New Health Risk All Pregnant Women Need to Know About

CantaloupeAs if regular-old, everyday pregnancy queasiness weren't enough, the news today brings a story that might make you feel even more sick to your stomach: A pregnant woman in Iowa has suffered a miscarriage that doctors and health officials are blaming on listeria-tainted cantaloupe.

The woman, whose pregnancy was still in its early stages when she came down with symptoms a few weeks after eating the contaminated melon, is one of three recent cases in which pregnant women have been infected with listeria after eating tainted cantaloupe. The other two women have so far been able to continue with their pregnancies and are being monitored.


While the cantaloupe-borne listeria outbreak has affected many (100 people -- pregnant and not -- have been sickened; 18 have died), the Iowa woman's miscarriage highlights the particular dangers we women face from the foods we eat every day when we are pregnant, a time when we (and our fetuses) are particularly vulnerable to food-borne illnesses. Our immune system takes a dip during pregnancy to prevent our bodies from rejecting our fetuses, making us far more apt to be sickened by bacteria in our foods and for our fetuses to be infected as well, putting their survival at risk.

Honestly, it can feel like we have targets on our head when we're pregnant. (Remember how disproportionately the swine flu outbreak a few years ago hit pregnant women?) And really, don't we have enough to worry about without fearing that tragedy lurks in every piece of fruit, bowl of salad, bite of fish, and hunk of cheese we put into our mouths? We're urged to eat healthily, but it's terrifying how quickly a healthy snack can turn dangerous, or even deadly.

Frankly, it's dispiriting, overwhelming, and sometimes just completely confusing: What's okay to eat? What's not? You need an Excel spreadsheet to keep track -- and even when you try your best, you may get it wrong.

Traveling through Switzerland while I was pregnant with my son, my husband and I took a day trip to Gruyeres, where we visited the factory in which the town's namesake cheese was made and searched in vain for lunch that did not involve the cheese. (I couldn't get a clear answer as to whether the cheese was pasteurized or not, and so went hungry.) Returning to the U.S., I proudly reported to my ob/gyn that I had avoided the cheese, to which she charmingly replied, "Oh, that's a hard cheese. You could have eaten as much of that as you wanted." Argh!

Are you worried about food safety now that you're pregnant? What are you finding the hardest to avoid eating?


Image via News21-usa/Flickr

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