Pregnancy brings a greater chance of getting food poisoning. It can be a scary experience for expecting parents. There are many risks that come with food poisoning during pregnancy.
Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can alter a person’s immune system, leading them to be more susceptible to food poisoning.
Food poisoning can happen after a person eats or drinks something containing bacteria, a virus, parasites, or other contaminants.
Food poisoning in pregnancy can result in harm to the baby, early labor, pregnancy loss, or stillbirth. However, there are many ways to prevent it or treat it.
This article will explain what the symptoms of food poisoning during pregnancy are, explore its possible dangers, and discuss treatment and prevention methods.
General symptoms of food poisoning may include:
The timing of symptoms may vary depending on when a person has eaten the contaminated food and what type of food poisoning a person has.
The type of food poisoning may also produce varying symptoms. According to the CDC, the following types of food poisoning have the following symptoms:
Pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get a Listeria infection than the general population. Symptoms can take between a week to a month to develop. They may include:
Salmonella symptoms can begin between 6 hours and 6 days after exposure to the contaminated food and may include:
Norovirus symptoms usually start 12–48 hours after a person has consumed the contaminated food or drink. Norovirus symptoms include:
- stomach cramps
E. coli (Escherichia coli)
A person may start to experience E. coli symptoms 3–4 days after consuming the contaminated food or drink. These symptoms may include:
- stomach cramps
Staph (Staphylococcus aureus)
Staph symptoms may occur quickly, between 30 minutes and 8 hours after a person consumes the affected food. They can include:
- stomach cramps
There are some other conditions that can give a person similar symptoms to food poisoning.
Food poisoning or a stomach bug?
Gastroenteritis, or a stomach bug, is highly contagious and can spread easily from person to person. It is an inflammation of the intestines. Contaminated food or drink can cause gastroenteritis, but the main cause is usually a bacterial or viral infection.
Food poisoning is usually not contagious. People will only get it at the same time as someone else if they eat the same contaminated food.
Find out more about gastroenteritis here.
Food poisoning or morning sickness?
Morning sickness also presents similar symptoms to food poisoning. A person with morning sickness may experience symptoms during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, though they can occur at any time.
Food poisoning can be dangerous to the unborn child as well as the parent. It can cause serious health problems for the child, pregnancy loss, premature delivery, stillbirth, or even the death of the person carrying the child.
Developing fetuses need to get as many nutrients as possible from their parent carrying them. If the parent is unable to keep food in their body for long enough for their body to absorb the nutrients, the fetus may not grow appropriately.
A person with mild symptoms can pass an infection to their unborn child during pregnancy without the parent even knowing that they have food poisoning.
Newborns can also experience health issues, and can even be born with food poisoning if the person carrying the child has an infection.
While pregnant people should always visit a doctor if they have symptoms of food poisoning, there are some things that they can do at home to help too.
It can be difficult for a person to feel like eating anything when they have food poisoning. However, a pregnant person needs to eat to keep their strength up and ensure they are eating enough for themselves and the unborn child. It is best to eat bland, low-fat foods that will help keep the stomach as calm as possible.
Foods they can eat include:
- saltine crackers
- mashed potatoes
- boiled rice
A person with food poisoning has a high risk of developing dehydration. Therefore, ensuring that they consume enough fluids is very important. Easy ways of replacing lost fluids include drinking:
Oral rehydration solutions or salts can also help replace glucose and electrolytes. They are made up of water with extra salt and glucose that help the body rehydrate.
Ginger has properties that ease nausea and vomiting. Ginger tea may help a person if they are experiencing these symptoms.
Find out more about the benefits of ginger tea here.
A person should contact a doctor if they are pregnant and suspect they have food poisoning. Even though most people will recover from food poisoning without needing to seek medical attention, a pregnant person must also consider the health of the unborn child.
A pregnant person should contact a doctor immediately if they have any of the following symptoms:
Although the risks of food poisoning in pregnancy can be scary, there are ways to prevent it.
Food types to avoid
Food poisoning can come from a variety of different food products, but there are steps people can take to reduce their risk. For example:
Meat and poultry
Always make sure that these are cooked through. This will lower the risk of developing food poisoning. A meat thermometer can help a person check that their meat has reached a safe minimum internal temperature. For example, a person should cook beef, pork, steaks, and chops to at least 145°F (63°C), giving the meat a 3 minute rest time after cooking.
Unwashed vegetables and raw vegetables can cause a person to develop food poisoning. Make sure to carefully wash all vegetables.
Consuming raw or undercooked eggs increases a person’s risk of foodborne illnesses. Pasteurized eggs carry a lower risk.
Unpasteurized milk can increase a pregnant person’s risk of food poisoning. This includes cheeses made with unpasteurized milk.
Pregnant people should avoid raw or undercooked fish, like sushi. Cooked seafood and canned fish and seafood carry a lower risk of causing foodborne illnesses.
Other foods pregnant people should avoid include:
- raw sprouts
- deli salads
A pregnant person should also avoid deli meats and hot dogs unless cooked to a temperature of 165ºF (74ºC) or above.
Food safety tips
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend four food safety tips to try to avoid food poisoning:
Make sure that everything is clean before preparing food. This includes washing hands and working with clean utensils and cutting boards on freshly cleaned countertops. This lowers the risk of contamination.
Rinsing fresh fruits and vegetables under running water can remove the germs that may cause food poisoning.
Avoid cross-contamination by ensuring that all utensils that come into contact with raw foods do not then touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from other foods when grocery shopping and after returning home, from storing them in the fridge to the preparation of meals.
Use a thermometer to determine if the internal temperature of their food is high enough to kill off germs that could cause food poisoning.
Chill perishable food as soon as possible, making sure the fridge stays at a temperature of 40°F (4°C) or below. Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. When food is thawed on the counter, bacteria can multiply quickly in any parts of the food that reach room temperature.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness each year. 128,000 of those people require hospitalization, and 3,000 of them pass away.
Pregnant people are more susceptible to food poisoning.
Food poisoning usually resolves itself after a few days, but in a pregnant person, it can be a serious and even fatal illness. Following food safety protocols can help pregnant people avoid food poisoning, have a safe and healthy pregnancy, and avoid any related issues for them and their child.