How to Handle Food Poisoning During Pregnancy

Contracting food poisoning while pregnant can be concerning to both your health and that of your baby. We connected with experts to learn more about the signs, and how to avoid food poisoning while expecting.

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Experiencing food poisoning at any time of life can be unpleasant and concerning, but if you're pregnant and dealing with food poisoning, you might have added worries about your baby's health. If you're expecting, it's important to take extra precaution to avoid contracting food-borne illnesses, as pregnant people are more likely to develop food poisoning-related conditions, such as listeria.

We connected with experts to learn more about what food poisoning is, why it's risky while expecting, how to prevent it, and what to do if you do come down with food poisoning while pregnant.

Key Takeaway

Coming down with food poisoning while pregnant can be uncomfortable and worrisome. In addition to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, food poisoning while expecting poses serious risks to your baby. If you think that you've contracted a food-borne illness while pregnant, be sure to reach out to an OB-GYN or health care provider for guidance and care.

What Is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning is a broad term that refers to an infection or irritation of the digestive tract, and is spread through consuming contaminated food or beverages. Food poisoning can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and even toxic chemicals. The most common types of foodborne illnesses include E. coli, listeria, and salmonella.

Every year, approximately 48 million people in the United States are impacted by food poisoning, and certain groups are more susceptible, including infants, pregnant people, elderly adults, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

Signs and Symptoms of Food Poisoning

Common signs of food poisoning include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Stomach cramps

Some people also might experience headache, chills, or fatigue, and symptoms may start as soon as 30 minutes after consuming the impacted food or beverage. "The severity of the illness will depend on how much contaminated food was consumed and how strong the contaminant is," explains Nisarg Patel, M.B.B.S., M.S., an OB-GYN at Clinic Sports.

No matter whether you're pregnant or not, if you suspect you have food poisoning, it's a good idea to contact a health care provider. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges people to definitely seek medical care if they experience any severe symptoms like bloody diarrhea, diarrhea that lasts longer than three days, fever above 102 degrees F, or signs of dehydration, which can include infrequent urination, dry mouth, and feelings of dizziness upon standing.

Can Food Poisoning Hurt My Baby If I'm Pregnant?

Food poisoning may have consequences to your baby if you come down with it while pregnant. Risks include low birthweight, preterm birth, and even miscarriage or stillbirth.

Certain bacteria strains pose a greater danger. Listeriosis, caused by the listeria bacteria, is one such type. This bacteria may be present in raw or undercooked animal products and in some raw vegetables.

However, it's important not to panic. "Food poisoning does not automatically mean that your baby is affected," says Monte Swarup, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., board-certified OB-GYN in Chandler, Arizona and founder of the leading vaginal health information site Vaginal Health Hub. "But there are cases when it can pass through the placenta and be quite dangerous." Because of the varying outcomes, it's important to seek medical care if you suspect you've contracted food poisoning while pregnant.

What Should I Do if I Have Food Poisoning and I'm Pregnant?

In addition to contacting a health care provider, you should drink a lot of water to help prevent dehydration. During pregnancy, it's vital to stay hydrated so your baby receives proper blood flow, and your amniotic fluid levels stay optimal. Dehydration can also lead to other problems, such as constipation or fainting.

Depending upon the source of the food poisoning, your health care provider may offer further treatment, Dr. Patel points out, explaining that some people may require a round of antibiotics or other types of medication.

Food Poisoning vs. Stomach Virus

If you begin to feel sick, you may wonder whether it's food poisoning or a stomach virus. Symptoms of these two illnesses often have a lot of overlap, as both can cause nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. However, there are some variations that can help you tell them apart. "The biggest difference is when your symptoms begin, and how long they last," says Dr. Swarup.

Food poisoning generally comes on fairly soon after consuming the contaminated food or drink, and the symptoms might also pass quickly. Your body is basically trying to rid itself of the germs as fast as it can, which why diarrhea and vomiting occur. On the other hand, a stomach virus is not passed through food, but through contact with another infected person. Symptoms generally last longer and you are more likely to experience body aches, fever, and chills with a stomach virus.

However, during pregnancy, it is best to contact a health care provider right away in either situation.

Avoiding Food Poisoning During Pregnancy

It's advisable to avoid eating foods that may increase your chances of getting food poisoning while pregnant. The CDC recommends eating only fully-cooked animal products and pasteurized products during pregnancy.

The following foods are best avoided while pregnant:

  • Hot dogs or deli meats (unless heated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit before eating)
  • Raw dough
  • Raw or undercooked meats
  • Raw or undercooked seafood
  • Raw sprouts
  • Undercooked eggs
  • Unpasteurized (soft) cheese
  • Unpasteurized cider or juice
  • Unpasteurized milk

It's also important to practice safe food handling and preparation techniques. For example, wash your hands before and after preparing food, and be sure to sanitize all surfaces. Prepare meats on a separate cutting board from other foods, such as vegetables or bread. Store your raw meats completely sealed and in a separate area of your refrigerator.

Following these guidelines are the best way to protect yourself from food-borne illnesses during pregnancy. If you find yourself with lingering questions about food safety while expecting, have a conversation with an OB-GYN or health care provider.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Listeria, People at Risk.

  2. National Institute of Health. Definition and Facts of Food Poisoning.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food Poisoning Symptoms.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Listeria, People at Risk.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Listeria, People at Risk.

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