Pregnancy, dangers of eating products that are not recommended

There are a number of products that should not be eaten during pregnancy, as they may be harmful to the unborn child. For many people it is not exactly clear which products exactly fall under this and it can therefore happen that they eat something that is actually not recommended. Many pregnant women will be very concerned, but how serious is it actually to eat something from the prohibited list? And what are the chances that it will actually have harmful consequences for the child?

Dangers during pregnancy

Women are more susceptible to contracting a food infection during pregnancy because resistance is lower due to altered hormone balance. It is therefore recommended to pay extra attention when eating certain products during pregnancy. These are in particular the products that have an increased risk of contamination with Listeria or Toxoplasma. In addition, it is recommended to avoid certain products due to a (suspected) bad influence on the unborn baby. These mainly consist of products with a high content of vitamin A, caffeine or certain herbs that contain safrole, estragole or methyl eugenol. In addition, the intake of alcohol and certain herbal preparations is also discouraged.

Listeriosis

You can contract listeriosis by eating food contaminated with Listeria. Only large amounts of bacteria will survive the stomach acid and can lead to Listeriosis. The special thing about Listeria is that the bacteria can infect the fetus via the placenta. This makes Listeria extra dangerous for pregnant women.

Risk products

Listeria is mainly found in unheated products. Unlike most other bacteria, Listeria can grow at refrigerator temperatures. Because the bacterium has little competition from other bacteria at these low temperatures, it grows relatively quickly to large quantities in cool-stored products. Pregnant women should therefore not eat products that have been in the refrigerator for some time. Risk products are:

  • Raw milk, or products made from raw milk
  • Pre-packed raw or smoked fish
  • Products that are kept in the refrigerator and have expired, such as ready-made salads, pancakes, meat products and ready-made meals
  • Raw seafood

Implications

An infection normally causes mild symptoms, but in pregnant women the consequences can be serious. Listeriosis during pregnancy can have serious consequences, such as miscarriage, premature birth or blood poisoning or meningitis in the baby.

Risk of infection

Every year, about 40 to 60 Dutch people become infected. This amounts to a probability of approximately 0.0003 percent. Pregnant women have about 20 percent more chance of contracting Listeriosis because resistance is lower due to changed hormone levels. Yet it is estimated that only 0.0025 percent of all pregnant women are infected. Even though the chance of contamination is very small, due to the serious consequences it is still better to avoid risky products during pregnancy. If the unborn baby becomes infected, there is about a 20 to 35 percent chance that it will die.

What to do in case of a possible infection

If a risk product has been eaten during pregnancy, such as smoked salmon, no further action will be taken. The chance that the product was actually contaminated with Listeria is very small. Only if there are symptoms of illness is it advisable to consult a doctor. It is possible to discover whether there is Listeriosis through a blood culture. In the early stages, the infection can be treated with antibiotics.

Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis can be contracted by infection with the parasite Toxoplasma Gondii. The parasite occurs in soil that has been contaminated with feces from cats that are carriers of the parasite. Warm-blooded animals, vegetables and fruit can also be contaminated via this soil and thus transmit Toxoplasma. The parasite is killed by heating at a minimum of 70 degrees Celsius.

Risk products

Products that have come into contact with contaminated soil or water may be contaminated. Meat from warm-blooded animals can also contain the parasite. Risk products are:

  • Unwashed raw vegetables and fruits.
  • Raw or semi-raw meat.
  • Raw seafood.
  • Raw milk or products made from raw milk.

Implications

The consequences of Toxoplasmosis can be serious. Serious symptoms such as hydrocephalus, mental retardation, brain disorders, eye abnormalities, deafness or even miscarriage occur, especially at the beginning of pregnancy. An infection at the end of pregnancy can lead to milder symptoms such as fever, rash, blood clotting abnormalities, anemia or eye infections. Even later in life, children who have been infected with Toxoplasma during pregnancy may still suffer from symptoms such as eye abnormalities or deafness.

Risk of infection

The risk of Toxoplasmosis is zero for people who have already been infected. These people have built up antibodies. This is a different story for people who have not yet been infected. It has been found that most people between the ages of 25 and 44 become infected. Because many women in this age group become pregnant, the chance that you will not be infected during pregnancy is about 60 percent. Once you have contracted Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy, the chance of infection of the fetus in early pregnancy is small. At a gestational age of 10 weeks the chance is about six percent. At the end of pregnancy, however, the risk of infection of the fetus via the mother is considerably greater; at a gestational age of 38 weeks it has already increased to more than eighty percent. On the other hand, an infection at the end of a pregnancy does not result in any symptoms in half of the cases.

Other hazards

In addition to the dangers for Listeria and Toxoplasma, there are also a number of products that can (possibly) be dangerous for the baby during pregnancy. These are mainly products that contain a lot of vitamin A, products that contain caffeine, alcohol or nicotine, or certain herbs or herbal preparations.

Risk products

The main risk products are:

  • Liver and liver products
  • coffee, tea, cola and energy drinks
  • tarragon, chervil, basil, anise and star anise, fennel, allspice, nutmeg and turpentine, basil, nutmeg, star anise, tarragon and sassafras
  • Alcoholic drinks such as wine and beer

Risk of harmful consequences

The consequences of eating or drinking such risk products are often unpredictable. For example, drinking alcohol can be harmful even in small quantities in women who are sensitive to it, while in women who are more resistant to alcohol, harmful effects only occur in large quantities. For vitamin A, caffeine and certain herbs, harmful effects only occur if large amounts are consumed. A portion of 70 grams of liver sausage contains more than the maximum safe amount of vitamin A, which can be harmful to the unborn baby. Smaller portions are safe during pregnancy. For herbs and caffeine, it is not known what the harmful amounts are. It is assumed that small amounts do not pose any danger, such as a cup of coffee a day.