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12 Ways to Improve Your Immune System During Pregnancy
Pregnant? There's no better time than now to be taking extra special care of yourself and your immune system. Read on to discover 12 ways to improve your immune system during pregnancy.
What Happens To My Immune System When I'm Pregnant?
Your immune system is in an altered state throughout pregnancy, going through some extreme changes to help you get and stay pregnant, and then deliver your baby.
Initially, it was thought the immune system initially weakens in pregnant women to stop it from attacking the fetus. However, recent research by Dr. Brice Gaudilliere* has shown that it's instead an aggressive immune system that's responsible for an embryo implanting itself into a woman's uterus.
And that the changes her immune system goes through as her pregnancy continues to term are, in fact, beautifully timed to accommodate the health of the baby and mama-to-be.
These changes can, however, leave you feeling run-down. A then more likely to get sick with illnesses such as colds, flu, food poisoning, and urinary infections during your pregnancy.
So how can I best improve my immune system and make it less likely I'll get sick? As well as reduce the possibility of complications for my baby during my pregnancy?
Here are 12 ways you can do it:
1) Nourish your body with an abundance of healthy foods and lots of water
Pregnancy can be a time for interesting cravings. However, nothing is going to feed your or your baby's immune system better than a clean diet, with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, nuts, beans, and pulses.
As much as we might love it, sugar suppresses our immune system. So resist the urge to feed cravings with overly processed treats and instead indulge in ripe fruits, raw dark chocolate, or homemade treats sweetened with ingredients such as honey or maple syrup instead of sugar. Increasing your intake of healthy fats also helps to minimize cravings.
2) Be more vigilant about personal hygiene
The easiest way to not compromise your immune system is to make sure you're regularly washing your hands with soap and water. Especially after going to the bathroom, prepping raw meat, and playing with kiddos who are not feeling well.
Also, take other simple precautions: Such as not sharing utensils or drinking glasses with people who are sick, and if you have a cat, asking someone else to change the kitty litter.
3) Be mindful of the way you eat
Make sure you only eat meat that has been cooked all the way through: Avoid raw fish, as in sushi and sashimi, as well as unpasteurized or raw dairy products.
4) Up your iron intake
Iron is what our body uses to make hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that's responsible for moving oxygen throughout the body. During pregnancy, a woman's body needs about twice the amount of iron she otherwise would: about 27 mg per day. This is because her body is working hard to supply blood and oxygen, not only to herself but her baby as well.
Iron is a mineral that boosts energy levels and increases our resistance to stress and infection, and so is key to keeping your immune system strong during pregnancy.
How to get more iron, naturally? Fill up on dark leafy greens, whole grains, and lean red meat. And if you love a cuppa, then brew and enjoy Nettle tea. It's a naturally absorbable form of iron. Otherwise, look for a good quality prenatal vitamin, which should ideally be taken before conception to the end of any breastfeeding time.
5) Max out on Vitamin D
If the sun's out then soak up her rays. Exposing your skin to the sun will help keep your immune system healthy by triggering your own production of Vit D.
If, however, your location or lack of winter sun is not enough, you can help maintain proper levels of Vit D by eating foods rich in it. Examples include oily fish and eggs. Or supplement with 1'000-2'000 international units per day of vitamin D.
6) Increase your zinc intake
Particularly if you feel a cold coming on, zinc helps you recover more quickly. Zinc is also a fundamental building block of cells in terms of the production, repair, and functioning of DNA. So pregnancy is definitely a vital time to boost the amount you take. This mineral is also said to help the body better absorb essential fatty acids and prevent stretch marks. A nice extra win!
While oysters are the most abundant natural source of zinc, they are also a high-risk food for pregnant women. So snack on sunflower and pumpkin seeds instead. And reach for zinc lozenges if you feel a cold coming on.
7) Enjoy more garlic for an easy and natural immune boost
Garlic is a superfood in that it contains more than 100 sulfuric compounds, which are brilliant at killing bacteria in the body. While garlic is at its most potent when raw if that's a little hard to stomach, you will also benefit from adding a clove or 2 to each of your favorite cooked meals.
8) Stock up on extra sleep… while you can!
Sleep, through its production of cytokines, helps protect the body from inflammation, infection, and stress. So when we don't get enough, we're more susceptible to getting sick. The sweet sleep spot for helping to boost our immune system is between 7-9 hours per night.
But depending on how far along in your pregnancy, you are, getting enough deep sleep can get tricky. So try using "body pillows" to get yourself into a comfy side position.
9) Laugh and make time to relax
Laughter has been scientifically proven to boost the immune system. So feel good about deciding to stay in with a RomCom or two, and simply enjoy some downtime… because after bubba arrives, there may not be much of that for the next 18 years, or so… just kidding (a little at least)!
10) Keep active throughout your pregnancy
Exercise is a great immunity booster as it improves blood flow, flushes toxins, and is a natural stress reliever. Aim for 20 minutes 3-4 times a week. Just make sure you have an ok from your health care provider if you're starting a different workout routine to what you were doing before you conceived.
For extra immunity-boosting points, ask your partner to give you, or go for, a massage, as massages are shown to increase immune system function.
11) A healthy gut helps to ensure a healthy immune system
That's because approximately 70% of our immune system resides in our gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics are superstars for gut health. They're "friendly" bacteria that help create a balance of "microflora" in the gut. Not only improving the way we feel and our immunity but as well as lowering the rates of allergies and asthma in your bubba-to-be.
Natural probiotics are found in foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and kimchi. And probiotic supplements are also available to support your immunity during pregnancy.
12) Keep up with your vaccinations
If you are someone who believes in being vaccinated, then getting the flu vaccine just before the flu season starts can help you from catching the latest strain.
Now is the time to keep a positive easy-going attitude, and your stress to a minimum. By doing this, together with these tips, you'll not only be boosting your immune system, but you'll also give your unborn child the best chance for a healthy start in life.
* "An immune clock of human pregnancy", Science Immunology, 01 Sep 2017: Vol. 2, Issue 15.