Pregnant women need to watch their dietary intake more carefully than they might have before getting pregnant. Anything you ingest has the potential to affect your baby. Steak, which is a good source of iron and protein, is perfectly safe to eat during pregnancy as long as you cook it properly. Undercooked, rare or raw meat can contain bacteria or parasites that can sicken you or your baby.
Undercooked meat can contain bacteria that cause salmonella, listeria or Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that can cause toxoplasmosis. Because a pregnant woman's immune system doesn't function as efficiently as a non-pregnant woman's, to protect the fetus from being rejected as a foreign substance, infections may be more serious during pregnancy. Listeria monocytogenes, for example, occurs more frequently in pregnant women than in the general public; 27 percent of all cases occur in pregnant women, according to the American Pregnancy Association, with pregnant women 20 times more likely to contract the infection than the general public.
Different types of infections that can come from undercooked steak pose different risks for pregnant women. Salmonella may make you sick but usually doesn't harm the fetus, although a type of Salmonella rare in the United States, called S. Typhi, may increase your risk of miscarriage, preterm labor or stillbirth. Listeria can cause miscarriage, preterm delivery or infection of the newborn. In 22 percent of cases, listeria causes stillbirth or neonatal death, the APA reports. Toxoplasmosis, which can also cause pregnancy loss, is more likely to infect your baby if you contract it later in pregnancy; 60 percent of fetuses exposed in the third trimester have congenital toxoplasmosis compared to 30 percent in the second trimester and 15 percent in the first trimester.
Toxoplasmosis can have long-term effects if your baby develops the infection during pregnancy. Neurological defects such as developmental delay, mental deficiencies, cerebral palsy, visual or hearing problems or epilepsy can develop. At birth, a baby with congenital toxoplasmosis may have liver problems, an enlarged spleen, or heart or lung infections.
Most bacteria and other substances that can cause illness from foods can be killed by thorough cooking. Juices should run clear, not pink or red, when cooking steak. Use a meat thermometer when cooking meat to ensure the internal temperature reaches 160 F., BabyCentre recommends. Also wash any surfaces contaminated with juices from uncooked steak thoroughly with hot, soapy water to avoid contaminating other foods.
- Colorado State University Extension; Food Safety During Pregnancy; J. Dean, et al.; December 2006
- Baby Center; Toxoplasmosis During Pregnancy; June 2009
- American Pregnancy Association; Listeria and Pregnancy; October 2008
- Baby Centre UK; Is it Safe to Eat Rare or Raw Meat During Pregnancy?; December 2010