Pregnancy can be stressful enough for first timers or those who have ridden the infertility emotional rollercoaster. But getting sick certainly can add to any pregnant mum’s stress.
The immune system during pregnancy
It was often assumed that the immune system of the pregnant woman was somehow suppressed during pregnancy but a 2014 study out of Stanford University shows that the immune system of a pregnant woman may instead be on hyper alert. When coming into contact with viruses the pregnant woman’s immune system can go into overdrive. For those with autoimmune issues, this can make their symptoms worse. For those pregnant women who do not have autoimmune issues, their reaction to viruses can end up being stronger than if they weren’t pregnant, which can result in worse symptoms.
But whichever is true, suppressed or hyperactive, women who are conscious of their health and what they are putting in their bodies want to want to avoid anything unnatural that may hurt their growing baby while supporting her immune function.
So how does a pregnant mum know what to do - and what not to do - to address a cold that is coming on?
Steps to preventing a cold
Little is known about the safety of herbs in pregnancy with the exception of a few, so the first step to boost immunity and hopefully avoid getting sick is prevention.
1. Hand washing frequently is the easiest way to prevent spreading and receiving those lovely little bugs that cause all the symptoms of coughs, colds and flus. Use hand soap without chemicals and wash hands thoroughly throughout the day. Opt for hugs (without a kiss) instead of handshakes!
2. Avoiding antibacterial soap; use a natural alternative instead. Beside the risk of encouraging antibiotic resistance by continually using antibacterial soaps, they often contain chemicals such as tricolsan or its cousin triclocarbon both of which are known endocrine disruptors.
3. Eat well. It is often common for women, particularly those who experience nausea in pregnancy, to reach for carbohydrates in a quest to help them feel better. However, doing so can create a move away from the ideal balance of low glycemic carbohydrates, good fat and healthy lean protein. This could contribute to a weakened immune system by creating inflammation which in turn increases stress on the system and negatively impacts the immune system.
4. Stay on your prenatal vitamin for extra nutrient support. A good quality broad spectrum prenatal formula is important throughout pregnancy for immune support and for the healthy development of the baby. Prenatal supplements should contain a variety of nutrients such as zinc, selenium, and vitamin C all of which are supportive of the immune system.
5. Add a good quality probiotic to support immune function. Choose a multi-strain, broad spectrum probiotic to support gut function. A healthy immune system begins in the gut. Probiotics can also be beneficial for other common complaints in pregnancy such as constipation.
6. Echinacea has been reported to be safe and effective during pregnancy. Keep in mind that Echinacea does not help with cold symptoms per se but has been shown to reduce the length of colds and prevents them from recurring. 5-10mL a day as a tincture or 1-3g per day of the dried herb for short periods of 2-4 weeks can be beneficial. If you do have an autoimmune issue, please see your healthcare professional for regular checks.
7. Ginger is an excellent herb for use in pregnancy. It has been tested in pregnant women and has been found to be safe and effective. Most know that ginger can be used for nausea or morning sickness in pregnancy but ginger can help with chills, coughs and aching muscles as well. A tablespoon of fresh ginger grated in boiling water can go a long way with helping pregnant women address cold and flu symptoms.
Having access to a health care professional who has expertise in natural medicines is essential in pregnancy, because many common medical therapies cannot be used. Working closely with an integrative medicine professional will ensure that prevention strategies are optimised and it also gives you someone to go to if you do being to come down with something, so you can try and get on top of it quickly.
For more information on Immunity in Pregnancy, listen to Stacey's Podcast: Pregnancy: Safe Immune Support
- Stanford University School of Medicine. Immune response turned up high by flu during pregnancy, Stanford/Packard study finds. Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford, news release, Sept. 22, 2014. [Link]
- Gallo M, Sarkar M, Au W et al. Pregnancy outcome following gestational exposure to echinacea: A prospective controlled study. Arc Intern Med. 2000 Nov 13;160(20):3143-3143. [Full Text]