Protecting Your Immune System While Pregnant
Pregnancy can be such an exciting time, but it can also be full of unknowns. With your changing body can come all sorts of questions and concerns. One area of concern for many pregnant people is staying healthy throughout their pregnancy. You’re not only thinking about yourself but your growing baby (or babies as well). This topic is even more prevalent amidst the pandemic.
So how does pregnancy affect the immune system – and how do you protect and support it?
Pregnancy and The Immune System
The immune system uses blood cells, antibodies, organs, and chemical messengers to defend the body and infection. As you may have noticed, everything starts to change with pregnancy, and the same is true for your immune system. A lot of this is due to hormonal changes. Estrogen and progesterone levels start to fluctuate during the first trimester. This can cause changes in the respiratory, cardiovascular, and immune systems. These changes may make pregnant people more susceptible to different infections, including COVID-19.
The body is in a pro-inflammatory state during the beginning of pregnancy to allow for embryonic implantation. This happens for the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. The immune system then switches back to a pro-inflammatory state during the last stages of pregnancy.
All this is to say that pregnancy can lower your immune system. Part of this is necessary and a good thing to allow for the growth of your baby. But a cold on top of morning sickness can be quite a doozy – so it’s important to take steps to minimize infections.
Immune System Support During Pregnancy
Now that you understand why the immune system changes during pregnancy, how can you help support and protect it? A lot of the things you would do to protect your immune system normally you can also do while pregnant. Here are some steps to take to help keep you and your baby healthy:
Eat a Balanced Diet
Your diet is one of the best ways you can help protect your immune system and feel better during your pregnancy. A balanced diet includes plenty of produce, protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, and healthy fats. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables helps to give you essential vitamins and minerals that help protect your immune system.
Some immune-boosting foods to eat while pregnant include:
- Legumes like lentils, peas, and beans
- Low-mercury fish like salmon and anchovies
- Eggs and dairy products
- Broccoli and dark leafy greens
- Beef, chicken, and other types of meat
- Whole grains
- Fruit like berries
Keep in mind that everyone has different cravings and approaches to food. For example, a vegetarian’s diet will look a lot different than someone who eats meat.
Take Prenatal Vitamins
We can’t always get all the nutrients we need from food, especially during pregnancy. Taking prenatal vitamins helps to give you the little extra boost you need during pregnancy to make up for any nutritional deficiencies. They also help to support your baby’s development and help with symptoms like nausea and fatigue.
Some of the most important vitamins to take during pregnancy include:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B12 and B6
Rest and Stress Reduction
It’s not just the things you ingest that can affect your immune system, but how you spend your days. Your stress levels and rest can greatly impact your immune system. Insomnia and other sleep issues are fairly common during pregnancy, but getting quality sleep is vital for you, your body, and your baby. Your sleep is also impacted by your stress levels, which also play a big role in your immune system. You can help reduce stress levels and get better sleep by resting when you can, supporting your body with extra pillows, and trying out prenatal yoga.
Your Body, Your Choice
Your health and immune system while pregnant are huge topics of conversation. There are a lot of other variables that come into play. For example, if you have an impaired immune system, autoimmune disorder, high-risk pregnancy, or other underlying condition. Not everyone can approach immune system support in the same way. These are general suggestions, but what works for one person, might not work for another. Especially if you have other things going on.
It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider whether that’s an obstetrician or a midwife about any concerns you may have about your health and how to care for your changing body. Your immune system isn’t just affected during pregnancy, but postpartum as well. It’s important to keep taking steps to support it after you have your baby and get as much rest as you need. Although their professional opinions are important, so are your intuition, your connection with your body and baby, and your personal choices. Ultimately only you can make decisions regarding your body and your pregnancy.
Natasha (she/her) is a full-spectrum doula and health+wellness copywriter. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, health, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more education and empowerment. You can connect with Natasha on IG @natasha.s.weiss.