Question: I know that during pregnancy I was not supposed to scoop cat litter. How about while breastfeeding? Is it dangerous? Should I get rid of my cat?
Answer: The concern about cleaning out litter boxes is the transmission of a nasty parasite called ‘toxoplasma gondii’. You don’t need to get rid of your family pet, but you do need to know the facts about this nasty parasite.
If you are infected with the parasite during pregnancy (or even in the weeks before you get pregnant) an infection called toxoplasmosis can result, and it can cause miscarriage or birth defects. If you get infected after your baby’s birth, the infection is usually harmless.
Cats are the most common host, but infection can occur in most species of mammals. Cats can get the parasite from eating infected mice, and they pass it into their feces.
That’s why doctors recommend that expectant mothers avoid exposure to litter boxes, uncooked meat, and soil. Pregnant women should avoid changing cat litter, keep cats indoors (which is always safer for your pets), make sure sand boxes are covered, wear gloves while gardening, and wash fruits and vegetables before eating (because they may have come in contact with contaminated dirt).
Basically, wash your hands a lot.
There have been cases of toxoplasmosis infections in babies who drank unpasteurized goat’s milk, but transmission of toxoplasmosis from breastfeeding mothers to their infants has not been demonstrated.
Since toxoplasmosis isn’t transferred in breast milk, the fact that postnatal infection is benign, and the fact that the antibodies that are present in human milk help prevent infection, the recommendation is that mothers who are known to be infected with toxoplasmosis should still continue to breastfeed.
The concerns about changing litter boxes don’t really apply to nursing mothers in the same way that they do to pregnant women, but I never told my husband or my kids that. I saw no reason not to let them continue changing the cat’s boxes after they had done it for nine months!
Anne Smith, IBCLC