Food Safety in Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

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When you’re pregnant, you have a compromised immune system, which means you are at greater risk of certain illnesses than healthy, non-pregnant people. This is why it's important to understand the risks of foodborne illnesses and how they can affect your pregnancy and your baby. Read on to learn what foods to avoid, how to prepare your meals, and other ways to keep you and your baby healthy.

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Toxoplasmosis in pregnancy

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that can cause birth defects if contracted in pregnancy. Doctors and midwives often do a good job of telling pregnant patients the importance of avoiding cats’ litter boxes in preventing this illlness, but they may not discuss other risks. For example, toxoplasmosis can also be found in women who consume undercooked meats or those who handle raw meat. It is also not uncommon in women who eat poorly washed vegetables.

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Listeriosis in pregnancy

Listeriosis is another foodborne illness, and pregnant women are 20 times more likely to get it than non-pregnant people. You can get this illness from eating unpasteurized cheeses and lunch meat, including hot dogs. Like with other types of food poisoning, you may have vomiting and diarrhea. It can cause you to have a miscarriage, preterm birth, or even a stillbirth. If your baby is born with an active infection, it can also cause issues with development, including blindness and deafness, depending on the timing and severity of the infection.

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Fish in pregnancy

Fish can be a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, but some fish is not healthy to eat in pregnancy. Fish that have high levels of mercury from their diets should be avoided. These include shark, king mackerel, tilefish, and swordfish. You can eat up to 6 ounces of albacore tuna per week. Other fish, including salmon, pollock, and catfish, are considered acceptable. If you are eating locally sourced fish, be sure to check for water advisories.

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Raw fish and sushi in pregnancy

It is recommended that pregnant women do not eat sushi containing raw fish. Consuming raw fish can cause parasitic infections. Being pregnant makes it more difficult to treat these infections because certain treatments may not be safe for the baby. Unfortunately, it has been shown that not all obstetricians understand the unsafe nature of consuming raw fish, and many falsely believe that freezing kills the parasites.Smoked seafood can also be hazardous; be sure to warm it correctly.

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Salmonella in pregnancy

You may get Salmonella if you eat an undercooked or unpasteurized egg or egg products. You may experience fever, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal symptoms. To reduce your risk, ensure that egg products are thoroughly cooked, and avoid products like Hollandaise sauce and tiramisu, unless they are made with pasteurized eggs. Salmonella infections have also been linked to exposure to turtles and backyard chickens.

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Vegetarians can contract food poisoning in pregnancy, too

You may think the only people who need to worry about food poisoning and food safety are those who eat meat. However, there are a number of things that can be hazardous when it comes to unwashed or improperly prepared vegetables. For example, sprouts can be contaminated with E. coli or Salmonella. You can also get toxoplasmosis from poorly washed vegetables.

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Unpasteurized juices and milk can pose a threat

When thinking of food safety, don’t overlook juices and milk. Many juices and ciders are not pasteurized. This can lead to contamination and infection with E. coli. To prevent this, you can bring them to a hard boil for at least one minute to make them safe. You should avoid unpasteurized milk and milk products in pregnancy because they have been linked to E. coli, Listeria, Salmonella, and Campylobacter.

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What to do if you think you have food poisoning in pregnancy

If you think that you have a foodborne illness, you should seek help from your doctor or midwife. They will give you a physical examination and decide if you need any testing or treatment. Testing may simply be blood work to check for infections or parasites, or it may be directly related to your baby’s health, like an ultrasound. It is possible for your baby to become infected too, and your baby may also suffer from the same side effects that you experience from an infection, like dehydration.

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How is food poisoning treated in pregnancy?

How you are treated will depend on what type of foodborne illness you have and what your symptoms are. For example, if you’re mildly ill, you will most likely be told to rest and drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Sometimes, medications like antibiotics may be used to help you and your baby. In some cases, hospitalization may be required, even if only for a short time until you’re back on your feet.

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Preventing food poisoning in pregnancy

The good news is that there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself from foodborne illnesses in pregnancy. Start by committing to always wash your food well. Don’t assume fruits and vegetables have been adequately cleaned. Good hygiene when it comes to washing your hands, utensils, counters, and cutting boards are essential. And, when in doubt, avoid raw, undercooked, or unpasteurized foods and drinks. These steps will help keep you and your pregnancy healthy.