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Any illness can be of concern if you are pregnant, and food poisoning is no different.

Even though most cases will be harmless to you and your baby, in pregnancy, food poisoning shouldn’t simply be dismissed, as it can lead to dehydration, which can be very dangerous. There is also one strain of food poisoning caused by listeria bacteria, which can be very harmful in pregnancy - we will cover this in more detail below.

How food poisoning affects you if you’re pregnant

Food poisoning while you are pregnant is likely to affect you in the same way as any other person – the main symptoms are:

  • Diarrhoea, possibly containing mucus or blood
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain or cramps
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness and a lack of energy
  • Muscle aches
  • A fever or high temperature
  • Chills
  • A headache

Listeria food poisoning in pregnancy

It is likely you can manage your symptoms at home, without the need for treatment. However, there is one exception, which is really important to be aware of.

If your food poisoning is caused by the listeria monocytogenes bacteria, it can be dangerous.

If you experience nausea, diarrhoea, fever, muscle aches, flu like symptoms or vomiting while pregnant, then you should contact a doctor immediately, as these can be signs of listeria food poisoning.

It is rare, but the infection can have severe consequences for your baby. In early pregnancy it can cause a miscarriage, while later on in pregnancy, it can cause a stillbirth, premature birth or a fatal infection for the baby after birth. A baby that survives a listeria infection may suffer from long-term neurological damage. This can be the case even if you were only mildly ill.

If you are diagnosed with listeria, you may be prescribed antibiotics, which can often prevent the baby from being infected, which is why it is so important to catch it early on.

The listeria monocytogenes bacteria is found in water and soil and certain foods are at a higher risk of being contaminated with the listeria monocytogenes bacteria. That is why you should avoid these when pregnant. These include:

  • Refrigerated meat spreads and paté
  • Hot dogs and ready to eat meals
  • Raw sprouts
  • Unpasteurised milk and dairy products
  • Soft cheese made from unpasteurised milk
  • Refrigerated smoked seafood
Food poisoning treatments in pregnancy

Food poisoning treatments may differ if you are pregnant. Some medicines are not licensed for use by pregnant mothers, so it is important to inform the doctor if you might be or are currently pregnant.

Preventing food poisoning while pregnant is the best course of action, so you should:

  • Avoid eating mould-ripened soft cheeses and blue veined cheeses
  • Avoid eating paté
  • Avoid drinking unpasteurised milk
  • Avoid eating foods past their ‘use by’ date
  • Ensure your fridge is set to 5 Celsius or below
  • Heat ready meals until piping hot throughout
  • Avoid eating food that has been out of the fridge for more than four hours
  • Wash your hands before and after preparing food
  • Thoroughly wash fruit and vegetables in clean water