It can be a really scary experience to suspect that you’ve somehow gotten food poisoning during pregnancy.
You’ll know it when it strikes, too, if you’ve got that dreaded sensation in the pit of your stomach. Perhaps nausea and vomiting or diarrhea (or all of the above) have started plaguing your already-tired body. Maybe you’re even running a slight fever.
It’s definitely no picnic in the park for anyone… but when you’re carrying a child inside of you while all of this is happening, then it’s likely that you’re probably most terrified about whether or not your baby is in any sort of danger. Let’s talk about what to do if this happens to you, and along the way, I’ll share my own story (don’t worry – there’s a happy ending!).
1.) Know the signs.
I experienced this exact situation at 33 weeks pregnant. I’d read all about the dangers of listeria and other food-borne pathogens to an unborn baby, and I’d been super careful about everything I was eating since the day I saw those two pink lines. But suddenly, just as I was dozing off for the night in bed, the nausea started creeping in. And then I found myself running to the toilet every 10 minutes, sometimes not sure if things were going to be erupting from both ends simultaneously or not. I had absolutely NO CLUE what I’d eaten to have gotten food poisoning. But I recall being mortified that my poor baby was being squeezed so tightly every time my abdomen violently contracted to rid my tummy of whatever had offended it. I couldn’t drink enough water to keep myself hydrated, because nothing would stay in my body for long enough.
This lasted for 12 very long hours throughout the night, as I tried my best (and failed) to sleep through it. I found myself desperately googling anything I could think of in between bathroom trips, but didn’t find much that was helpful, so instead I ended up just praying that it would all be over by the morning.
2.) Call your doctor (it can’t hurt to be too careful!).
If you think something is wrong, trust your instincts. Call the hospital and see what they say. There’s no harm in doing so, and the nurses are very accustomed to fielding calls from nervous mamas-to-be, often for things much less worrisome than a case of food poisoning. Don’t feel silly. Just remember that they, too, would rather have your baby be safe than put at unnecessary risk!
The worst part for me came that first morning, when I realized that all of the vomiting, and what seemed like never-ending diarrhea, had caused me to become really dehydrated (despite my constant drinking of water). I knew I was dehydrated because I started having regular contractions and some fairly painful back labor. No matter how much water I drank, though, it wouldn’t stay in my body long enough to make a difference. And the contractions were getting worse.
I started timing them, and they were about 2 to 3 minutes apart. I recall thinking to myself, “But I’m only 33 weeks… THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!” I was freaking out that my body was going into preterm labor, so I gave the labor and delivery ward a ring and asked what I should do. They suggested that I come in right away. So my husband and I grabbed our stuff and off to the hospital we went, hoping to the highest god that we were NOT going to have a baby that day.
3.) Don’t try to “tough it out” on your own, as there could be risks to baby.
The longer you wait, the longer your baby could possibly be at risk, especially if you’re early on in your pregnancy. The biggest concern with having food poisoning during pregnancy is the type of pathogen you have (listeria being a serious contender that can actually cross the placenta!). However, dehydration also triggers contractions, which are obviously not good to be having unless you’re full-term (at least 37 weeks). And if you happen to spike a fever, that can also be super dangerous for baby! So again, call your doctor right away and let them know what’s happening. If they suggest going into the hospital, then DO SO!
I know that going to the hospital was the best choice I made, not just for myself, but also for my unborn little girl.
By the time I arrived in the labor and delivery triage ward, my contractions were coming every 2 to 3 minutes (“a great pattern… if you’re 40 weeks”, said the nurse who was monitoring me) and my lower back was positively killing me. Despite all of this drama, my cervix had somehow not dilated or effaced. But my bloodwork showed that I was severely dehydrated, which concerned the doctors. The first IV bag did nothing to slow down my contractions, so they ended up giving me a shot of terbutaline in my arm as a last-resort means of stopping them. Unfortunately, this only slowed them down to about 5 to 7 minutes apart. Then I began to run a fever. So they ended up keeping me overnight and giving me yet another “banana bag” of IV fluids and electrolytes. I was also given a whole concoction of other pills and meds shot into my IV line in order to help kill my fever and prevent any further nausea or diarrhea.
All while this was happening, my baby was hooked up to the monitors, too. And fortunately, the doctors and nurses kept updating me throughout the day and night that she seemed blissfully unaffected by everything that was going on. This was music to my ears! But had I not gone into the hospital to be re-hydrated and have my contractions stopped, who knows if that would have been the case. I shudder to think what could have happened otherwise. (Side note: they never did figure out exactly what had made me sick… they just chalked it up to a “stomach virus”.)
4.) Go easy on your body in the first days of recovery.
Don’t try to be superwoman. Your body (and baby!) have just been through a lot, and it needs time to recuperate so that it can continue to nourish your baby until he or she is ready to be born. Drink lots of fluids, and go on the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) for a few days to help keep your tummy at bay. Slowly work your way back up to normal foods when your stomach feels ready… no need to rush it. Just rest if that’s what your body is telling you to do. And if you are a working mom-to-be, then definitely call out sick for at least 2 to 3 days before going back in. Seriously.
This happened to me on a Saturday night, so I spent all day Sunday and some of Monday morning in the hospital. I’m a teacher, so I had to call out sick on Monday. I rested as much as I could the rest of the day, and then figured I would go back to work the next day and just take things slow. Boy, was I WRONG. Work was nearly impossible, and by the end of the night after I was back home, my contractions started coming back. This time they weren’t painful, but they were started happening every 5 minutes again, so I called the labor ward and was advised to come back in… juuuuust to be sure things were still okay.
Fortunately, there was still no dilation or effacement of my cervix, so they felt comfortable enough sending me home for the night. The doctor suggested that I take some time off work, and continue to drink lots of fluids and rest. So I ended up calling out sick the next two days and doing exactly that. Work was not more important than the health of my baby.
Fortunately, this finally did the trick. But it did take the whole week for me to begin finally feeling back to my normal (well, pregnant-normal) self again. So do yourself a favor, and give it time!
If you’ve ever had food poisoning during a pregnancy, then please share your experience in the comments below! How far along were you? How did you deal with it?