I have two cats. Like all cats, they're essentially tiny jerks who would love to eat you if only you were small enough to kill. Needless to say, I adore them, but that doesn't mean I like cleaning their litter boxes. Luckily, if you're pregnant, you can sneak out of that chore, but when do the warnings end? Can you clean your cat's litter box if you're breastfeeding, or can you potentially get out of it by telling your partner it's not safe as long as you're of childbearing age? Will that work?
There's a huge sticker on the outside of the cat litter bag that reads "WARNING! Do not handle dirty litter while pregnant due to risk of contracting toxoplasmosis, which may lead to birth defects." That seems pretty serious to me. And there are a lot of things that are known to pass through breast milk as easily as they do the placenta. Things like specific medicines, herbal remedies, alcohol and recreational drugs are all either off-limits or severely restricted while breastfeeding, according to Kelly Mom.
Plus, there have even been recorded cases of the diet of the mother affecting the allergies of the infant via their breast milk, noted Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. If breast milk is changeable enough that foods that have been completely passed through the digestive system remain potent enough in the blood to affect the allergies of the child, it's easy to see how a parasite from kitty litter might also survive the transfer.
The parasite in question, toxoplasmosis gondii, is a single-celled parasite that often resides in the feces of animals, specifically cats in this case, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most adults' immune systems take care of this infection, keeping the infected host asymptomatic and unaware they'd ever even contracted the parasite. However, because the parasite crosses the blood brain barrier through the placenta, if a woman becomes infected in the weeks before her pregnancy, or during her pregnancy, the parasite poses significant risk to the developing fetus which has not yet had a chance to grow such an immune response as its mother has.
However, the CDC maintained that toxoplasmosis is not contraindicated for breastfeeding because the likelihood of transmission through the breast milk is low. While it has been witnessed that some babies have contracted the parasite from non-pasteurized goat's milk, unless you've suddenly grown cloven hooves, horns, and a beard, you can still breastfeed with toxoplasmosis.
Anne Smith, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) of Breastfeeding Basics, wrote on the website that because there's such a small risk of transmission, there's no reason not to clean your litter box while you're breastfeeding. Just like anything, however, you need to take proper precautions to ensure that you're being as safe and proactive as possible. Wear gloves and a mask while you're cleaning the litter, wash your hands with hot soapy water after you've disposed of the dirty litter, and try to be as efficient as possible so that you don't need to do it more than what's necessary.
Now, if you're breastfeeding and trying to conceive, that changes things. Both Smith and the CDC noted that this toxoplasmosis can affect your pregnancy even if you aren't yet pregnant. Because it hangs out in your body for several weeks before dying off, toxoplasmosis puts that early part of pregnancy —when the neural tube is forming — in some peril. Now, who am I to say that you can't tell your partner that "Hey, you know, I might get pregnant again, and all of that litter box scooping could affect our future generations?" I would never tell you that because I would absolutely do that myself to get out of the worst job of having a cat.
I guess you could always train your cat to go to the bathroom on the toilet if you want to pass the buck entirely back to the tiny creature causing all the ruckus. They even sell a kit to do it. But if you're really worried about the potential effects of cleaning your cat's litter box, talk to your doctor.
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