Eating Feta cheese while pregnant is a great way to increase your nutritional intake. But the method of processing the cheese will determine whether it is safe for you or not.
Pasteurized Feta cheese is safe, but avoid unpasteurized cheese or raw animal products during pregnancy because it may contain some bacteria like Listeria that can put you at risk of a miscarriage or worse.
This article contains some risks and benefits of eating Feta cheese while pregnant.
Table of Contents
- Feta Cheese During Pregnancy
- Risks of Eating Feta Cheese During Pregnancy
- Can I Eat Feta Cheese While Pregnant?
- Is Feta Cheese Safe For Babies?
- Benefits of Feta Cheese
Feta Cheese During Pregnancy
If you love cheese, you may wonder if eating Feta cheese while pregnant is safe.
During this period, your doctor must’ve given you a list of food to abstain from for the next nine months or more for the sake of your child.
And it can be difficult to abstain if some of these foods are your favorites. Eating unpasteurized Feta cheese is unhealthy and can expose you to many health issues that can be life-threatening to your unborn child.
Pasteurized cheese is safe for pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems. Pasteurization involves heating and quickly cooling off to kill any bacteria present.
Even though soft cheeses like Feta are traditionally made from raw milk, pasteurizing the milk removes the risks of listeriosis and other illnesses associated with eating raw foods.
Avoid eating soft cheese like Feta when not pasteurized because it may be contaminated by listeria and other disease-causing pathogens.
Feta cheese made from pasteurized milk is safe and should be eaten moderately if lactose intolerant.
Risks of Eating Feta Cheese During Pregnancy
You risk being infected by listeria if you eat unpasteurized Feta cheese while pregnant.
Listeria monocytogenes is a bacteria commonly found in animal products or foods grown from contaminated soil.
Many animals live with the bacteria without getting ill, and it can be difficult to notice. Products from such an animal as milk, meat, or cheese will contain the bacteria unless pasteurized.
Listeria monocytogenes cause Listeriosis or food poisoning characterized by fevers, diarrhea, malaise, and other symptoms.
The disease can be deadly in pregnant women, infants, or elderly people. Fortunately, most available soft cheeses nowadays are made from pasteurized milk, and you may not have to worry.
But to be safer, it’s good you double-check the instructions label on every dairy product and preheat your meat before eating.
What is Listeriosis?
Listeriosis is the infection you get when eating food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. It is very dangerous and has been identified as the third leading cause of death from food poisoning.
Apart from causing miscarriage in the first trimester, premature birth, or stillbirth, listeriosis can cause the following harm to a baby infected with it:
- Developmental disorders
- Brain disorders
- Heart issues
- Kidney conditions
It can also lead to blood infection and meningitis ( brain infection).
Soft cheese and other foods like cold cuts have a higher risk of containing listeria monocytogenes which can be very dangerous to pregnant women.
Pregnant women who eat these foods should be aware of some signs and symptoms of premature labor or stillbirth resulting from listeriosis. These signs include:
- Discharge or bleeding
- Contractions or cramps
- Feeling “off”
- No movement from the baby etc.
Ordinarily, refrigeration prevents the growth of many bacteria, but it is not the same with listeria. It grows at refrigeration temperature.
Refrigerating foods contaminated with this bacteria won’t prevent it from growing or killing it.
Can feta cause miscarriage?
Feta cheese by itself won’t result in miscarriage. The issue is not the feta cheese itself but rather the listeria that may be present in unpasteurized feta.
Any pregnant woman unlucky enough to get listeriosis from unpasteurized feta cheese may run considerable risks, including miscarriage.
Other issues, including preterm labor, stillbirth, or the virus spreading to your unborn child, may also occur if the infection is contracted during the third trimester.
Consequently, it would be wise to avoid listeriosis. Most feta is pasteurized, meaning consuming feta cheese while pregnant is safe.
Can I Eat Feta Cheese While Pregnant?
Most soft cheeses, including Feta, are made from unpasteurized milk. Even though the taste is great, it can harm people with compromised immune systems, like pregnant women.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns against eating soft cheese during pregnancy because of the risk of listeriosis.
However, there are options for hard cheese, like cheddar, mozzarella, and pasteurized feta cheese which are considered safe for pregnant women.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also emphasized that pregnant women should be sure that the feta cheese they’re eating is made from pasteurized milk.
Cheese contaminated with listeria monocytogenes does not smell or have any obvious appearance, so it may be hard for you to tell when it is contaminated.
While not all who eat contaminated foods will be infected with listeriosis, pregnant women, people above age 65, or people with a compromised immune system are prone to the infection.
Feta Dishes & How Safe They Are
Several dishes contain Feta, which is often questioned about its pregnancy safety. However, if the milk is pasteurized, Feta can be eaten uncooked or thoroughly cooked.
With this in mind, here are some common dishes women ask during pregnancy.
Eating Feta on a Pizza (as a pizza topping) – This depends on if the feta is cooked with the rest of the topping. If so, it is safe.
Most pizza restaurants will use pasteurized feta, but if you’re not sure, check ahead to be sure. If you suspect the Feta is unpasteurized, it only needs to be cooked and not sprinkled on the pizza toward the end.
Feta in brine – Since feta is a brined curd cheese, it is typically kept in brine. Its pregnancy safety is unaffected by the presence of feta in the brine. As mentioned above, what counts is whether the milk it is derived from has undergone pasteurization.
Baked feta or melted feta – Both dishes are safe to eat during pregnancy if the feta cheese is cooked until hot, which kills bacteria. Pregnant women can go ahead and eat cooked or baked feta.
Feta in a salad (such as Greek salad) – If the feta is manufactured with pasteurized components, it can be used in salads (such as Greek salad). Making and preparing salads at home, where you can carefully wash everything, is always safer.
Even at restaurants, pre-chopped or bagged salads may contain hazardous bacteria, including salmonella or listeria (source: NHS). Eating feta with salad is okay, but it’s best and safer to make it yourself.
Feta in tarts, pies, or quiche – A pregnant mother can eat feta in a quiche or a similar product because it is cooked with the rest of the filling.
Feta in a dip – Pasteurized feta is good for feta dips, but you should also look for additional components, such as mayonnaise, which should also be created with pasteurized ingredients.
This article mentions that Feta can be eaten uncooked or thoroughly cooked if the milk is pasteurized.
So if you’re craving eating feta cheese while pregnant, here are some brands of feta using pasteurized milk in the US.
- Trader Joe’s
- Kraft or Cracker Barrel
Is Feta Cheese Safe For Babies?
Unborn babies do not eat directly. Their primary source of nutrients largely depends on what you eat while pregnant.
Eating unpasteurized cheese or raw animal products can pose a huge risk to your developing child. Even though the risk of being infected with listeria is rare in unborn babies, it is not impossible.
The infection can be life-threatening to both the mother and her child, especially during the early stages of the pregnancy.
Some health risks associated with the infection include premature labor, low birth weight, infant death, or developmental problems.
Benefits of Feta Cheese
Like every other type of cheese, Feta offers various health benefits, including calcium, protein, and Vitamin D.
Calcium is an important nutrient you need during and after pregnancy, especially for growing babies. It helps with building strong bones and teeth in children.
Your immune system is compromised during pregnancy, and because your body doesn’t auto-generate these nutrients, you must constantly supply it with the nutrients it needs. Cheese is one of the good sources of calcium if you eat it right.
Eating adequate protein to support fetal growth and brain development is recommended.
It also supports tissue growth and blood volume expansion. By requirement, you need at least 60g of protein per day. 1 oz of Feta cheese contains about 4g of protein.
Eating Feta cheese alongside other protein sources like eggs, beans, and meat is a great way to meet your daily target.
Vitamin D deficiency can expose both mother and child to health issues like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm labor, low birth weight, and childhood asthma.
Feta cheese is a fair source of vitamin D which you can augment with other prenatal vitamins that include vitamin D.
Cheese is a common topping for most meals, whether it is salads, sandwiches, hamburgers, or other foods, you can easily sneak it into any meal, and it’ll fit perfectly.
But most soft cheeses like feta are made from raw milk, which is unhealthy, especially for pregnant women.
If you’re craving a slice of feta cheese while pregnant, ensure it is made from pasteurized milk and safe for you and your baby.