Foodborne Illnesses in Pregnancy

Many things can make pregnant women sick, but foodborne illnesses can have detrimental effects. Not only does a foodborne illness make the mother sick, but it can also impact her developing child. How food is prepared and subsequently cooked makes a significant impact as to if a pregnant woman becomes exposed to these types of illnesses. In this instance, knowledge can go a long way toward keeping a pregnant woman and her unborn child safe.

Types of Foodborne Illnesses Pregnant Women Should Be Aware Of
Foodborne illnesses can affect anyone, including pregnant women. The difference is, most people do not have to worry about their illness impacting the life of another. Pregnant women must be especially careful during their pregnancy, and while breastfeeding, so they do not pass anything along to their developing or newborn child.

Some of the illnesses that can develop from eating improperly prepared or cooked foods include:

  • Salmonella: This can lead to a bacterial infection that leaves people with a fever, diarrhea, and cramping. Those with a healthy immune system typically recover from salmonella with few long-term effects. This illness often comes from poultry that never reached a high enough temperature internally when cooked.
  • Norovirus: This highly contagious illness spreads easily through any contacted surfaces and often leads to severe diarrhea and vomiting. It can quickly cause dehydration and may require medical intervention to correct.
  • E-Coli: This strain of bacteria can leave anyone exposed to it fighting for their life. Typically, it results in full systemic failure, including all organs and systems of the human body. This illness often comes from raw and undercooked meat.
  • Listeria: This illness comes from undercooked foods since high enough heat can kill off the listeria bacteria. The mortality rate of listeria is also high, but the worst effects happen to a pregnant woman’s unborn child. Most people get this illness from deli meat or hot dog consumption since it is the only bacteria able to survive the cold temperatures within the fridge.

Signs of Having a Foodborne Illness
Some foodborne illnesses have no signs or symptoms in the beginning. Others start a few hours after exposure. Some of the symptoms to be on the lookout for include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Upset Stomach
  • Fever
  • Flu-Like Symptoms
  • Chills
  • Muscle Aches
  • Feeling Run-Down
  • Abdominal Cramping

How Does Someone Get Exposed to a Foodborne Illness?
The most common method of exposure to foodborne illness is by eating or touching food that was not appropriately prepared. Poor food preparation can mean different things. First, it can mean the food was not heated to a high enough internal temperature. Second, this can mean the food was exposed to bacteria during preparation that contaminated the food. Third, this can mean the person who became ill touched the food, then his or her face. It exposes the body to the germs that made them sick and spreads the illness beyond the food. It could also expose more people to the germs if that person touched any other surface that was shared by others.

The Effects of Food Poisoning During Pregnancy
While not all foodborne illnesses affect an unborn baby, many of them have the potential to harm one. Some illnesses can lead to stillbirth or miscarriage. However, the damage to the unborn child does not only come from specific attacks that cause it harm. The damage can come from high fevers, severe dehydration, and abdominal cramping leading to preterm labor. In cases like these, the unborn baby also suffers and can even be born at a time where it would not be feasible for him or her to survive outside the womb.

Some foodborne illnesses leaves the mother with no symptoms but still put her unborn child at risk. These are the ones that need to have special attention. Illnesses like listeria can lead to developmental issues with an unborn child, while the mother may feel minimal symptoms. If at any point during a pregnancy, a woman feels as though she may have a foodborne illness, she must speak with her OBGYN immediately to find out for sure.

Treating Food Poisoning in Pregnant Women
Once a foodborne illness is diagnosed, treatment to protect the mother and child can begin. The specific treatment the woman needs depends on the symptoms she is currently experiencing, plus the symptoms that she is expected to experience in the upcoming days or weeks. In many instances, a medication to prevent stomach upset or nausea may be given. In some instances, home care to manage symptoms is all that may be required.

Instructions on how to remain hydrated is also given to the mother. If she gets to where she is getting dehydrated, she may be hospitalized to begin IV fluids. In some instances, she may require antibiotics or medical intervention, depending on what type of illness she has come down with. With severe foodborne illness, the mother may be hospitalized for the duration of her illness to ensure the safety of her and the baby.

Preventing Foodborne Illnesses Starts with Proper Preparation
When it comes to foodborne illnesses, the best thing to do is to take the proper steps to avoid them. Have a preparation area that is used for raw meat and nothing else. Keep thermometers around the stove and make sure to use them to test foods before eating. Also, make sure to keep preparation areas sanitized, so there is no cross-contamination. It also means not eating specific foods that could lead to problems, such as raw meat or fish. It puts both the woman and her child at a higher risk of developing an illness that could risk the baby’s life.

The goal is to help pregnant women understand how to keep themselves and their unborn babies safe. Education before and during pregnancy can help alleviate some exposure to dangerous foods or food practices. If pregnant women take these steps, they can greatly reduce their potential for getting sick and help protect their pregnancies from harm.

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