Food Poisoning while Pregnant – Types, Reasons & Treatment

Food Poisoning During Pregnancy

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Aruna Kalra (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
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For a healthy pregnancy, a balanced and nutritious diet is important. The right nutritional intake not only keeps you be healthy, it also nourishes your foetus. It is mandatory though that you are careful while making your food choices during pregnancy as you are more susceptible to food poisoning because of changes in metabolism and circulation. The wrong kind of food can cause food poisoning and create complications in your pregnancy. Acute food poisoning can cause dehydration, miscarriage or premature delivery.

Video : Food Poisoning During Pregnancy – Should You Be Worried?

This article will help you with some information you must know about food poisoning as a mother-to-be to prevent it. Having said that, If you have food poisoning, you must consult your doctor immediately.

What Is Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning does not mean that your food has been poisoned intentionally. It simply means that the food is contaminated. This could be because of bacteria, virus or a parasite. Symptoms of food poisoning can be similar to other illnesses or can be confused with that of morning sickness. Food poisoning is mostly not harmful and may not cause any long-term problems for both you and the foetus. However, it is still an unpleasant experience.

What Is Food Poisoning?

The main problem with food poisoning is that it can cause complications for you and the foetus. However, the risk varies from person to person.

Depending on the ability of your immune system to fight the microorganism or other contamination, the risk to you and your foetus can vary. The severity of food poisoning could range from risk of miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth to maternal death. This is why it is advised to treat all cases of food poisoning in pregnant mothers expeditiously.

How Common Is Food Poisoning During Pregnancy

Hormonal changes in the body during pregnancy weaken the immune system of pregnant women and increase their risk for certain illnesses like food poisoning. However, statistical data on food poisoning during pregnancy is not reliable. This is because most cases are never reported and don’t need any extensive medical care.

Types of Food Poisoning

Food poisoning could be mild, severe or even fatal. Here, we are going to find out more about the serious types that you must guard against.

1. Listeriosis

The Listeria monocytogenes bacteria cause Listeriosis. Generally found in some raw vegetables, meat, dairy products as well as processed soft cheese. Symptoms may include fever, muscle pain, nausea or diarrhoea, headache or even convulsions. In pregnant women, the infection can cause premature delivery, infection of the foetus, stillbirth or long-term health issues for the baby. Pregnant women are ten times more likely than the general population to get this infection.

2. Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. You can get it from the soil or from a surface contaminated with cat’s litter or cat faeces. Symptoms may be flu-like or cause muscle aches and swollen glands. This type of infection can pass on from the mother to the foetus resulting in miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth defects.

3. Salmonellosis

Salmonella bacteria cause Salmonellosis. You can get it either by touching an infected animal or by eating contaminated foods. Primary symptoms include dehydration and bacteremia (bacteria in the blood). Salmonellosis can pass from mother to child during pregnancy. Babies born with salmonellosis may have diarrhoea, fever or may even develop meningitis after birth.

Causes of Food Poisoning

Common bacteria such as Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella, apart from chemical contaminants cause the most common types of food poisoning in pregnant women. These enter the mother’s body through:

  • Unhygienic cleaning and storage of food items (vegetables, meats, fish and perishable food items).
  • Contaminated water.
  • Not following a personal hygiene regimen (such as washing your hands thoroughly with soap after exposure to soil or other contaminated surfaces).
  • Use of stored/processed food vs freshly prepared food.

Signs and Symptoms of Food Poisoning During Pregnancy

Food poisoning usually affects stomach and intestines and often starts with relatively mild symptoms such as fever and body aches. General symptoms are:

The severity of the symptoms depends on your overall health and your immune system’s ability to fight the organism causing the infection. In some cases, the symptoms may be mild or absent and leave you unaware of the risk to your unborn child.

Screening for Food Poisoning

A well-balanced diet is important for every woman during pregnancy. Good food provides the necessary nutrients and energy to the mother and the baby.

Screening for Food Poisoning

Being careful with your food habits can reduce the risks associated with foodborne infections or food poisoning. Here are a few tips for screening food during pregnancy:

  • Avoid unpasteurized milk and products made from such milk (particularly soft cheese).
  • Avoid fresh sprouts (they may carry E. coli)
  • Stay away from raw meat, fish, and egg.
  • Avoid seafood.
  • Avoid juices or cider (even freshly prepared juice can contain E.coli).
  • Wash raw vegetables thoroughly in clean water.
  • Always store meat and milk products refrigerated at or below 40 degrees.
  • Marinate and thaw food in the fridge, not on the counter.
  • Cook meats and seafood thoroughly (well done; not rare or medium).
  • Make sure food is served hot, right after preparation.
  • Don’t buy food past its “use by” or “expiry” date.
  • Avoid food with damaged packaging.
  • Wash your hands before preparing, storing or eating food.
  • Cook leftover food until steaming hot. Refrigeration doesn’t prevent the bacteria from multiplying.

Effects of Food Poisoning on Pregnancy and Baby

Harmful microorganisms or heavy metals or chemicals in food can enter the placenta and affect the growing foetus. The unborn baby is vulnerable to such infections since it’s’ immune system is not fully developed. As a result, the foetus or the newborn baby can experience a variety of health issues ranging from:

  • Low birth weight
  • Bacteraemia
  • Hearing loss or blindness
  • Seizures
  • Brain, heart or kidney problems

Treatment of Food Poisoning During Pregnancy

Knowing exactly what to do if you get food poisoning while pregnant can be tricky. Hence, consulting your family doctor is advisable. The priority of treatment should be to:

  • Stay Hydrated – For the mother, the biggest risk is dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhoea. Drinking water, soups or Oral Rehydration System (ORS) at regular intervals keeps your body hydrated and replenishes the lost electrolytes.
  • Identify the Cause – Clinical tests can help establish the specific cause of food poisoning.
  • Start the Treatment – Once the cause is identified, an antibiotic that is safe for pregnant mothers to neutralise the infection-causing organism. This will also help to prevent the infection from spreading to the foetus.

All the supplements should be stopped during the illness to give ample rest to the injured bowel. You may check with your doctor regarding this and get accurate guidance as to when you can start taking your supplements.

Home Remedies for Food Poisoning During Pregnancy

Be alert for the warning signs your body gives; for example, any stomach discomfort. Here are a few things you can try at home if you happen to have food poisoning during pregnancy.

  • Rest speeds up your recovery process.
  • Flush out all the toxins from your body by drinking as many fluids as possible.
  • You should start with soft, easily digestible foods. Once you start feeling better, you can get back to your regular diet.
  • Avoid milk and milk-based food during your illness.
  • Take lots of probiotics. You may check with your doctor regarding this.
  • Completely avoid processed or packaged foods.

The best approach to prevent food poisoning is to actively get involved in eating the food that keeps you fit and minimises the risk of food poisoning, giving you the right nutrition needed for a healthy pregnancy. Maintaining hygienic habits, too, will go a long way in ensuring that you have a safe and uneventful pregnancy.

Also Read:

Foods to Avoid during Pregnancy
Stomach Pain during Pregnancy

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