Plus, 6 tips to kick out colds and ‘flus faster
During pregnancy, our immune system becomes both more and less active. More active, as our bodies are alert to anything that might endanger our growing offspring (like strong smells, protecting us from eating food that is “expired” or otherwise unsafe). And less active, as our bodies must also nurture and host a being with different genetic markers than our own without reading it as foreign. The hormones associated with pregnancy, estrogen, progesterone, and hCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin) are all known to impact our immune system, although the exact mix of which immune reactions are turned up, and which are turned down has yet to be fully pinned down. There are various hormone receptors in our immune cells and tissues, allowing for a complex interplay between the hormones of pregnancy and the functioning of our immune system (Schumacher et al 2014). My suspicion is that – like most health factors – it depends on the person how it plays out. This study on the ‘flu explains why pregnant folks may have more severe symptoms, finding an overall enhanced immune response to Influenza A viruses (Kay et al 2014).
What does this mean for your pregnancy? Some people find they sail through pregnancy with no trouble from common colds etc. Some of us, though, are blessed with the sort of immune system in pregnancy resulting in more viral infections, and more severe symptoms with these infections. If that wasn’t bad enough, there is an intimidating list of things you aren’t supposed to ingest during pregnancy. So, even if you normally have a great routine for kicking out germs fast, during pregnancy it may be off limits. What’s a gestating person to do??
7 Ways to Boost Your Immune System During Pregnancy
Get more sleep.
You are tired, right? Growing a person is hard work, physiologically. It is also a time of big emotional transition, whether you are going from one kid to two, and worrying about spreading yourself even thinner, or you are on the brink of becoming a parent for the first time and letting go of aspects of your old self. So, sleep more. Go to bed earlier. Take naps if you can.
Eat nourishing food.
Minimize sugar, as it suppresses your immune system (I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but… best to know and make an informed choice). Eat whole foods, eat lots of deeply coloured veggies, eat clean protein and good fats. If you are struggling with nausea, make the best choices you can tolerate, ensure they include protein, and eat more often. Yes, I know you just said you are nauseous. But, eat. One of the causes of nausea in pregnancy is low blood sugar, and snacking – even as often as hourly – can do wonders. I really liked these Zucchini Salmon Fritters when I was pregnant. And this radicchio & parsley salad is full of bright flavours, is nutrient-dense, and offers a change from the usual salad greens. PS: if you are going to live the pregnant-lady-eating-a-plate-of-pickles stereotype, as I did, eat lacto-fermented kosher-style dill pickles. That way, you get a side dose of good bacteria along with the satisfying salty-sour flavour and crunch.
It really and truly boosts your immune system to laugh (eg Bennet et al, 2003; Berk et al, 2001). So get together with people whose sense of humor matches yours. Watch funny movies. And on a related note, be conscious of your media consumption – many people find themselves much more easily impacted by negative news stories and ongoing world trauma when pregnant. Consider whether you need to read details of the Big Sad News of the week. Consider clicking less. Consider changing the radio station to music for a nervous system break.
Feel your feelings.
All of them. Pregnancy is a time of big transition, and transition means letting go of one thing to embrace something new. Even if you are tremendously excited about this new thing (a baby!), our ego self may need a chance to catch up and grieve what was. When we shove them back down, our emotions tend to come out as physical symptoms or emotional tidal waves. The emotion associated with the lungs according to Traditional Chinese Medicine is grief. Additionally, sinus congestion can be seen as unshed tears. So, a lingering cough may be nudging you to let out some sadness. For me, I needed to grieve another layer of the many months I didn’t conceive, and the toll this took on me emotionally, while I was pregnant. Only then could I feel actual joy about the pregnancy that I had wanted my entire life. What grief do you need to feel and release?
What a bacterial blessing these offer! Taking supplemental probiotics (eg Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. bifidus) enhances your microbiome, decreasing incidence and severity of cold symptoms (eg Leyer et al 2009; Pregliasco et al 2008; Smith et al 2012). Further, probiotics in pregnancy protect your little one, resulting in lower rates of allergies and asthma (Elazeb et al 2013), and even less antibiotic intervention during labor, as it decreases likelihood of group B Strep. In addition to eating fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, and brine pickles, which are natural sources of beneficial bacteria, I recommend a professional quality probiotic supplement during pregnancy.
This hormone-like vitamin helps with fertility, and then keeps on helping by keeping you healthier during pregnancy. People who take vitamin D get fewer colds, and have milder symptoms when they do get colds (Goodall et al 2014).
See below. This is an affordable and effective way to boost your immune system’s resilience.
If you do catch a bug, what can you do to shake it faster and keep your symptoms milder?
6 Strategies to Kick out Colds and Flus Faster During Pregnancy
some safe in pregnancy choices include Echinacea species, Elder, Astragulus, reishi. Consult with your ND or herbalist to determine which herbs are appropriate for you.
Higher doses of your immune-support supplements:
Consider upping your doses of Zinc, probiotics, & Vitamin D* until your symptoms resolve. Zinc, especially, is effective when taken starting in the first 24 hours after symptoms develop. The studies (Singh & Das, 2013) use lozenges, but in practice we find 15-50 mg capsules are effective. Take Zinc with food to prevent nausea, up to 100 mg a day.
There is nothing like the relief of a correctly prescribed homeopathic.
Bennett et al. The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natural killer cell activity. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003. Mar-Apr;9(2):38-45.
Berk et al. Modulation of neuroimmune parameters during the eustress of humor-associated mirthful laughter. Altern Ther Health Med. 2001 Mar;7(2):62-72, 74-6.
Goodall, Emma C et al. Vitamin D3 and gargling for the prevention of upper respiratory tract infections: a randomized controlled trial. BMC Infect Dis. 2014; 14: 273. doi: 10.1186/1471-2334-14-273
Kay et al. Enhanced natural killer-cell and T-cell responses to influenza A virus during pregnancy. 2014. PNAS. p 14506–14511; 111: 40. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1416569111
Nancy Elazab, Angelico Mendy, Janvier Gasana, Edgar R. Vieira, Annabelle Quizon, Erick Forno. Clinical Trials Probiotic Administration in Early Life, Atopy, and Asthma: A Meta-analysis of Clinical Trials. Pediatrics. 2013.
Leyer GJ, Li S, Mubasher ME, Reifer C, Ouwehand AC. Probiotic effects on cold and influenza-like symptom incidence and duration in children. Pediatrics. 2009;124:e172–e179. [PubMed]
Pregliasco F, Anselmi G, Fonte L, Giussani F, Schieppati S, Soletti L. A new chance of preventing winter diseases by the administration of symbiotic formulations. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2008;42(Suppl 3 Pt 2):S224–S233. [PubMed]
Singh M1, Das RR. Zinc for the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013. Jun 18;(6):CD001364. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001364.pub4.
Tracey J. Smith, Diane Rigassio-Radler, Robert Denmark, Timothy Haley, Riva Touger-Decker. Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus LGG® and Bifidobacterium animalis ssp. lactis BB-12® on health-related quality of life in college students affected by upper respiratory infections. British Journal of Nutrition, 2012; 1 DOI:10.1017/S0007114512004138