Pregnancy and you blog

Listeria during pregnancy: Cause for concern?

By Julie A. Lamppa, C.N.M., R.N. March 14, 2015

During my two pregnancies I'm quite certain that I ate a total of 326 ham and cheese sandwiches and not one was heated to steaming — not even one. What can I say? I like a good sandwich.

But that was in 1998 and 2000. Listeria infection, a foodborne bacterial illness most commonly contracted by eating improperly processed deli meats and unpasteurized milk products, was not a common conversation topic. As a result, I didn't realize that eating cold deli meat during pregnancy carried any risks.

For the strong and healthy, a listeria infection causes only mild symptoms. However, pregnancy causes our immune systems to be weakened. Early in pregnancy, listeria may lead to miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, a listeria infection may lead to stillbirth, premature birth or a potentially fatal infection in the baby after birth — even if the mother becomes only mildly ill.

But how much should pregnant women be worried about a listeria infection? Here is some data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide perspective:

  • Total number of births in the U.S. in 2013: 3,932,181
  • Approximate number of pregnant women who get sick from listeria in the U.S. each year: 224

So while the consequences are great, the risk of contracting a listeria infection during pregnancy is low.

We all assume risks every day — whether we're getting behind the wheel or eating a deli sandwich. In the car, you take precautions by looking at your surroundings and abiding traffic laws. To prevent a listeria infection, pregnant women are encouraged to avoid cheese made from unpasteurized milk, hot dogs and deli meats unless they're reheated until steaming hot, refrigerated meat spreads, and refrigerated, uncooked seafood.

The important thing is that we understand the risks and use that information to make the right decisions for ourselves and our babies.

March 14, 2015