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Listeria and Pregnancy: A Comprehensive Guide for Expectant Mothers

Washing produce

As a trusted obstetrics and gynecology medical practice, we understand the importance of maintaining a healthy pregnancy. One potential threat that pregnant women need to be aware of is listeria, a bacterium that can lead to a serious infection known as listeriosis. In this blog post, we'll delve into what listeria is, how it can affect pregnant women and their developing fetuses, symptoms to watch out for, prevention strategies, and steps to take if you suspect listeriosis.

What is Listeria?

Listeria monocytogenes is a type of bacteria found in soil, water, and certain foods. It can cause an infection called listeriosis, which poses a greater risk to pregnant women due to changes in their immune system and hormonal levels.

Symptoms of Listeriosis

The symptoms of listeriosis can range from mild to severe and typically include fever, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Pregnant women may experience flu-like symptoms, making it challenging to differentiate from other illnesses. In more severe cases, listeriosis can lead to headache, confusion, stiff neck, and convulsions.

Impact on Pregnant Women

Pregnant women are approximately ten times more likely to contract listeriosis compared to the general population. The immune changes during pregnancy make expectant mothers more susceptible to infections. Listeriosis can lead to complications such as premature birth, miscarriage, stillbirth, and infection of the newborn.

Effect on the Fetus

Listeria can cross the placental barrier and directly infect the fetus. This infection, known as congenital listeriosis, can result in serious health issues, including developmental delays, neurological problems, and potentially life-threatening complications.

What to Do If You Suspect Listeria

If you experience symptoms or suspect exposure to listeria-contaminated food, it's crucial to contact your healthcare provider immediately. Listeriosis can be diagnosed through blood or spinal fluid tests. Early detection and treatment are essential to prevent complications.

Treatment of Listeriosis

Listeriosis is typically treated with antibiotics. If caught early, antibiotics can help alleviate symptoms and prevent the infection from spreading. Prompt medical attention is vital to ensure the health of both the mother and the baby.

Prevention and Food Safety Guidelines

Preventing listeriosis is of utmost importance for pregnant women. Here are some guidelines to follow:

1. Practice Safe Food Handling: Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces before and after preparing food. Cook raw foods to safe temperatures and avoid cross-contamination.

2. Choose Low-Risk Foods: Avoid high-risk foods such as unpasteurized dairy products, soft cheeses, deli meats, and smoked seafood.

3. Refrigerate Properly: Refrigerate perishable foods promptly and set the refrigerator temperature at 40°F (4°C) or below.

4. Be Cautious with Leftovers: Consume leftovers within a safe timeframe and reheat them to a proper temperature.

5. Wash Fruits and Vegetables: Thoroughly wash fresh produce before consumption.

6. Check Labels: Read food labels to ensure that products are made from pasteurized ingredients.

Maintaining a healthy pregnancy involves being vigilant about potential risks, including the threat of listeria and listeriosis. By following proper food safety guidelines, seeking early medical attention if symptoms arise, and partnering with your healthcare provider, you can minimize the risk of listeria infection and safeguard the well-being of both yourself and your developing baby. Our providers here at Complete Healthcare for Women put you and your baby's health first. Contact us if you have any questions or concerns. 

Complete Healthcare for Women - Obstetrics and Gynecology


Richard Lorenzo, D.O.

Kortney Jones ARNP

Dr. Lorenzo Richard Lorenzo, DO Dr. Lorenzo is also a Fellow of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and a Fellow of the American College of Osteopathic Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He provides gynecological and obstetric services, including prenatal care, pregnancy care, infertility, and gynecology. Dr. Lorenzo is proficient in advanced surgical techniques, including minimally-invasive procedures, as well as surgery for abnormal uterine bleeding, endometriosis, and hysterectomy. He has specialized training in high-risk obstetrics and minimally invasive surgical techniques, including minimally invasive hysterectomy.

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