Can I Drink Eggnog While Pregnant?

Staying Merry With Eggnog During Your Pregnancy

With the arrival of the holiday season, you might be looking forward to drinking eggnog. For many people, enjoying the frothy drink, traditionally made with eggs, sugar, milk or cream, and alcohol, with friends and family is an essential part of the holidays. However, if you're pregnant, you need to exercise caution when drinking eggnog. That's because eggnog that contains eggs and alcohol, as well as eggnog lattes, may pose a danger to your and your baby's health. Thankfully, you don't necessarily need to give up eggnog just because you're expecting. A number of steps minimize the health risks from eggnog.

The Dangers of Eggnog During Pregnancy

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A major risk of drinking eggnog during pregnancy is getting infected with salmonella. Salmonella causes unpleasant side effects, including diarrhea, vomiting, fever, chills, muscle pain, headaches, nausea, dehydration and bloody stools. If that's not bad enough, salmonella can even be life-threatening for a pregnant woman and her fetus, because it can make them both susceptible to meningitis. You can get infected with salmonella bacteria by consuming eggs that are infected with it. Raw and undercooked eggs, and products made from raw and undercooked eggs, are one of the most common foods that contain salmonella. Traditionally, eggnog is made with raw eggs.

Along with raw eggs, eggnog can contain alcohol. Typically, the alcohol is a strong alcohol, such as bourbon, brandy and rum or a mixture of them. During pregnancy, alcohol can pass through your placenta to your baby. Excessive drinking can lead to your baby developing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), which can cause physical, mental and neurobehavioral birth defects that last a lifetime. The chances of your baby developing FASD increases the more you drink. Just how much is too much? The American Pregnancy Association cautions that since the amount of alcohol consumption that's safe to consume during pregnancy is unknown, the organization regards any amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy as unsafe.

Also, be aware that just because an eggnog contains alcohol, it doesn't mean that it's automatically safe from salmonella. Contrary to what some people believe, if a drink has been made from contaminated unpasteurized eggs, alcohol is not likely to kill all of the bacteria.

Drinking Eggnog Lattes During Pregnancy

Also be wary of drinking eggnog latte during pregnancy, which is eggnog made with coffee, typically espresso. Women are advised to limit the amount of caffeine, which coffee contains, that they drink during pregnancy because caffeine is both a stimulant and diuretic. This means that caffeine increases your blood pressure and heart rate, both of which are not good during pregnancy, and can lead to dehydration. Caffeine also crosses your placenta to your baby during pregnancy. Since your unborn baby's metabolism is still developing, her body cannot fully break down caffeine.

According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), any amount of caffeine can disrupt your baby's normal sleep and movement pattern while in the womb. Many studies on animals have also shown that caffeine causes birth defects, premature labor, preterm delivery and an increased risk of a low-birth weight baby. While some debate surrounds how much caffeine is too much for a pregnant woman to consume, the March of Dimes states that pregnant women should limit caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams per day, which is equal to about one 12-ounce cup of coffee. The APA reports that moderate levels of caffeine consumption during pregnancy, defined as anywhere from 150 to 300 milligrams a day, have not resulted in negative effects.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), one ounce of espresso has around 63 milligrams of caffeine. In coffee shops, one ounce of espresso typically means a shot of espresso. So, when ordering an eggnog latte from a shop, ask the barista how many shots of espresso are in it. For some coffee chains, you also may find caffeine values for their drinks online via their websites.

Choosing a Safe Eggnog During Pregnancy

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If you choose to drink eggnog, at least make sure it was made with pasteurized eggs and is non-alcoholic; plus, limit the amount of eggnog lattes that you drink. During pasteurization, the eggs are heated at a low temperature to destroy any salmonella bacteria that might be present. Eggnog sold commercially in retail stores are made with pasteurized eggs. In restaurants and before accepting homemade eggnog from friends and family, ask if it was made with pasteurized eggs.

If you're making your own eggnog using eggs from the grocery store, check the carton to see if the eggs are pasteurized. If you buy eggs at a farmer's market, ask if the eggs are chilled at the market and if the eggs have been pasteurized. Refrigerate the eggs immediately when you get home and keep them there until right before you use them.

Be aware, however, that the Food and Drug Administration and the USDA recommends that for the best protection against a food-borne illness, you should drink eggnog that was not only made from pasteurized eggs, but that was made with a cooked egg base.

Making Your Own Eggnog During Pregnancy

When making eggnog from a recipe, try to find a cooked egg version. Don't fret if you can't find one, though, because you can easily make a cooked egg base to go with any recipe. To do this, first combine the eggs and half of the milk called for in your favorite eggnog recipe. Next, add any other ingredients that you want in the eggnog, such as sugar, to the mix. Set the mixture on the stove and gently heat it until it reaches a temperature of 160 degrees F, while stirring constantly. At this temperature, any salmonella bacteria present will be killed. Check the temperature by inserting a clean food thermometer into the mixture; it should coat a metal spoon. After it's finished cooking, take the mixture off the stove and put it in the refrigerator to chill. Then add in any other ingredients called for in the recipe.

Eggnog Alternatives

If you don't want to risk the chance of getting ill and harming your baby, but don't want to forgo the tradition of drinking eggnog over the holidays, consider buying an alternative eggnog drink. Today, several commercial eggnog drinks are available that don't contain any eggs, alcohol or caffeine. Some also contain no cow's milk, which is an added benefit if you're vegan or want to share it with people who are. You can usually find these alternative eggnog drinks in health food stores and well-stocked grocery stores. If you can't find a store near you that carries an alternative eggnog drink, try ordering it online and having it delivered.

When to See a Doctor

If you suspect that you have become ill from drinking eggnog, contact your doctor immediately to ensure your safety and that of your unborn baby. Treatment for a salmonella infection may mean taking antibiotics and/or getting intravenous fluids if you're severely dehydrated. Also contact your doctor if you feel as if you need help with your alcohol and/or caffeine intake during pregnancy.