Food poisoning during pregnancy: Here is how you can tackle it

Food poisoning during pregnancy can be harder than it seems, but it is avoidable if you take the right steps. Read on to know more about it.
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Food poisoning can be dangerous during pregnancy. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Geeta Chadha Updated: 23 Mar 2021, 17:34 pm IST
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Dr Geetika Chadha is a senior consultant, obstetrics and gynaecology, at Apollo Cradle and Children’s Hospital in Nehru Place, New Delhi. 

Morning sickness during pregnancy is common, which is why it is difficult to identify the symptoms of food poisoning. So how can you tell if a foodborne illness is making you sick? And how do you treat it safely while being pregnant? Let’s have a look.

During pregnancy, the body’s immune system is weaker than usual. Hence, it becomes harder for the body to fight the germs that can cause food poisoning.

Types of food poisoning

Some common and dangerous types of food poisoning include:

  • E. coli: Escherichia coli bacteria is naturally present in the gut. However, if contaminated vegetables and fruits, undercooked or raw meats, fruit juices or unpasteurized milk with certain types of E. coli bacteria are consumed, then food poisoning can occur.
  • Campylobacter:This bacteria enters the system through unpasteurized foods or contaminated chicken.
  • Listeriosis: As compared to other people, pregnant women are 13 times more likely to get listeriosis. It is caused by listeria bacteria, which is usually found in ready-to-eat meats such as cold cuts and hot dogs. Unpasteurized foods such as seafood, dairy products and poultry can also contain listeria.
food poisoning during pregnancy
Vomiting can also be a sign of food poisoning. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
  • Salmonella: Raw or undercooked eggs, unpasteurized foods, poultry and meats can cause salmonellosis, caused by the salmonella bacteria. If a food item has come in contact with animal poop or soil infected with salmonella, that can also cause salmonella.
  • Norovirus: Easily spread through contaminated drinks and food, this is one of the main reasons behind food poisoning.
Symptoms of food poisoning during pregnancy

Since morning sickness is also a common occurrence during pregnancy, pinpointing food poisoning during pregnancy can be difficult. A few common symptoms of food poisoning during pregnancy are: 

  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhoea
  • Stomach pain
  • Stomach cramps

Other symptoms such as fever, body aches and headaches might also occur, making it seem like flu.

Is food poisoning dangerous during pregnancy?

Certain types of food poisoning can be potentially dangerous for you and your unborn baby.

  • If you have listeriosis, you might end up passing it to your unborn baby. You might not experience any symptoms at all. The baby can end up having serious health conditions such as seizures, blindness, paralysis and issues with the kidneys, heart or brain. Listeriosis can also lead to preterm labour, low birth weight of the baby or even stillbirth or miscarriage. 
  • E. coli can lead to kidney damage.
  • If you have salmonellosis, that can also be passed to the baby, putting them at risk for serious complications such as meningitis.
  • If you get campylobacter early in your pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage. If you get it during the time of your baby’s birth, and if it is passed on to your newborn, it can be life-threatening.

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Home remedies for food poisoning during pregnancy

As the immune system is weak during pregnancy, expecting mothers need to be more cautious, because they have to take care of not only themselves but their baby too.

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If you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms, then it is advisable to contact your healthcare provider immediately. They can guide you regarding the next steps.

If you are experiencing mild symptoms, then you can treat yourself at home by resting and hydrating yourself. You should also ensure that you avoid eating anything until vomiting is over. However, if you are experiencing diarrhoea, signs of extreme dehydration such as dizziness and dry lips, blood in your stool, severe abdominal pain, and extreme vomiting, then you might need to go to a hospital or the doctor’s office for treatment.

How to prevent food poisoning during pregnancy?

The best way to protect yourself from catching food poisoning is to be careful of what you eat. Here are some tips that expecting mothers can follow:

  • Ensure that fruits and vegetables are properly cleaned before being cooked or before being eaten.
  • Make a habit to wash your hands thoroughly using soap and water before you touch any food items.
  • Perishable foods should be kept frozen or refrigerated.
  • After use, utensils and kitchen surfaces should be cleaned.
  • Food should be cooked at high temperatures, so that the germs get killed.
  • Leftover food should be refrigerated right away.
  • Avoid consuming food that has expired or been sitting out.
  • Raw meat should not come in contact with anything that is to be consumed raw, including produce or food that has been prepared already.
food poisoning during pregnancy
Beware of what you are eat during your pregnancy. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Apart from these tips, certain food items should be avoided during pregnancy, such as:

  • Sprouts
  • Items containing raw eggs such as cookie dough or eggnog, however pasteurized raw eggs are okay
  • Premade seafood salads, chicken or ham from a deli
  • Smoked fish
  • Raw or undercooked shellfish, poultry, meat and fish
  • Unpasteurized dairy products such as raw milk or soft cheese
  • Unpasteurized cider or juice
  • Meat spreads
  • Hot dogs
  • Deli meat
  • Runny eggs

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About the Author

Dr Geetika Chadha is a senior consultant, obstetrics and gynaecology, at Apollo Cradle and Children’s Hospital in Nehru Place, New Delhi.  ...Read More

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