Basically the pregnant body is immunosuppressed. Your immune system is running slightly below normal levels so that your body accepts your baby. If your immune system was at full strength there is a risk that it would view your baby as a “foreign body” and the immune response mounted would threaten your pregnancy.
Actually, you are not more at risk of getting the flu than when you are not pregnant but you are more at risk of having a really bad case of the flu, or developing complications such as pneumonia or dehydration. You are also more at risk of a worse case or complications of the flu because your body is already under stress from being pregnant. Your lungs and your blood circulation are working harder to give your baby the oxygen and nutrients she needs to grow. So the flu, or even a cold, can hit you really hard.
There is evidence that having the flu increases your risk of preterm labour. And having the flu for longer than one week, and the associated fevers, have also been added to the ever increasing list of things linked to Autism Spectrum Disease, and has also linked with an increases risk of your child developing schizophrenia later in life.(1,2)
I don’t mention these conditions to scare you and it is important to remember that the increased risk is very small and the causes of these conditions are incredibly complex. I mention them to raise your awareness that catching the flu during pregnancy is more serious than when you are not pregnant, and is worth thinking about.
How to prevent the Flu and Pregnancy?
Health authorities tell us that having a flu vaccination before the flu season hits is the best way of preventing the flu and that the flu vaccination is perfectly safe for you and your baby. In fact, it is believed that having the flu vaccine during pregnancy can protect your baby from the flu for up to six months. So it is really worth talking to your doctor about getting the flu shot.
However there are some other practical things you can do to avoid the flu.
- wash you hands often
- don’t share eating and drinking utensils, and wash them all really well in hot, soapy water
- ask infected friends and family to stay away
- try not to touch your eye, nose and mouth
make sure you are nutritionally well
What to do if you get the Flu during pregnancy.
Firstly know the symptoms so you can start treating the flu as early as possible and hopefully limit the time and effects.
The symptoms of flu during pregnancy are:
- a fever
- a cough
- a sore throat
- a runny or stuffy nose
- muscle or body aches
- feeling very tired
Then rest, rest, rest. Accept that you are really ill and that even though you may sail through the cold and flu season when you are not pregnant, there are physiological reasons why it has knock you about so much.
Drink, drink, drink. Keep yourself really well hydrated to limit the effects of the flu. Drink lots of water. Plus drink other clear fluids such as decaffeinated teas, soups and nourishing broths.
Eat as much as you can when you feel like it and make sure what you eat contains lots of Vitamin C and zinc. if you are not eating enough you may consider taking prenatal vitamin, which contains vitamin C to boost your immune system and zinc to help fight off germs.
Try to add garlic to your food as garlic is known to have virus-fighting compounds. If you can stomach garlic other anti-viral spices are cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.
Use humidifiers to keep the air around you moist.
Try saltwater gargles to ease a sore throat pain (try one teaspoon of salt in 240 mL of warm water to get the fastest relief). Keep on top of your fevers. Take medications safe for pregnancy that reduce fevers as directed by your care provider, but also try bringing a low-grade fever down through natural means:
- take a tepid bath or shower,
- drinking cool fluids,
- and keeping clothes and covers light.
- trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- pain or pressure in your tummy or chest
- sudden dizziness
- severe or persistent vomiting
- symptoms that get better but then come back with fever and worse cough
- high fever that doesn’t go down after taking appropriate medication
- feeling your baby move less, or not at all.
I really hope you stay healthy and happy through this winter flu season.