When you’re pregnant, it’s best to eat cheese made from pasteurized milk. As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains, “pasteurization kills harmful organisms responsible for such diseases as listeriosis, typhoid fever, tuberculosis, diphtheria and brucellosis.” The harmful bacteria in raw milk can be especially dangerous to pregnant women and babies. Therefore, when pregnant, it’s best to avoid any cheese made from unpasteurized milk.
Soft cheeses like brie, feta and blue cheese are more likely than hard cheeses to come from unpasteurized milk. Rest assured, though, if you like soft cheeses, there are plenty of pasteurized options available. Most cheeses sold in the U.S. are pasteurized, but many are not, so it’s important to check the labels.
If a cheese says Made from Pasteurized Milk, then enjoy! If, however, you see the words Raw Milk or Unpasteurized, avoid that cheese while you’re pregnant. Also be careful at farmer’s markets and farm stands — if the label doesn’t say Pasteurized, then don’t buy it. If you’re unsure and can’t find a reliable source to ask, don’t risk it.
Many imported and gourmet cheeses available at cheese shops and specialty markets are unpasteurized and should not be eaten during pregnancy. These include Roquefort, a blue cheese made from raw sheep’s milk; Camembert, a creamy cheese made from raw cow’s milk; and Crottin de Chvignol, made from raw goat’s milk. Unfortunately, all these mouth-watering cheeses must be saved for after pregnancy.
It’s also important to think about cheese when dining in a restaurant, buying take-out food or attending parties. Is that delicious salad tossed with a crumbled unpasteurized blue cheese? Does that yummy Greek pizza have unpasteurized goat cheese? Don’t hesitate to ask your server about the restaurant’s cheeses. If you’re at a party and offered a tempting brie, ask the host if you can see the wrapper so you can check the label. It may feel silly, but it’s well worth it for the health of you and your baby.
In addition to the general dangers of eating unpasteurized cheeses, the bacteria Listeria poses a heightened risk to pregnant women. Listeria, which may be present in raw milk, can cause miscarriage or illness to the baby. Even if a pregnant woman does not feel sick, there may still be harm to her baby.
Pregnancy is supposed to be a fun time to eat whatever you want — how can you deny the power of a pregnant woman’s craving, even if it is for pickles and ice cream at 2:00 a.m. in the morning. But if that craving is for cheese, limit your cheese options to hard cheeses, like cheddar, and pasteurized soft cheeses, like pasteurized brie.