol during pregnancy, reach out to your health care provider for support.

Sweeteners (sugar substitutes) and pregnancy

All sweeteners (also known as sugar substitutes) that are approved in Canada are safe to use in moderation by the general population while you are pregnant. However, it is important that foods and drinks made with sweeteners do not replace more nutritious options in your diet. If you have concerns or questions about using sweeteners, talk to your health care provider or  dietitian. Learn more about the facts on artificial sweeteners.

Caffeine and pregnancy

Limit your caffeine intake to 300 mg per day or less while you are pregnant. That is about two cups (500 mL) of coffee or six cups (1500 mL) of black tea per day.  Other sources of caffeine that count towards your daily total include iced tea, pop, and dark chocolate.  Learn more about the facts on caffeine.
Tip: Having trouble cutting back on coffee? Try asking for half decaf or trying tea instead.

Energy drinks and pregnancy

Energy drinks are not recommended while you are pregnant. Not only are they high in caffeine, they also contain ingredients that may not be safe for you or your baby. Learn more about the facts on energy drinks.

Herbal supplements and teas and pregnancy

Herbal products in tablet, capsule or extract forms are not recommended while you are pregnant. Many herbal products have been found to be unsafe for you or your baby. For other herbal products, there is not enough evidence to show that they are safe while you are pregnant. The following herbs are considered safe when used in small amounts in foods or as herbal tea (2-3 cups per day max):

  • Bitter orange/orange peel

  • Echinacea

  • Peppermint

  • Red raspberry leaf

  • Rose hip

  • Rosemary

Note: these herbs should not be taken in supplement or capsule form due to potential negative side effects.

Some pregnant people try ginger supplements to help with nausea and vomiting. Ginger tablets, capsules or extracts are safe to take in doses up to 250 mg four times a day. Larger amounts may not be safe. If you do not notice any improvement in your nausea and vomiting when taking ginger, it is best to stop taking it.

Flaxseed/flaxseed oil and pregnancy

There is some concern that large amounts of flax can have negative side effects in people  during pregnancy. Eating moderate amounts of flax commonly found in foods is safe while you are pregnant. 
Flaxseed oil supplements are not recommended in pregnancy.

Find out more about flaxseeds .

Soy and pregnancy

While you are pregnant, soy-based foods and foods containing soy products are safe to eat in the amounts commonly found in food. You may enjoy a variety of soy foods like fortified soy beverage, tofu, tempeh and edamame. Soy supplements (for example, soy protein or isoflavone supplements) have not been studied in pregnancy and are not recommended. 

Read more about soy here.

Fish and fish oil supplements and pregnancy

Fish and pregnancy:

Fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fat, which is important for your developing baby’s brain and eyesight. You can get the amount of omega-3 needed in pregnancy by eating about 2 servings of fish per week, especially fatty fish like salmon and trout. Choose fish that is low in mercury like salmon, haddock, trout, shrimp and canned light tuna more often. Limit high mercury fish like shark and swordfish, fresh or frozen tuna and canned albacore tuna. High amounts of mercury can be harmful to your baby’s growing brain. Read our article on fish and mercury for a detailed list of which fish to eat and which to limit in pregnancy.

Fish oil supplements and pregnancy:

If you already eat fish about twice a week, taking fish oil supplements has not been shown to have any extra benefits for your baby. If you do not eat fish, you can safely take fish oil supplements while you are pregnant. Check with your dietitian or health care provider on how much you should take. It is not recommended that you take fish liver oil supplements while pregnant. Learn more about fish oil supplements.

Vitamin A and pregnancy

Getting enough vitamin A from foods is important in pregnancy. Fruits and vegetables that are dark green and orange like spinach, carrots and sweet potato, are high in beta-carotene which turns into vitamin A in your body. Too much vitamin A from animal sources and supplements may cause birth defects, especially during the first trimester. Do not take vitamin A (preformed vitamin A) supplements or fish liver oil supplements while you are pregnant. The vitamin A found in your prenatal supplement is a safe type and amount to take – it is usually in the form of beta-carotene. It is also recommended that you limit eating liver and liver products like liverwurst spread and liver sausages to less than 1 serving per week (75 grams or 2 ½ oz) during the first trimester. Liver is very high in vitamin A.

Learn more about the food sources of vitamin A and how much you need here.

For information on food safety during pregnancy and what foods to avoid during pregnancy, read our article on food safety and pregnancy

How can a dietitian help?

A dietitian can help you plan a balanced and nutritious diet to help your baby grow and develop, and also keep you healthy. Your dietitian will look to see that you are getting enough of the important nutrients like iron, calcium and omega-3. Your dietitian will also let you know which foods you can eat safely and how to choose a prenatal vitamin. Connect with a dietitian today!

Bottom line

In pregnancy there are certain substances, supplements and some foods you should be cautious with. If you are ever unsure about whether something is safe to consume check with your health care provider.

You may also be interested in:

Tips to Help You Feel Better During Pregnancy
Facts About Folate
Introducing Solid Food to Your Baby

This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada. The advice in this article is intended as general information and should not replace advice given by your dietitian or healthcare provider.

Last Update – February 27, 2023

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