Food Poisoning While Pregnant: How Can It Affect Pregnancy?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Ola Tarabzuni

Key Takeaways

  • Food poisoning during pregnancy can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, and a compromised immune system.
  • It can pose risks such as preterm labour, low birth weight, miscarriage, congenital disabilities, and long-term health consequences.
  • Common causes include bacterial, viral, and parasitic contamination, cross-contamination, and improper food handling.
  • Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, fatigue, and muscle aches.
  • Hydration, rest, bland diet, and medical advice are essential for managing food poisoning during pregnancy.


As we embark on this magnificent journey of creation, the spectre of food poisoning during pregnancy reminds us of the fragility and resilience intertwined in the miracle of life. Each morsel consumed carries profound consequences for the mother and the precious life within. Can food poisoning cause a miscarriage? Undetected foodborne pathogens can penetrate the placenta, posing a grave threat to the developing fetus, leading to premature birth, low birth weight, or fetal loss.

By arming ourselves with knowledge and taking proactive steps, we can strive to shield this extraordinary journey from the shadowy threat of food poisoning, ensuring a path illuminated by health, vitality, and boundless joy.

What is Food Poisoning During Pregnancy?

Food poisoning while pregnant, caused by bacterial, viral, or parasitic contamination, can wreak havoc on the delicate equilibrium of a woman’s body. The rapid onset of symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea when pregnant can lead to dehydration and malnutrition, casting a shadow over the mother’s well-being. This compromises the vital resources required for her baby’s healthy growth and development. The stakes are undeniably high, as a weakened immune system in pregnancy amplifies the risk of serious complications.

Food poisoning in pregnancy Affects the Immune system

The immune system of a pregnant woman undergoes adjustments to support the acceptance and care of the growing fetus. These changes, however, can also make pregnant women more susceptible to infections, including foodborne illnesses. Food poisoning occurs when ingested food or beverages are contaminated with harmful pathogens, such as bacteria (e.g., Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli), viruses (e.g., norovirus, hepatitis A), parasites (e.g., Toxoplasma gondii), or toxins produced by certain bacteria (e.g., Clostridium botulinum).

Similar to the symptoms experienced by non-pregnant people, food poisoning during pregnancy can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever. The consequences can be more pronounced and even deadly for both the mother and the growing fetus.

Dehydration and Malnutrition

One of the reasons food poisoning poses a greater risk during pregnancy is that it can lead to dehydration and malnutrition. The rapid onset of symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea can cause significant fluid loss and hinder the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients. This depletion can affect the mother’s overall health and compromise the resources necessary for the optimal growth and development of the fetus.

Risk to the Fetus

Furthermore, the repercussions of food poisoning while pregnant extend beyond the immediate discomfort and health consequences. The presence of specific pathogens in the mother’s bloodstream can potentially cross the placenta, posing a direct threat to the developing fetus. Infections like listeriosis, caused by Listeria bacteria, have been linked to serious complications, including miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and congenital disabilities.

Food Poisoning First Trimester and Morning Sickness Dilemma

Another concerning aspect is that the symptoms of food poisoning can be easily mistaken for normal pregnancy discomforts. Nausea, vomiting, and fatigue are common during pregnancy, and a woman may attribute these symptoms to morning sickness without considering the possibility of foodborne illness. Delayed diagnosis and treatment can prolong exposure to harmful pathogens, allowing them to cause more significant harm to both the mother and the fetus.

Prevention is vital in minimizing the risk of food poisoning while pregnant. Pregnant women should follow good food hygiene practices, such as washing hands thoroughly before handling food, avoiding cross-contamination of raw and cooked foods, cooking meats thoroughly to kill bacteria, and refraining from consuming unpasteurized dairy products and raw or undercooked seafood.

What are the 1st signs of food poisoning? Ask an Online Doctor

How Will My Food Poisoning Affect Pregnancy?

One of the most insidious aspects of food poisoning when pregnant lies in its silent nature. Pregnancy and food poisoning can be confusing. Often mistaken for normal pregnancy discomforts, the food poisoning symptoms in pregnancy can be easily overlooked or attributed to other causes.

Here are detailed points explaining how food poisoning can impact pregnancy:

Dehydration and Nutritional Deficiencies

Food poisoning often leads to symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea in pregnancy, which can cause significant fluid loss and disrupt the body’s electrolyte balance. This can result in dehydration, which is particularly concerning during pregnancy as it can affect the mother’s overall health and potentially impact the nutrient supply to the developing fetus.

Maternal Health Complications in Food Poisoning

Severe food poisoning cases can harm the mother’s health. Specific foodborne pathogens, such as Listeria, can cause serious infections that may lead to complications like sepsis or meningitis. These complications can harm the mother’s well-being and potentially affect the pregnancy.

Preterm Labor and Birthdue and Food Poisoning

Food poisoning during pregnancy can sometimes trigger preterm labour, leading to the baby being born prematurely. Premature babies may face various health challenges and require specialized medical care.

Food Poisoning and Low Birth Weight Baby

Food poisoning can interfere with the optimal growth of the fetus. When the mother experiences foodborne illness, her ability to provide sufficient nutrients to support the baby’s development may be compromised. As a result, a low birth weight baby may be born, which increases the risk of various health problems.

Miscarriage and Food Poisoning in Pregnancy 

Infections caused by certain foodborne pathogens, such as Listeria, have been associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal loss. These infections can directly affect the placenta, leading to severe complications that threaten the baby’s life.

Birth Defects Caused by Food Poisoning in Pregnancy

Although relatively rare, certain foodborne illnesses, such as toxoplasmosis, have been linked to congenital disabilities when the infection occurs during pregnancy. These defects can affect the baby’s organs, central nervous system, or overall development.

Long-Term Health Consequences of Food Poisoning While Pregnant

In some cases, the effects of food poisoning during pregnancy may extend beyond the immediate period. Some studies suggest that exposure to certain foodborne pathogens in utero may increase the risk of health issues later in life, such as metabolic disorders, cardiovascular diseases, or neurological impairments.

Impact on the Placenta

Foodborne pathogens can invade the placenta, providing essential nutrients and oxygen as the lifeline between the mother and the fetus. Infections in the placenta can disrupt its function, potentially affecting fetal development and overall pregnancy health.

Developmental Delays Due to Food Poisoning in Pregnancy

Severe cases of food poisoning during pregnancy, particularly those caused by infections like Listeria, may increase the risk of developmental delays in the baby. These delays can affect the child’s growth, including motor skills, cognitive abilities, and speech development.

Neurological Effects

Some foodborne illnesses have the potential to impact the baby’s neurological development. For instance, certain bacterial infections can lead to inflammation in the brain (encephalitis) or nervous system disorders, potentially resulting in long-term neurological impairments or disabilities.

Allergic Reactions 

Food poisoning while pregnant may also contribute to the development of allergies in the baby. Research suggests that exposure to certain pathogens or toxins in utero may increase the child’s risk of developing food allergies or intolerances later in life.

Psychological Impact

Experiencing food poisoning while pregnant can psychologically affect expectant mothers. The stress, anxiety, and fear associated with illness and potential harm to the baby can impact the mother’s emotional well-being and potentially affect the bonding process between mother and child.

How to treat food poisoning while pregnant? Consult an Online Doctor

Food-Borne Pathogens Affecting Pregnancy

How specific foodborne pathogens, such as Norovirus, Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella, can affect pregnancy and pose potential risks:

Norovirus in Pregnancy

While Norovirus is generally a self-limiting illness, in rare cases, it can lead to malnutrition in pregnant women. Severe vomiting and diarrhea associated with Norovirus can result in inadequate nutrient intake and dehydration, potentially affecting maternal health and fetal development.

Listeria and Preganancy

Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium found in certain foods, including unpasteurized dairy products and deli meats, can have severe consequences for pregnant women and their fetuses. Listeriosis, the infection caused by Listeria, can result in long-term neurological problems for the fetus. This includes developmental delays, seizures, impaired motor skills, and intellectual disabilities.

E. coli During Pregnancy

Some Escherichia coli (E. coli) strains, such as the O157:H7 strain, can cause serious complications, mainly if they produce Shiga toxins. In pregnant women, E. coli infections can damage blood vessel lining and potentially progress to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This condition can cause kidney failure and other severe complications. Bloody stools may be an indicator of this serious condition.

Salmonella While Pregnant 

Salmonella during pregnancy can present in various ways and cause difficulties. Rarely, Salmonella can enter the circulation and cause bacteremia, a condition that can be fatal. Additionally, meningitis, an infection of the membranes enclosing the brain and spinal cord, may be brought on by Salmonella. Salmonella, when pregnant, can also result in reactive arthritis, joint discomfort and swelling.

Read More: Is Zofran (Ondansetron) Safe for Pregnancy?

What are the causes of food poisoning during pregnancy?

Food poisoning while pregnant can be caused by various factors, including

Bacterial Contamination 

Bacteria are a common cause of foodborne illnesses. Pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia coli (E. coli), Campylobacter, and others can contaminate food at any stage, from production and processing to handling and storage. Consumption of contaminated foods, especially raw or undercooked meats, poultry, eggs, unpasteurized dairy products, and improperly washed fruits and vegetables, can lead to bacterial infections and subsequent food poisoning.

Viral Infections

Viruses like Norovirus, Rotavirus, and Hepatitis A can be responsible for foodborne illnesses. These viruses can contaminate food during preparation or handling, often through contact with an infected person or surfaces contaminated with the virus. Contaminated food or water can lead to viral infections and subsequent food poisoning.

Parasitic Infections

Parasites such as Toxoplasma gondii and Cryptosporidium can cause food poisoning. These parasites are commonly found in raw or undercooked meats, contaminated water, and unwashed fruits and vegetables. Ingesting food or water contaminated with these parasites can result in parasitic infections and subsequent food poisoning.


It occurs when pathogens from raw or contaminated foods are transferred to ready-to-eat foods or surfaces. This can happen through contaminated utensils, cutting boards, or improperly cleaned surfaces. Consuming cross-contaminated foods can lead to foodborne illnesses.

Improper Food Handling and Storage 

Inadequate food handling practices, such as improper hand hygiene, failure to maintain proper cooking temperatures, inadequate refrigeration, and extended storage periods, can promote bacterial growth and increase the risk of foodborne illnesses during pregnancy.

Consumption of High-Risk Foods

Certain foods are more likely to be contaminated and can pose a higher risk while pregnant. These include raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, unpasteurized dairy products, soft cheeses, deli meats, and pre-packaged salads. These foods may harbour pathogens that can cause food poisoning if consumed.

Are you ill from foodborne illness during pregnancy? Speak with Online Doctor

What is the Fastest Way to Get Rid of Food Poisoning During Pregnancy?

If you suspect you have food poisoning while pregnant, it is important to prioritize your health and seek medical advice promptly. Although there is no immediate treatment for food poisoning, the following actions may help reduce symptoms and speed recovery:


“Really push the fluids,” advises MD Sharon Phelan, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology. The most crucial aspect of managing food poisoning is to prevent dehydration. Drink a lot of liquids, such as electrolyte-replacing beverages, clear broths, and water. Even if you have trouble swallowing liquids, take little sips often. Consult your healthcare provider about suitable oral rehydration solutions, especially if your symptoms are severe.

Rest and Take it Easy. 

Allow your body to recover by getting adequate rest. Resting can help your immune system combat the infection and promote healing. Avoid strenuous activities and take time off from work or other obligations if necessary.

Maintain a Bland Diet

Gradually introduce light, easily digestible foods to your diet once you feel ready. Stick to bland foods like plain rice, boiled potatoes, toast, and cooked vegetables. Avoid spicy, fatty, or heavily seasoned foods that may irritate your digestive system.

Take Medications as Advised

Your doctor may suggest various medications to assist in managing particular symptoms of food poisoning, depending on the severity of your symptoms. These may include anti-nausea drugs, anti-diarrheal medications, or other supportive medications. However, always consult your healthcare provider before taking any medicines during pregnancy.

How Can I Get Instant Relief From Food Poisoning at Home?

There is no Instant way to relieve symptoms of food poisoning in pregnancy. But keeping yourself well hydrated, resting, and following can help alleviate symptoms. 

Bland Diet

Gradually reintroduce light, easily digestible foods to your diet. Stick to bland foods such as plain rice, boiled potatoes, toast, cooked vegetables, and lean proteins. Avoid spicy, greasy, or heavy foods that may further upset your stomach.


Ginger has natural anti-nausea properties and may help alleviate morning sickness and nausea caused by food poisoning. You can try ginger tea, candies, or ginger ale to help settle your stomach. However, consult a doctor before using ginger supplements or remedies during pregnancy.

What to do if you get food poisoning while pregnant? See an Online Doctor

How Can You Prevent Food Poisoning?

  • Practice proper food hygiene by washing hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling food.
  • Ensure all utensils, cutting boards, and surfaces are clean and sanitized.
  • Cook foods to their recommended internal temperatures to kill bacteria and other pathogens.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by separating raw and cooked foods and using separate utensils.
  • Store perishable foods properly, refrigerate them promptly and avoid prolonged exposure to room temperature.
  • Consume foods before expiration dates and discard any spoiled or questionable items.
  • Be cautious when eating raw or undercooked seafood, eggs, and meat.
  • Wash fruits and veggies thoroughly before consuming them.
  • Use safe water sources for cooking, drinking, and washing produce.
  • Stay informed about food recalls and outbreaks to avoid consuming contaminated products.
  • When dining out, choose reputable establishments with good hygiene practices.

When to Consult a Doctor?

It is important to consult a doctor if you experience food poisoning while pregnant. Here are some instances when you should seek medical attention:

Severe symptoms 

If you have severe symptoms such as persistent vomiting, high fever, severe abdominal pain, or dehydration, it is crucial to consult a doctor immediately.

Prolonged illness

If your symptoms persist for more than a day or two, it is advisable to seek medical attention as prolonged illness can lead to complications.

High-risk pregnancies 

It’s crucial to see a doctor right away for a proper examination and recommendations if your pregnancy is high-risk owing to underlying health issues or problems.

Concerns about the baby

If you are concerned about the health and well-being of your baby due to food poisoning, it is recommended to reach out to a healthcare professional for reassurance and appropriate advice.

Remember, it is always better to avoid caution and seek medical guidance to ensure your and your baby’s health and safety.

FAQs About Food Poisoning During Pregnancy by Your Doctors Online

When is food poisoning serious in pregnancy?

When it comes to food poisoning, it is considered serious in pregnancy when it leads to severe symptoms such as high fever, persistent vomiting, intense abdominal pain, or signs of dehydration. Prompt medical attention is necessary to prevent complications that could harm the mother and the unborn baby.

How likely is Listeria in pregnancy?

The likelihood of contracting Listeria during pregnancy is relatively low, but pregnant women are more susceptible to this bacteria. Listeria infection can be severe and potentially harmful to the baby if it crosses the placenta. Pregnant women must take precautions and avoid consuming high-risk foods such as unpasteurized dairy products, deli meats, or undercooked meats to minimize the risk of Listeria contamination.

How long does food poisoning last?

Symptoms of food poisoning usually linger from a few days to a week. However, the time it takes to recover might differ from person to person and may take longer for some foodborne infections.

How fast does Listeria hit when pregnant?

It can range from a few days to several weeks after exposure. However, it is essential to note that Listeria infection during pregnancy is relatively rare.

Can a stomach bug harm an unborn baby?

While a stomach bug or food poisoning typically doesn’t directly harm the unborn baby, severe illness, dehydration, or complications from the disease can indirectly affect the baby’s well-being.

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