Can I Eat Feta Cheese While Pregnant?

Pregnant woman shopping for cheese

d3sign / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Whether you are craving a greek salad topped with feta cheese or grilled vegetables with melted feta, you are probably wondering if you can indulge your cravings, especially if you are a cheese lover. You may have even heard that soft cheeses, including feta, are not safe during pregnancy.

But, it all depends on how the cheese is processed. If the feta cheese you select has been pasteurized, then it is generally safe to eat during pregnancy. In fact, eating feta can be a delicious way to get some of the key nutrients you need while you are pregnant. You should avoid unpasteurized cheeses, though.

"Feta cheese made from unpasteurized sheep or goat milk may be contaminated with bacteria that can not only make you sick but also can cause miscarriage," explains Bruce K. Young, MD, an internationally known leader and innovator with a 40-year career in obstetrics and gynecology.

Eating Feta Cheese During Pregnancy

As soon as you see a positive pregnancy test, you may start to wonder which cheeses are off-limits for the next 9 months. After all, some foods need to be avoided when you are expecting because they pose certain risks to you or your baby.

Overall, when it comes to soft cheeses like feta, you should avoid eating any spreadable cheese that is not pasteurized. Feta cheese made from pasteurized milk is safe to eat, though.

"[Avoiding unpasteurized feta] is recommended due to the risk of a bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes, which can be harmful to your unborn baby," explains Kristie Leigh, RDN, a registered dietitian and senior manager of scientific affairs at Danone North America with close to 15 years of experience in the food, beverage, and supplement industries.

Listeria food poisoning, or listeriosis, is preventable in part by avoiding raw animal products. Traditionally, soft cheeses are made from raw milk, but pasteurizing the milk will remove the listeria risk. The pasteurization process, which involves heating followed by quick cooling, will kill listeria and other bacteria.

Fortunately, most fresh, soft cheeses in the dairy case are pasteurized, but it is important to always double-check the label. If the label is unclear or you have doubts, choose something else, including hard cheeses like cheddar and parmesan, or other dairy products like milk and yogurt. 

"Read labels carefully and avoid feta or other soft cheeses, including goat, brie, camembert, ricotta, and blue cheese, made from raw, unpasteurized milk," Leigh advises.

Every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about eating feta cheese while pregnant.

Is It Safe for Baby?

Only pasteurized feta is safe for you and your developing baby. As mentioned earlier, eating feta made with raw, unpasteurized milk puts you at risk of becoming infected with listeria. Though rare, listeria can have serious consequences for an unborn child.

This infection may cause miscarriage, especially during the early part of pregnancy. It can also lead to premature labor, low birth weight, infant death, or serious developmental problems.

Benefits of Feta Cheese During Pregnancy

Cheese is one of the most common pregnancy cravings, presumably because it offers so many important benefits. In fact, there are a number of notable health benefits to eating cheese including the calcium, protein, and even the vitamin D it provides. Here's a closer look at these benefits.

Calcium

Calcium is one of the most important nutrients you need during pregnancy, for both you and your baby. One of the key roles of calcium is helping to build strong bones and teeth.

During pregnancy, your baby will take what they need when growing and developing, so you want to make sure you have enough to keep your own bones healthy, too. Keep in mind, your body cannot make its own calcium so it is necessary to consume foods rich in it, such as feta cheese and other dairy products.

"[Make sure] you’re consuming adequate amounts of dairy foods—three servings a day—which are essential for your baby’s developing bones and healthy growth," notes Leigh.

Protein

Getting enough protein during pregnancy helps support fetal growth and brain development. Protein is also essential for your necessary tissue growth and blood volume expansion.

Feta can be a good source of protein with 1 ounce containing about 4 grams of protein. During pregnancy, you need about 60 grams of protein per day, so try to eat meals with some meat, tofu, eggs, or beans in order to hit that target.

Vitamin D

Eating feta cheese is a good way to get some of the vitamin D you need while you are pregnant. Vitamin D is essential for proper fetal development.

In fact, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a host of problems for both moms and babies. The most notable issues include preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, preterm labor, low birth weight, and childhood asthma.

Check with your healthcare provider about how much vitamin D you need. The recommendation is generally 400-600 IU, usually taken in your prenatal vitamin. If you are extremely deficient in vitamin D, your doctor may prescribe that you take more.

Safety Precautions

If you are pregnant, you should avoid soft cheeses that haven't been pasteurized. Consuming raw animal products always puts you at risk for listeriosis, an infection that can be dangerous or even deadly for your unborn baby.

If you get listeriosis, you may suffer from chills, confusion, diarrhea, fever, headache, muscle aches, or even loss of balance. In some cases, you may not experience any symptoms at all. When this happens, you can unknowingly pass the infection to your baby.

Listeriosis poses a much higher danger to an unborn baby than to an adult. In fact, there is a risk of both fetal death or even infant death shortly after birth.

Babies affected by listeriosis are also at an increased risk of being born prematurely or at low birth weight. For these reasons, it is very important to avoid raw animal products like unpasteurized feta when you are pregnant.

A Word From Verywell

When eating feta cheese, it is important to ensure that it is pasteurized. Any unpasteurized soft cheese, including feta, is not safe to eat when pregnant. The raw milk used to make unpasteurized cheeses puts you at risk of becoming infected with listeria.

Listeria poses a danger to you and your unborn baby, so be sure to check the label of any soft cheese to make sure it is pasteurized. When in doubt, skip soft cheese in favor of hard cheese like parmesan or cheddar. And, if you have questions about whether you can eat feta during pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Moran LJ, Verwiel Y, Bahri Khomami M, Roseboom TJ, Painter RC. Nutrition and listeriosis during pregnancy: a systematic reviewJ Nutr Sci. 2018;7:e25. doi: 10.1017/jns.2018.16. PMID: 30275948.

  2. Food and Drug Administration. Listeria from food safety for moms to be. Updated September 2018.

  3. Orloff NC, Hormes JM. Pickles and ice cream! Food cravings in pregnancy: hypotheses, preliminary evidence, and directions for future researchFront Psychol. 2014;5. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01076

  4. March of Dimes. Vitamins and other nutrients during pregnancy. Updated September 2020.

  5. National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Protein and amino acids.

  6. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cheese, feta: Food data central. Updated July 2017.

  7. University of California San Francisco Health. Eating right before and during pregnancy.

  8. Curtis EM, Moon RJ, Harvey NC, Cooper C. Maternal vitamin D supplementation during pregnancyBritish Medical Bulletin. 2018;126(1):57-77. doi: 10.1093/bmb/ldy010. PMID: 29684104.

  9. Mithal A, Kalra S. Vitamin D supplementation in pregnancyIndian J Endocrinol Metab. 2014;18(5):593-596. doi: 10.4103/2230-8210.139204. PMID: 25285272.

Additional Reading