Food Poisoning


The information provided below is for readers based in the United States of America. Readers outside of the United States of America should seek the information from local sources.

What is food poisoning during pregnancy?

Food poisoning encompasses a range of categories, such as botulism, E. coli, Salmonella, cholera, and various others that can strike pregnant women, just like anyone else; however, pregnancy makes you particularly vulnerable to listeriosis, a condition resulting from consumption of food that is contaminated with the bacterial species Listeria monocytogenes. This can happen, particularly if you consume packaged foods designed for long shelf-lives, such as soft cheeses, deli meats, and raw seafood, including sushi. Salmonella infection is a type of food poisoning that is caused by eating food that is contaminated with either of two species of bacteria – Salmonella enterica and Salmonella bongori. The foods most likely to be contaminated with Salmonella are undercooked eggs, followed by seafood (especially shellfish) that is raw or undercooked. Escherichia coli is a bacterial species that lives inside your large intestine. Certain E. coli strains that contaminate food can cause a kind of food poisoning that can be extremely dangerous. Vibrio cholera is a species of bacteria that can contaminate water and produces a toxin that causes serious disease with severe diarrhea and vomiting as the principal symptoms. The disease is known commonly as cholera. Botulism is an extremely dangerous condition resulting from a toxin produced by a bacterial species called Clostridium botulinum, but the condition is very rare.

How common is food poisoning during pregnancy?

Salmonella strikes pregnant women no more often than it strikes anyone else. In the United States, an estimated 1-3 per 30,000 eggs are contaminated with Salmonella. Cooking eggs well can compensate for this, and thus the most common reason for Salmonella food poisoning today is the consumption of foods with raw or undercooked eggs. An estimated 1.3-4.0 million people develop cholera each year around the globe, resulting in 21,000 – 143,000 deaths. The disease comes in outbreaks, often due to contamination of water and food supplies. Mostly, this happens in developing countries, in locations where there is inadequate access to clean water and facilities for sanitation. Listeria poisoning is rare overall, but pregnancy raises your risk to 10-18 times that of non-pregnant people. Furthermore, Hispanic women who are pregnant have 24 times the risk of the non-pregnant population, and so listeriosis is the main food poisoning concern during pregnancy. Other factors raising your risk include anything that weakens your immunity, including AIDS and certain medications.

How is food poisoning during pregnancy diagnosed?

Diagnosis is based on the history of what you have eaten, the development of food poisoning symptoms, and often on laboratory tests for the presence of the suspected contaminant organism in your body or the food. Diagnosis of listeriosis, for example, is achieved by finding L. monocytogenes cultured from samples of your blood.

Does food poisoning cause problems during pregnancy?

Generally, with food poisoning, you develop gastrointestinal disturbances and/or flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, muscle and back pains, and sore throat. Listeriosis can lead to sepsis, which is life-threatening.

Does food poisoning cause problems for the baby?

Effects on the baby can be indirect, for instance, from dehydration of the mother, but with certain food poisoning, notably listeriosis, the fetus is particularly vulnerable. Listeriosis can cause spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), premature labor and delivery, infection of the membranes that surround the fetus (chorioamnionitis), and stillbirth. Problems occurring in the newborn after birth can include neonatal sepsis (infection throughout the newborns system) pneumonia, and meningitis.

What to consider about taking medications when you are pregnant or breastfeeding:

  • The risks to yourself and your baby if you do not treat the food poisoning
  • The risks and benefits of each medication you use when you are pregnant
  • The risks and benefits of each medication you use when you are breastfeeding

What should I know about using medication to treat food poisoning during pregnancy?

Antibiotics are given to pregnant women with listeriosis, particularly to protect the fetus as much as to protect the mother. The same antibiotics are given to infants who have the disease, so there is little concern about exposure to the medications in the womb.

Who should NOT stop taking medication for food poisoning during pregnancy?

Listeria can be fatal, so if you need antibiotics, you cannot stop taking them until the treatment is complete.

What should I know about choosing a medication for my food poisoning during pregnancy?

It is important to stay in communication with your health care provider as the release of new studies over time can change the outlook on the role of specific medications during pregnancy.

You may find Pregistrys expert reports about the medications to treat this condition here. Additional information can also be found in the sources listed below.

What should I know about taking a medication for my food poisoning when I am breastfeeding?

The antibiotics that are given to mothers with listeriosis are to protect the newborn as much as to protect the mother. The same antibiotics are given to infants who have the disease, so there is no concern about exposure to the medications through breastmilk. However, if you have listeriosis to the point that you require antibiotics, you may not feel up to breastfeeding, and so using infant formula might be the more prudent course.

What alternative therapies besides medications can I use to treat my food poisoning during pregnancy?

Certain food poisoning, notably listeriosis, has the potential to spread through your body. While various supportive treatments, such as fluid replacement, are vital, those conditions that require medication, such as antibiotics, do not lend themselves well to non-drug treatments as replacements for medications.

What can I do for myself and my baby when I have food poisoning during pregnancy?

It is very important to follow the instructions of your physician.

Resources for food poisoning in pregnancy:

For more information about food poisoning during and after pregnancy, contact (800-994-9662 [TDD: 888-220-5446]) or contact the following organizations:


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General information

It is very common for women to worry about having a miscarriage or giving birth to a child with a birth defect while they are pregnant. Many decisions that women make about their health during pregnancy are made with these concerns in mind.

For many women these concerns are very real. As many as 1 in 5 pregnancies end in a miscarriage, and 1 in 33 babies are born with a birth defect. These rates are considered the background population risk, which means they do not take into consideration anything about the health of the mom, the medications she is taking, or the family history of the mom or the baby’s dad. A number of different things can increase these risks, including taking certain medications during pregnancy.

It is known that most medications, including over-the-counter medications, taken during pregnancy do get passed on to the baby. Fortunately, most medicines are not harmful to the baby and can be safely taken during pregnancy. But there are some that are known to be harmful to a baby’s normal development and growth, especially when they are taken during certain times of the pregnancy. Because of this, it is important to talk with your doctor or midwife about any medications you are taking, ideally before you even try to get pregnant.

If a doctor other than the one caring for your pregnancy recommends that you start a new medicine while you are pregnant, it is important that you let them know you are pregnant.

If you do need to take a new medication while pregnant, it is important to discuss the possible risks the medicine may pose on your pregnancy with your doctor or midwife. They can help you understand the benefits and the risks of taking the medicine.

Ultimately, the decision to start, stop, or change medications during pregnancy is up to you to make, along with input from your doctor or midwife. If you do take medications during pregnancy, be sure to keep track of all the medications you are taking.

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