Cheese is everywhere, in the yummiest of foods. In fact, I can't think of one dish that contains cheese and is not delicious. If you are an expecting mother, I am pretty sure your cravings are uncontrollable right now, and you just can't stop yourself from eating either a cheesecake, pizza, macaroni, dips, lasagna, burgers, or salads with a ton of cheese sauces and everything else you can put cheese on. But, there are so many precautions regarding food that must be taken during pregnancy. Cheese is derived from the coagulation of proteins and fats present in milk through fermentation. This means that it obviously contains bacteria. So, is it good to eat cheese during pregnancy? Are the bacteria found in cheese harmful for your baby's health? Well, generally, hard cheese is safer than soft cheese as pasteurization kills pathogens that could harm the fetus. Also, the question of safety largely depends on the cheese you are eating because there are so many types of cheese.

Eating Cheese During Pregnancy

While eating cheese during pregnancy, you need to ensure that the cheese is made of pasteurized milk and not raw milk! This is because raw milk contains a harmful bacteria, called Listeria monocytogenes, that can cause several diseases, especially to the fetus, by passing through the placenta. This is more likely in case of soft cheese, as they are made of raw milk, making them less acidic. Also, they have more moisture than hard cheese, which makes them the perfect breeding ground for Listeria and other bacteria. However, these bacteria are generally killed during the process of pasteurization making cheese made from pasteurized milk safe to consume. I must point out that, only 1,600 Americans are victimized by this bacteria found in unpasteurized dairy products, every year. Listeria is known to be responsible for blood poisoning and deadly infections like listeriosis, meningitis and several flu symptoms. Unfortunately, pregnant women are at a higher risk of the ill effects of Listeria because the body's defense mechanism becomes more vulnerable. They may suffer from nausea, vomiting and muscle aches. These symptoms develop within 2 to 30 days of ingestion of Listeria. According to statistics, pregnant women have 20 times higher chance of suffering from listeriosis. Nonetheless, it is detrimental to your baby's health and can even lead to birth complications like preterm labor, stillbirth or a miscarriage, though it may not be fatal to your health. Did you know? 22 in 100 cases of listeriosis in pregnant women result in death of the baby. So, avoid soft cheese during pregnancy like
  • Camembert
  • Brie
  • Cambozola
  • All kinds of goat cheese or chèvre that is mold-ripened like feta cheese, castelo branco
  • All types of blue-veined cheese like Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Danish blue
  • White Mexican-style cheese like queso fresco, blanco, panela
Please note that, imported cheese are more likely to be made of raw milk. Do not buy them unless they mention otherwise. Although, you cannot always be a 100% sure that there is no Listeria in your cheese, pasteurization can minimize the possibility and thus, hard cheese is recommended over soft cheese during pregnancy. Cheddar cheese, Gouda, Edam, Parmesan and Swiss cheese are good choices to satisfy your craving for cheese during pregnancy. Apart from Listeria, soft cheese may also contain another bacteria called Escherichia coli. This can cause serious illnesses in both the mother and the baby, like diarrhea, food poisoning, fever and meningitis. Other great substitutes for soft cheese during pregnancy are cottage cheese, mozzarella and cream cheese.

What You Should Do?

I'd suggest that to protect your unborn baby from such harmful bacteria, avoid eating food containing cheese from outside and switch to foods cooked at home. Ensure that you cook and steam the cheese well, at a high heating point, so that such harmful disease-causing agents are killed during the process and pose a lesser threat. Deep-fry your cheese or bake it well! Another point to be noted about American cheese is that they contain trans fats which have been linked to childhood food allergies towards dairy products, if consumed by pregnant mothers. Beware of words like 'hydrogenated' and 'partially hydrogenated' on the label.

Lucky you, the cheese sold in the United States is mostly made of pasteurized milk. Not just cheese, but all kinds of dairy products, that are made from unpasteurized milk, are risky to consume during pregnancy. So, next time when you go to the farmer's market to buy some cheese to satisfy your cravings, do check the label for ingredients or ask the vendor. When in doubt, its best not to buy that cheese, instead of exposing your baby to harmful bacteria. Cheese is healthy for your body and helps fulfill your body's need for extra calcium during pregnancy.