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How to Protect Your Unborn Baby from Infection

Along with being the last full month of (a very long) winter, February is also prenatal infection prevention month. In honor of this important health observance, let’s take a look at some of the rare issues mothers and babies can potentially run into and how to avoid them.

In the womb, babies are pretty well protected. There’s very little that can happen to them, but they are pretty much helpless against anything that does manage to get there. They’re so tiny and cute and helpless, and even more so before birth. Which is why we, as mothers, tend to be a bit overzealous about protecting them. So just in case you’re wondering, let’s look at a few things that can happen, but probably won’t.

Parvovirus

Parvovirus is more commonly known as fifth disease or slapped cheek disease, and no, it doesn’t come from slapping cheeks. Usually, that’s all an adult will get from parvovirus — red cheeks and maybe a mild rash on the arms. Even most pregnant women won’t experience any major complications.

However, what the disease actually does is halt the production of new red blood cells for a short amount of time. In healthy adults and children, this usually isn’t a problem, and most people don’t even notice it. But for a very small percentage of pregnant women, their unborn babies can suffer some complications, such as severe anemia or miscarriage. This only happens in about 5% of all cases of parvovirus, so no one freak out! It probably won’t happen.

You can prevent fifth disease in your child the same way you avoid getting the common cold – wash your hands often with antibacterial soap, don’t touch your mouth, nose, or eyes without washing your hands, and avoid contact with people who are sick.

Listeriosis

Listeriosis comes from listeria, which comes from a bunch of different places. Where are you most likely to get it? Food! So, that’s pretty unpleasant. I specifically remember my doctor telling me he didn’t want to tell me not to eat lunch meat on my sandwiches, but I still really shouldn’t, just in case. That’s thanks to listeria.

This is a form of food-borne illness that most adults won’t even realize they have. It doesn’t really affect us, what with our functional immune systems and extra resources (it’s not fat, it’s extra resources). Unfortunately, you can pass listeriosis onto your baby even if you aren’t showing symptoms yourself. Since some of the side effects are things like stillbirth, miscarriage and premature labor, try to avoid it.

The best ways to avoid this is with some pretty basic food safety and a few extras. Eat all of your meats well done — no more medium rare steaks. Also, deli meats are safe, so long as they’re heated to steaming before consumption. Also avoid soft cheese like Brie, any blue-veined cheese, or Mexican-style cheese unless they clearly state that they’re pasteurized.

PROM (or pPROM)

PROM stands for Premature Rupture of Membranes, which is a pretty accurate description of what happens. Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes is pPROM. Basically, it’s when your amniotic sack breaks before you have any other signs of labor, including contractions. That sack is the main thing keeping you and your baby safe from germs, so once it ruptures, doctors want that baby out, and soon. At most, you’ll get 24 hours from rupture to have the child once the diagnosis is confirmed.

PROM and pPROM both set you and your baby up to be at risk. Of course, if you have pPROM, it’s also highly likely that you’ll have a preterm baby as well, which is the most common side effect. Infections are also common, but the use of antibiotics both intravenously and immediately following birth greatly reduces the chances of major complications arising from the infections.

The weird thing is, not everyone knows right away when they have a rupture, especially one that’s preterm. True, many times it will be very hard to ignore, but occasionally you don’t feel it or have a big gush to alert you. If you think you need help to diagnose a premature rupture of membranes, nothing beats a doctor’s opinion. Call them ASAP!

Toxoplasmosis

This, this thing right here, is why you don’t change the litter box when you’re pregnant. It isn’t some made-up thing to get pregnant mamas out of bending over, as my brother-in-law claimed. Here’s the thing, though — it isn’t just in litter boxes. The reason that’s the focus is because it’s where you’re most likely to pick it up, but this sneaky little bugger is hiding all over.

If you have already been infected, then congratulations! You’re immune, so your baby probably will be too. If you haven’t, or you aren’t sure, then take a break from litter box changes for a while. Having your baby infected with toxoplasmosis can lead to some serious complications, such as blindness, mental disabilities, and brain damage.

Toxoplasmosis comes from rodents, which cats presumably eat, thereby infecting their poop. Gross. However, if you have a cat, or live near people, or don’t live near people, there’s still a good chance that a cat might relieve itself in your yard, which means if you’re gardening, you should probably wear gloves.

There are, of course, other infections your baby can get. However, most of avoiding those, and these, is common sense and making something of an effort. Babies can’t be too susceptible to severe damage or we never would have made it this far as a species. Just remember, cook your food thoroughly, wash your hands frequently, and call your doctor any time you think something funny might be going on.

Adrienne Erin is a freelance writer passionate about healthy living, fitness, and good food. You can follow her tweets at @foodierx or visit her blog, Foodie Fitness, to see more of her work.

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