If you're already pregnant or trying to conceive, you probably know about the wide-ranging effects carrying a baby can have on your body. As cold and flu season is upon us, you might wonder if your pregnancy also affects your immune system's ability to ward off these bugs. Review the facts about pregnancy and immunity so you can make informed choices for your health and the health of your little one.
How Pregnancy Affects Your Immune System
As the weeks of your pregnancy pass, your immune system adapts to protect both you and your growing baby. Researchers theorize that aspects of the immune response decrease to prevent the body from treating the fetus as a foreign body. At the same time, pregnancy bolsters other aspects of the immune response so it can shield you and your infant from viruses, bacteria, germs and environmental exposures.
During the first trimester, immune-related inflammation increases to create a hospitable uterine environment for implantation and growth of the fertilized egg. During the next 15 weeks, anti-inflammatory immune cells increase as the fetus experiences most of its development. In the last weeks of pregnancy, the inflammatory response returns to prepare the body for labor.
Tips to Keep Your Immune System Strong During Pregnancy
A healthy lifestyle with a nutritious diet, plenty of rest and regular exercise supports a strong immune system before, during and after pregnancy. Some of the most important measures include:
- Eating superfoods for immunity that are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, including green, leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, apples, eggs, ginseng tea, berries, lean protein and nuts
- Taking prenatal vitamins as recommended by your healthcare provider
- Drinking about eight 8-oz glasses of water each day, or more if you are exercising or spending time in the heat
- Exercising for about 30 minutes a day if your doctor says physical activity is safe for you
- Taking steps to reduce stress, such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga or massage
- Avoiding caffeine, excess sugar and heavily processed foods
- Washing fruits and veggies thoroughly before eating
For further clarity, your OB-GYN can provide more details about how to keep your immune system strong and healthy during pregnancy, with tailored advice that accounts for your personal health status and risk.
Getting Sick During Pregnancy
Many doctors recommend avoiding over-the-counter medications during pregnancy. However, some cold and flu remedies are considered safe, such as cough drops, menthol rubs, heartburn medication, cough syrup without alcohol and acetaminophen (Tylenol).
If you do get sick and have symptoms, it's recommended to use remedies that are more gentle and do not use harsh chemicals, such as Brillia Health. However, you need to run all such medications by your doctor to make sure you are cleared to use them.
Following the health tips above about keeping your immune system strong can help you prevent and recover from illness during pregnancy. You can also reduce your risk for complications by:
- Getting enough protein, iron, folic acid and calcium, all essential for your baby's development
- Gaining an appropriate amount of weight, usually between 25 and 30 lbs. if you were at a healthy weight before conceiving
- Practicing good food safety, such as avoiding cross-contamination between raw meat and other items
- Avoiding unsafe foods, including unpasteurized soft cheeses, raw sprouts, high-mercury fish such as swordfish and shark, and deli meats
- Limiting most seafood to two servings (12 oz) per week, or one serving for canned tuna
- Opening the windows and turning on a fan for ventilation while using cleaning products or other chemicals (paint, for example)
Call your healthcare provider right away if you experience chills, fever, painful lower abdominal cramping, vaginal bleeding, sudden swelling of the hands and feet, severe headache, nausea or dizziness.
Covid-19 Risks & Pregnancy
According to the CDC, pregnant women have an increased risk of complications related to coronavirus (COVID-19). These complications may include preterm birth, pneumonia, respiratory distress, respiratory failure, liver damage, organ damage, secondary infection, blood clots, chronic fatigue and even sepsis. In addition, we know little about the possible long-term effects of COVID-19 infection. At this point, evidence has not linked the virus with birth defects.
To reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19, follow these guidelines:
- Limit contact with individuals outside your household.
- Talk to your doctor before traveling out of the state or internationally.
- Abide by local and state restrictions on activity.
- Wear a mask if you have to go out or interact with those outside your home.
- Wash your hands frequently, using soap and warm running water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use hand sanitizer of at least 60% alcohol if you cannot wash your hands.
- Maintain social distancing by staying at least 6 feet from others.
- Minimize visitors when the baby comes to avoid exposure.
What To Ask Your Doctor
Your OB-GYN, midwife or nurse practitioner will provide the information you need to have a safe and healthy pregnancy. Some of the questions you might have about your health include:
- What over-the-counter drugs, supplements and prescription medications can I use safely? Which should I avoid?
- What vaccines should I have during pregnancy?
- What foods should I emphasize in my diet, and what foods should I avoid?
- What types of exercise are safe? How much daily physical activity should I strive for during pregnancy?
- What health symptoms require a doctor visit? What symptoms indicate the need for immediate emergency care?
- Do I have any specific health risks to monitor during pregnancy?
- How will COVID-19 affect my labor and delivery?
Talk to your doctor about using remedies at home while pregnant or nursing, such as Brillia Health. Explore relief for the most common symptoms that arise during cold and flu season, including congestion, cough, runny nose and uncomfortable body aches.