It's never fun to get sick, but if there's ever a time you really want to avoid illness, it's during pregnancy. Honestly, your body just has enough going on already. With this in mind, there are some simple ways to boost your immune system when pregnant, because you totally don't want to risk getting a cold right now. Help your body fight off infections, because you and your baby already have enough to do.
First, though, what is the immune system anyway? The body's way of providing defense against infection, the immune system refers to all the cells and organs that work together to help keep the body healthy, according to KidsHealth. This includes everything from bacteria-fighting white blood cells to target-destroying T cells. (There's always a lot of activity going on at the cellular level in your body, in other words.) Even major organs, including the skin itself, is a part of the immune system, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Basically, a portion of your body is working limit or prevent infection at all times, and all together this is the immune system.
Pregnancy, however, changes the immune system, which has to allow the baby to safely grow and develop, according to Healthline. (Otherwise, your immune system might see the growing baby as an "invader," so this is a good thing.) Unfortunately, these changes can also make you more susceptible to sickness. "The alterations in the immune system result in increased susceptibility to certain viral, bacterial and parasitic infections," said Dr. James Betoni, board-certified expert in high-risk maternal fetal medicine and OBGYN, in Family Education. Because you're more likely to get certain sicknesses while pregnant, it's especially important to help your immune system stay in tip-top shape.
1. Get A Flu Shot
Stopping by your local pharmacy or doctor's office for a flu shot is so important. "Vaccination against influenza is key!" Dr. Jennifer Aquino, OB-GYN and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Health, tells Romper via email. "The influenza virus is far more serious in pregnant than non-pregnant women. There is a higher potential risk of poor maternal and fetal outcomes including preterm delivery, pneumonia for mom, hospital and intensive care admission for mom." Get yourself (and the rest of your family, if possible) vaccinated against the flu ASAP.
2. Maintain Healthy Eating Habits
Although pregnancy is often portrayed as the time to indulge in every food craving imaginable (a pint of ice cream topped with whipped cream, why not?), generally sticking with nutritional fuel during this time is beneficial. In particular, eating healthily is one way to help out your immune system during pregnancy, as Jeanne S. Sheffield, M.D., Johns Hopkins Director of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics, tells Romper via email. If you have questions about what counts as healthy during this time, then discuss it with your doctor or a registered dietician. They can help you determine which pregnancy-safe foods are best for your body right now.
3. Go For Vitamins
Two of the experts mentioned vitamins in particular as important immune system boosters. To keep things simple, you can take a prenatal vitamin, as Dr. Sheffield recommends. In particular, also make sure your supplements or foods provide enough vitamin C. "For a healthy immune system, getting the right daily amount of vitamin C is important," Shannon M. Clark, M.D., MMS, FACOG, a professor at UTMB-Galveston, tells Romper. "During pregnancy, women should get at least 85 mg of vitamin C each day (80 mg if younger than age 19 years). They can get the right amount in their daily prenatal vitamin supplement, but they also can find vitamin C in foods such as citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, broccoli and tomatoes." Either taking a prenatal vitamin or eating these fruits and veggies regularly can help out your immune system.
4. Sleep Well
So for plenty of people, this falls into the "easier said than done" category. But getting "an appropriate amount of sleep" is beneficial for your immune system, as Dr. Sheffield explains. Have a chat with your doctor if you're concerned about sleep quality during your pregnancy, because you definitely need rest right now.
5. Decrease Life Stress (If Possible)
Granted, pregnancy itself will likely add at least some stress in your life, even if you're super excited to have a baby. That whole growing a new person business can be a lot of work. So with this in mind, it's great if you can "decrease life stressors as much as feasible," as Dr. Sheffield says. You probably can't spend the entire pregnancy chilling at a spa resort (if only), but look for any changes you can make to reduce your stress load in real life.
6. Travel Wisely
You don't have to be a germaphobe to feel icked out by packed mass transit or overcrowded airports. Being around more people means more exposure to germs. So it's no surprise that extensive travel can put stress on a person's immune system, says Dr. Sheffield. If you have to be out and about, then consider the pregnancy travel rules & recommendations from Romper. For example, staying super hydrated, as well as bringing your prenatal records along, can make the trip more comfortable and (potentially) less complicated if you do need medical treatment while out of town.
7. Eat Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There's one more thing you may want to add into your eating habits. "Additionally, research shows that omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the risk of heart disease and can slightly lower blood pressure," says Dr. Clark. "Results of some research suggest additional benefits, including boosting the immune system." Fish and other seafood are common sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but it's also available in nuts and plant oils as well, according to the National Institutes of Health. By keeping this and the other advice in mind, you can give your immune system a little boost during this crucial time.
Dr. Jennifer Aquino, OB-GYN and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Health
Jeanne S. Sheffield, MD, Johns Hopkins Director of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics
Shannon M. Clark, MD, MMS, FACOG, professor at UTMB-Galveston