The Dangers of Raw Milk for Pregnant Women and Children

It's essential to avoid the consumption of raw milk in the case of pregnant women, as this could put the health of the fetus at risk.
The Dangers of Raw Milk for Pregnant Women and Children
Saúl Sánchez Arias

Reviewed and approved by the nutritionist Saúl Sánchez Arias.

Last update: 16 December, 2022

During pregnancy, extreme precautions must be taken with the diet to avoid intoxications that could affect the health of the fetus. One of the foods that has been put under the spotlight is raw milk, as it could contain bacteria that are pathogenic for humans. In fact, the FDA prohibits the interstate sale and distribution of raw milk, however, you can buy it locally in certain states.

It’s important to point out that bacteria that are not pathogenic or harmful to the mother, but to the fetus developing inside her, could be introduced into the body by means of the mother’s diet. Some of them increase the risk of miscarriage or malformations.

The benefits of raw milk

Cow’s milk is a food characterized by its high nutritional density. It provides proteins of high biological value with all the essential amino acids and a good digestibility score. It also contains essential micronutrients such as calcium, which has been shown to improve bone health in the medium and long term.

However, it should be noted that most of the milk that can be purchased in a supermarket undergoes a prior sterilization process. It’s subjected to high temperatures for a certain period of time to eliminate the presence of pathogens that can affect human health.

Proponents of raw milk claim that avoiding the application of such aggressive temperatures could prevent losses of essential nutrients. However, scientific evidence has not confirmed this. After all, raw milk has to be boiled at home prior to consumption and has to be kept cold.

A pregnant woman holding a glass of milk.

The risks of raw milk consumption

There are several risks associated with raw milk consumption. Avoiding sterilization processes means that the food may contain pathogenic bacteria such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli or E. coli, Campylobacter, or Listeria. The ingestion of any of these microorganisms could cause serious food poisoning, especially in the case of pregnant women, where the health of the fetus is put at risk.

It’s important to emphasize that both milking and handling of raw milk must be carried out following hygienic measures. The animals must be subjected to veterinary control. However, this isn’t enough to completely avoid the presence of these microorganisms in the food, which could negatively affect the functioning of the body.

Raw milk shouldn’t be consumed during pregnancy

Of all the bacteria mentioned above and present in raw milk, the most worrying for pregnant women is the one that causes listeriosis. During pregnancy, the susceptibility to Listeria infection increases, so products that may contain Listeria in the diet should be avoided. If the bacteria contaminate the body, miscarriage is very likely to occur.

According to a study publishe d in th e journal mBIo, the bacteria can also cause the fetus to be born with significant neurological disorders. Therefore, the risk isn’t only related to premature delivery or miscarriage, but also to alterations in the baby’s normal physiology.

It should be noted that Listeria is a microorganism with an excellent capacity for adaptation. It tolerates heat and cold well. To destroy it, it’s crucial to raise the temperature of the milk above 122 degrees. For this reason, only pasteurization and sterilization are effective methods to eliminate the risks.

Two small children drinking milk.

Raw milk can’t be consumed during pregnancy

As you’ve seen, raw milk shouldn’t be consumed during pregnancy, as the risk of a microorganism endangering the health of the fetus is high. This food is also not suitable for children under 5 years of age, as the immune system isn’t yet fully mature and may not be able to fight against the presence of certain bacteria.

Remember that it’s essential to take care of your diet during pregnancy, including in your diet cooked foods that have passed the relevant quality controls. If you don’t know for sure if something can or can’t be eaten during pregnancy, it’s best to avoid it until you consult a specialist.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Vannucci, L., Fossi, C., Quattrini, S., Guasti, L., Pampaloni, B., Gronchi, G., Giusti, F., Romagnoli, C., Cianferotti, L., Marcucci, G., & Brandi, M. L. (2018). Calcium Intake in Bone Health: A Focus on Calcium-Rich Mineral Waters. Nutrients10(12), 1930.
  • Vázquez-Boland, J. A., Krypotou, E., & Scortti, M. (2017). Listeria Placental Infection. mBio8(3), e00949-17.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.