The holidays will soon be here. If you are pregnant, you may be asking yourself: Is eggnog safe during pregnancy? As clinicians, Sue and I see these questions come up often and it is no surprise:
- There used to be little if any access to medical information.
- Pregnant women and new moms have the ability to talk about these topics like never before.
- People looking for answers to medical concerns are deluged with advice and opinions. This leads to uncertainty and worry as much of the information is not acquired from authoritative sources and is not based on the consensus of sound scientific research.
So let’s jump right into this holiday favorite and give you the good news and the bad news when it comes to drinking eggnog while growing a little human.
Is Eggnog Safe During Pregnancy?
Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause a serious intestinal infection with severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, and dehydration.
I can tell you from personal experience you do not want to get Salmonella when you are pregnant or at any time. I had Salmonella about 15 years ago. We had driven to Southern New Jersey from Boston for a dog show.
We got in pretty late and the motel we booked was an old Howard Johnsons motel. It had a restaurant that was still open and they had a buffet option on Friday nights. I ate the baked chicken breast that had been sitting out there for hours (I know what was I thinking???).
I felt OK the next day at the dog show. Towards the end of the show, I had some chills, but it was a cloudy and chilly fall day. I had no idea what was about to hit me on the way home that afternoon. Let me just cut to the chase. We stopped at every single exit between southern New Jersey and our house in Massachusetts so I could get sick.
Every time I saw a hospital sign along the highway, I would tell my then-husband to just drop me off and he could keep heading home because I swore I was going to die. Obviously I didn’t. I lived to tell the story, but I didn’t touch chicken for a decade.
When we are pregnant we have a weakened immune system, which puts us more at risk for food-borne illnesses.
During pregnancy, women are more susceptible to infections. One reason we know (based on scientific studies) is because the immune system is being used to protect the baby from being rejected.Doug Penta, MD OB/GYN
The immune system during pregnancy is in a fine balance.
- It has to be strong enough to protect the mother from infections.
- It cannot be too strong or it will over-react and cause harm to the baby. (Source)
Salmonella, as well as Listeria and other bacteria associated with certain foods, can pose a significant risk to the mother and baby. This can be the result of severe dehydration or sepsis if the infection gets into the mother’s bloodstream.
The Bottom Line on drinking eggnog while pregnant:
If you must have eggnog during your pregnancy, make sure the eggnog was made with pasteurized eggs, heated properly to 160 degrees, does not contain alcohol and has been stored properly.
Store-bought eggnog is usually pasteurized and pasteurized store-purchased eggnog is considered safe to drink during pregnancy.
There are are a whole lot of “ifs” that are beyond your control when it comes to holiday eggnog. Personally, we recommend skipping the eggnog if you are pregnant.
Recalls of store-bought products are not uncommon. I love eggnog. I wait for it to come out every year and can’t wait to have it. But during pregnancy, I leave even store-bought pasteurized eggnog right there in the dairy case.
Does alcohol make eggnog Safe?
For those of you who are still thinking: “Just a little spiked eggnog” is ok …. it is not. Eggnog with alcohol can still have live Salmonella. Nor should you be drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
What are the symptoms of Salmonella infection from eggnog?
The symptoms of a foodborne Salmonella infection can develop within 12 to 72 hours after exposure.
The most common symptoms are listed in the following illustration:
* Salmonella infection is caused by toxins released by the bacteria into the intestine.
What determines the severity of a Salmonella infection?
There are a number of factors that can contribute to the severity of a Salmonella infection:
- The strength of your immune system.
- Age – the very young and elderly are most at risk.
- The severity of the strain of Salmonella.
- The amount of Salmonella you are exposed to.
- Early diagnosis and treatment.
- Not drinking enough fluids. (Though this will not prevent infection, it will help your body manage the dehydration that can result from severe diarrhea associated with a Salmonella infection. Keep yourself well-hydrated by drinking 8-10 glasses of water supplemented with an electrolyte-enriched fluid such as Gatorade or Pedialyte. Remaining well-hydrated can also decrease cramping during pregnancy, it is important to stay hydrated even during the colder winter months when you are pregnant.)
Being pregnant doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy holiday gatherings:
It does mean you will have to make some important decisions about what you eat.
- You are not eating at home.
- There are holiday foods that are not familiar to you.
- You are not aware of how the food was prepared and stored before the event.
Who hasn’t been to a holiday gathering where you have had questions about how long the food has been out or if it was prepared properly. Large gatherings for holidays, celebrations, church suppers, fundraisers, etc. can be enjoyable but the food is something you can’t always be sure about. In fact, such gatherings are often associated with outbreaks of stomach bugs (food poisoning).
Those who help prepare food for large gatherings have the best intentions. Unfortunately, at the actual event:
- The temperature of the food may not be being kept in a safe range (hot or cold).
- The food may be left out too long.
- The way the food was prepared may not conform to OSHA standards.
If you have decided to drink homemade eggnog during pregnancy, the FDA has published guidelines on how to safely prepare eggnog.
I have managed many pregnant women with foodborne infections during my clinical career. Often the infections were related to whether or not the food was pasteurized. Other causes were cookouts, where food was kept out too long or contamination during food preparation.
Eggnog from a grocery store is almost always pasteurized. It will say if it is right on the front of the product. Pasteurized store-bought eggnog is considered safe during pregnancy, but we still recommend you weigh the risk and benefits of consuming even store-bought eggnog when pregnant.
If you shop for your groceries at an organic grocery store that carries unpasteurized food, you will want to be particularly careful about what you eat.
You want to avoid any dairy, deli meats (Listeria bacteria) or other products that are routinely pasteurized but may not be if sold in a natural/organic type market.
Foods are pasteurized for a reason. There was very likely an organism associated with the food that can cause a serious infection.
Foodborne infections are more concerning during pregnancy because the infection can affect the mother and baby. Infections that get to the fetus cannot be effectively treated and most often result in rapid premature labor and delivery.
This is the most important fact to consider if you ask a health care professional: Is eggnog safe during pregnancy?
How do I reduce my risk of getting a Salmonella infection?
- Wash your hands thoroughly and especially after handling poultry. Do not touch surfaces that were in contact with raw poultry.
- Do not handle raw chicken or other meats and if you must, wear gloves.
- Do not touch or eat on countertops without properly cleaning all surfaces that may have come into contact with raw chicken, meats, eggs, or raw vegetables.
- Make sure any perishable foods are not outdated.
- Check the label on foods that are supposed to be pasteurized.
- If you must drink store-bought pasteurized eggnog, you will still want to heat it to 160 degrees as discussed in the chart above.
- During your pregnancy, the best suggestion is to simply to avoid foods that are known for causing “food poisoning”
- Wash dish towels and sponges used at the kitchen sink.
- Wash raw fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid eating at places where you have concerns about sanitation. Even a simple stomach bug, can cause severe nausea and vomiting resulting in dehydration. Dehydration will often result in the need for intravenous foods while pregnant.
Why is Salmonella infection so dangerous during pregnancy?
The danger is because the infection can be severe and can affect the mother and baby. Even if the infection does not spread beyond the intestine, it can cause severe dehydration.
If the Salmonella infection gets into the mother’s bloodstream it can spread throughout the body causing a severe systemic infection.
The two most important precautions you can take to help prevent a Salmonella infection:
- Prepare all foods properly, based on safety guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration.
- Always wash hands thoroughly after preparing foods and before eating.
As we said, in the beginning, the answer isn’t a simple “yes” or “no” on drinking eggnog during pregnancy. The best person to ask is your doctor and then make the decision that is best for you and your baby.