Being pregnant during the winter has always been associated with an increased risk of coughs and sniffles, but this year's cold and flu season has been a bit more worrisome than most. All over the news you hear things about "risk pools" and things being "more dangerous for people who are immunocompromised." But what does that mean? Is your immune system weaker when you're pregnant?
Pregnancy is a unique state, and one that requires you to be somewhat immunocompromised, as Dr. Michael Cackovic tells Romper. "When you think about it, one half of the fetus is yours and one half is foreign your partner’s," he explains. "Your immune system has to be held in check so as not to 'attack' the foreign half." Pregnant women aren't immunocompromised "in the classic sense," as per Medscape, but "immunologic changes of pregnancy may induce a state of increased susceptibility to certain intracellular pathogens, including viruses, intracellular bacteria, and parasites."
This is particularly problematic with respiratory viruses like coronavirus and the flu. Courtney Martin, DO, OB-GYN and medical director of maternity services at Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, tells Romper that "pregnant women are also extremely susceptible to respiratory viruses because of the changes they make in their lungs to unload oxygen to the fetus at the level of the placenta."
"It means they do not have the reserve if they get a respiratory virus and why they are disproportionately affected in severity," she adds.
That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) always recommends that pregnant women receive their flu shot and any other recommended vaccines. You're just too vulnerable, and it's not worth the risk. Why not give yourself every chance for protection that modern medicine develops? You're immunocompromised when you're pregnant, so don't roll the dice.
When I was 8 months pregnant with my daughter, I came down with the worst bronchitis of my life. My son had just turned 3. There are few things as draining for an expecting mom (or anyone else) as wheezing through a fever when you're trying to care for a rambunctious 3 year old. When the CDC gives directions of how to best care for yourself during pregnancy? Listen to them. While bronchitis wasn't something I could prevent, getting it cared for quickly likely saved me from an even worse situation.
We don't know much about coronavirus, but what we do know is that you should wash your hands, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, and sanitize all of the things. Be in contact with your OB-GYN and have a plan if you think you're ill. Pregnancy already feels like it lasts forever, and Coronavirus isn't going to make that any better. Be as proactive as you can.
Dr. Michael Cackovic with The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center