When I was first introduced to the benefits of raw milk nearly 20 years ago, I was newly pregnant with my second child. While I wanted to reap the benefits of this nutrient dense food, I was initially cautious to begin consuming it for fear it might harm my baby.
Everywhere I turned for research and information about the safety of raw milk during pregnancy was negative.
Numerous citations and sources I reviewed warned against consuming raw milk during pregnancy due to the risk of infection with Listeria monocytogenes, a deadly pathogen that can cause fetal death or premature birth.
While the research I uncovered contained dire warnings about infection with Listeria during pregnancy, I couldn’t actually find documentation about anyone who had actually contracted it from drinking raw milk let alone died or miscarried from it!
After much reading and thought, I concluded that the warnings against raw milk were unwarranted and the nutritional benefits to myself and my child vastly outweighed any risk.
I began to consume raw milk along with aged raw cheese, raw cream and raw butter late in the first trimester of my second pregnancy. I continued this practice throughout my second and third pregnancy with no ill effects. Both children were born healthy, full term and a normal weight.
Why Does the FDA Warn Against Raw Milk During Pregnancy?
In the 12 years since I began consuming raw milk while newly pregnant, the nonexistence of infection with Listeria monocytogenes for raw milk drinkers has continued. Analysis of Centers for Disease Control data on raw milk outbreaks listed no cases whatsoever of food-borne illness from raw milk caused by Listeria during the entire 13 year period from 1993-2005.
On the other hand, there have been hundreds of illnesses from Listeria contracted from eating deli meats according to a 2003 USDA/FDA report.
In addition, 147 people across 28 states contracted listeriosis in 2011 from cantaloupes. 33 people died as a result of this outbreak and 1 pregnant woman miscarried.
Even pasteurized milk and cheese carries the very real risk of listeriosis. From 1998-2012, there were 50 illnesses and 10 deaths (1 fetus) from Listeria contracted from consuming pasteurized milk and cheese in the United States.
Are formal warnings issued to pregnant women regarding the dangers of eating deli meats, pasteurized milk and cheese or cantaloupes while pregnant?
The FDA clearly has a double standard when it warns against consumption of raw milk during pregnancy when no cases or deaths of listeriosis are recorded and yet many have occurred for other foods.
The Dairy That Should be Avoided During Pregnancy
A very real risk of Listeria during pregnancy comes from soft, unaged cheese – both raw and pasteurized.
In Europe, there were 4 deaths from pasteurized soft cheese in 2009. There have also been a number of illnesses and miscarriages from Mexican style cheese made from raw milk including a few in my home state of Florida. This cheese is sometimes referred to as “bathtub cheese”.
If you are pregnant, it is wise to avoid soft, unaged cheeses of all kinds due to the very real risk of Listeria. However, grassfed, raw milk is safe as are aged raw cheeses, raw cream, and raw butter.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Those Pathogens, What You Should Know
Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to Whole Cantaloupes
The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care
Outbreaks from Foodborne Pathogens in Milk and Cheeses Sold as Pasteurized, United States, 1998-present
Zero Deaths from Raw Milk, Health Impact News
Government Data Proves Raw Milk is Safe
Thank you thank you so much.. I’m 6 weeks pregnant and without knowing I consumed raw milk for 2 weeks.. and now I’m freaking out reading all the posts that say it’s harmful for the baby.. I’m scheduled for my first scan in 2 weeks and I’m so anxious.. this waiting period is so difficult and reading all these negative posts is having a great impact on me.. I hope my baby is doing fine..
Sarah Pope MGA
I drank raw milk throughout my pregnancies … start to finish! My children are now 22, 18 and 15 and very healthy. They all drank raw milk growing up too.
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1993 through 2012, there were 127 outbreaks linked to raw milk or raw milk products like ice cream, soft cheese, or yogurt. They resulted in 1,909 illnesses and 144 hospitalizations.”
Sarah Pope MGA
You hit the nail on the head. ZERO deaths for raw milk. Compare that to…. canteloupes, bagged lettuce, deli meats, commercial baby formula and numerous other supposedly “safe” foods which have killed HUNDREDS in the same time period.
One data point means nothing unless you apply some critical thinking to the process 🙂
Thanks so much for this! I just became pregnant, and I was googling the answer to this question, and when your website came up, I jumped for joy because I already frequent your blog! I knew I could trust your answer! I didn’t drink raw milk during my other pregnancies, and I haven’t been pregnant for nearly four years, so I had some new things to learn. Of course, drinking raw milk is on the big list of No-Nos in all the pregnancy lists. I, too, appreciate the benefits of raw milk, and your stamp of approval is good enough for me! Thank you!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I appreciate your help! 🙂
I have a question and any insight that you can provide is greatly appreciated! The dairy farm we usually purchase our raw milk from sent a notice this week that a recent sample of their raw milk that they tested came back positive for Listeria DNA. While they don’t know what strain of Listeria was present, they indicated that there are multiple strains of Listeria and that only a few are dangerous. They also indicated that they believe the Listeria in the raw milk is due to possible breaches in their equipment or sanitation program (e.g., milking the cows dirty or “bio-film”). They said that the state department is assisting them by trying to help them identify which strain of Listeria is present in the sample tested and if it was alive and present in the milk or dead. My question is, I have a batch of this raw milk and, knowing this information, would it be safe to provide it to my 12-month old to consume? If not, is there a way that I can provide it to my infant to make it safe while also maintaining as much as of its nutrients as possible (e.g., low-temp pasteurizing on my stove-top?)?
Sarah Pope MGA
I would recommend using grassbased kefir or yogurt instead. If the milk is contaminated, it won’t ferment, so this way you’ll know it’s safe.
Elena, my best judgment would be the doft cheese is fine. I make cheeses like that, those cheeses are usually farmers cheese (pot cheese) which are heated to almost a broil abd strained. If its made fresh, nothing should have grown. I think listeria in itself is rare, but I do understand doft cheese is a culprit. Im glad to know florida sells raw milk now for human consumption, I thought they only sold it for pets,
I found this article very interesting. Upon receiving fertility treatment, I wasvtold to avoid raw milk and I happen to love raw milk. Instead, I temporarly bought fresh pastarized milk and used raw milk only to cook. I did know hard sged cheese made with raw milk was safe. Most are heated to a high temp, i believe and the aging process kilks pathogens. I did not give up of soft cheeses. I amvaware of the issue but i was xarefu
Ly of where i bought my cheess. Ittook me three cycles to get a possitive, but thst was due to genes not diet. Now I am in the critical scary point, the begining, whrn things are fragile. So far I have been sucessful just having mild concerns that the drs are working on (but u dont want to hear about that, besides these are not issuesbof diet, although getting sick would complicate things more) but once I am past the danfer point, I will go back to drinking raw milk but onlynfrom the same place I always get it. I use most of my milk to make yogurt, so its heated to 180. I make a mean raw milk butter which is so good I normally reservevit for cooking. I will say, pregnacy in general is scary, and these days anxiety is hightened by nurses well intentioned but often overly conservative and sometimes flawed thinking (not always. I respect nurses knowlege and they do want a good outcome. But they often go by these fkawed fda standards as their trained). But hearing advice from another perspective is ofren helpful and puts my mind at ease. I am scared enough as it is.
Just today I purchased a local Florida raw milk along with raw kind of a cottage cheese, soft cheese in the plastic container. I am 4 month pregnant and just wondering is it safe to consume this kind of cheese.
Thanks for the article. Pregnant and picking my raw milk in a few hours! The only thing I would change is that they very much do warn against deli meats if pregnant.
I would just like to say me and my family have been safely drinking raw milk for over 4 years. Never get sick and rarely get colds, most of the time its just the sniffles that never turns into a full blown cold. We also exercise well and eat mostly organic. Stay away from immunizations,flouride,gmo,prescription drugs,fast food,non organic meats,chlorine,sunscrean/block, mercury in any and every form they try and hopefully we will live a long healthy happy life. That is just the tip of the iceburg and I will teach my newborn these things that are completely necessary today.