Consultant dietitian Sarah Keogh advises how to keep your immunity strong and bug resistant while pregnant.
It’s one of those things: you get pregnant (yay!), you get morning sickness (boo!), things get better around month three and then you catch a cold and there is nothing you can take to feel better. Yep, all the anti-snuffle medicines are off the table during pregnancy, you just have to suffer along. Added to that your overall immune system is at a bit of a low ebb during pregnancy and you are actually more likely to catch simple things like a cold as well as some other more serious illnesses.
Why does immunity dip?
Why is your immune system lower during pregnancy? Apart from helping to fight bugs, your immune system is primed to deal with any foreign bodies in your body. This includes your beautiful little bundle of joy. Your baby is, technically, a foreign body – part of you but also part of a whole other person. Usually something this different in your body is dealt with and removed but in the case of pregnancy, your body wants to hold on to your little one. This results in aspects of your immune system being turned down. Whilst this helps to keep you pregnant, it does leave you a little more open to some infections than usual.
During pregnancy women can experience more colds, more infections, especially things like thrush, a resurgence of cold sores and other little niggles. What can we do to keep ourselves and our babies healthy and happy? As always, what we eat can really help to keep our immune system healthy so looking to some great foods may help to keep you snuffle free and feeling well.
You don’t need a degree in nutrition to know that vitamin C is great for your immune system. Pack in lots of vitamin C with citrus fruit like oranges as well as kiwis, pineapple, strawberries and raspberries.
Zinc is another great immune booster. Fish is one of the best places to get zinc and oil-rich fish are particularly good. Go for salmon, mackerel, trout or sardines and remember that tinned is just as good as fresh. Women often worry about eating fish during pregnancy but this is actually one of the best things you can do for your baby – the omega-3s in fish are essential for baby’s brain development and eyesight. You can safely eat fish up to three times a week (in Japan they eat it more than eight times a week…).
Not just for good energy levels, iron also supports your immune system. 48% of women miss out on iron even before they are pregnant. Adding in morning sickness and then a poor appetite due to a squashed stomach and iron levels can really fall. Before you head out for a supplement, though, do check your food. You need red meat three times a week and other iron rich foods twice a day. Great places to get iron are beans like chickpeas; red, green or brown, lentils; almonds, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds. Green vegetables like spinach and kale are also great.
Your digestive system is where your body dumps most of its toxins so keeping things moving helps your body to be at its best health. Constipation affects most women, especially in the last few months. Head it off by upping your fibre. Fruit and vegetables are brilliant, but you do need to add in a good high fibre cereal as well. Porridge is brilliant as are no-added-sugar mueslis. Add seeds both for extra iron and for fibre and remember to drink plenty of water as well.
These are bacteria that survive your stomach acid, head to your large bowel, and give your immune system a real boost. The bacteria in your gut are one of the biggest parts of your immune system and keeping them healthy makes a big difference. Live ones seem to be best so go for any of the ‘little bottles’ in your supermarket.
These are perfectly safe to use during pregnancy and don’t be put off by the recent hype about sugar. Most of their sugar is the natural lactose and, although there is often some added sugar, it is a lot less then you would get in a biscuit or a soft drink. You can take them anytime but remember to wait 20 minutes after taking them before you have a hot drink.
Rest and sleep
Your immune system always suffers when you get run down and nothing makes you tired like pregnancy. Whether you are in the first three months of nausea and exhaustion or the last three months of broken sleep and exhaustion, it’s easy to get run down. Although you are not ‘sick’ when you are pregnant, you are also not at your best energy level as your body works to build a whole new person. Trying to do everything you normally do can leave you frazzled, run down and more open to infection. Take breaks when you can, accept offers of help and don’t be afraid to go to bed at 7.30pm if that is what your body is telling you to do.
What about vaccines?
Experts do recommend some vaccines for women during pregnancy. The most common one is against the ‘flu. ‘Flu can be more serious when you are pregnant and it is a good idea to talk to your GP or obstetrician about whether or not you need to get this one. Another vaccine that is also recommended is the one against whooping cough or pertussis. Although most babies receive a whooping cough vaccine at around eight weeks, they are vulnerable for those first eight weeks. Getting a pertussis vaccination while you are pregnant, helps you to make the antibodies needed to protect your baby after birth. The antibodies you make to pertussis last in your baby until they are ready for their own first vaccination.
For more information on the pertussis vaccine ask your GP or go to http://www.immunisation.ie
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