Pregnancy is an exciting time in your life, but it can also be scary and uncertain. Your body is changing rapidly, and you may not know what to expect. One of the things that you may learn about pregnancy is that your immune system is compromised. Let’s talk more about your immune system during pregnancy and what you can do about it.
Does Pregnancy Weaken the Immune System, or Is Your Immune System Stronger When Pregnant?
Yes, pregnancy can lower your immunity. Some of the changes in the immune system can make you more susceptible to infections like the flu or common cold. During other parts of pregnancy, your immune system is actually ramped up and stronger than normal. These immune system changes are precisely timed throughout your pregnancy [*].
The First Trimester
During the first trimester, the immune system initially causes inflammation. This happens so that the fertilized embryo can implant into the lining of the uterus. This inflammation lasts for most of the first trimester to let your pregnancy really take hold [*].
The Second Trimester
During the second trimester, the immune system calms down and is relatively repressed. This allows the baby to develop. Since the baby gets half its DNA from its father, things ramp down to prevent the body from attacking during this development [*].
The Third Trimester
During the third trimester, the immune system ramps back up because the inflammatory response helps with labor. Without these pro-inflammatory responses, the body can’t go into labor. Some studies suggest that abnormal immune responses in pregnancy may contribute to preterm labor [*].
How to Boost Your Immune System While Pregnant
If pregnancy can contribute to a decreased immune system, you may be wondering what you can do to improve your immune system and keep yourself healthy during pregnancy. Here are steps you can take to improve your immune system when you are pregnant.
1. Maintain a Healthy Diet
A balanced diet during pregnancy is the best way to gain weight in a healthy manner. Your obstetric (OB) provider can guide you as to what is safe for you to do. Your body will need increased calories during pregnancy but not usually in the first trimester. In the second trimester, you usually need about 300-350 more calories per day. This increases to around 450 calories per day in the third trimester, when your little one packs on the fat.
A healthy, well-rounded diet includes fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats [*]. There are a number of nutrients that have been shown to have a positive influence on the immune system, such as probiotics like those found in yogurt and fermented foods, and omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease inflammation.
2. Control Your Stress
Pregnancy is a stressful time in life. Other factors in your life may be causing stress. Stress responses in your body are a survival tool, but long-term stress can directly affect the immune system. Some studies show that stress in pregnancy can affect the immune system through inflammation pathways [*].
3. Drink Plenty of Fluids
Water is vital to the way our bodies function. Our bodies are mostly water. There haven’t been a lot of studies into the role of hydration in immunity, but based on the interactions between fluid and cell function in other organisms, it is reasonable to believe that proper hydration helps with immunity [*]. Pregnant women are relatively dehydrated. During pregnancy, your blood volume must increase, so increasing your fluid intake is vital.
4. Exercise if You Can
Moderate exercise has a positive effect on the immune system. It stimulates a part of the immune system called cellular immunity. Prolonged or high-intensity exercise can actually increase inflammation and make you more prone to infection. Before starting an exercise program during pregnancy, you should consult your obstetrician.
Exercise during pregnancy has several benefits including:
- Improved mood
- Improved energy
- Improved sleep
- Improved posture
- Increased muscle tone, strength, and endurance, which may help during labor
- Healthy weight gain during pregnancy and weight loss after the baby is born
- Decreased back pain, constipation, bloating, and swelling
- Decreased potential risk associated with gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and c-section
Safe exercises during pregnancy include walking, water-based workouts (like swimming and aerobics), stationary biking, yoga and Pilates, low-impact aerobics, and strength training. Exercises that strengthen your core muscles may be beneficial to help you during labor. You should avoid high-risk exercises such as contact sports and activities that make you at risk of falling.
Several pregnancy-specific exercise programs are available, including pregnancy-based physical therapy. You can ask your OB provider for a referral to a physical therapy program or for more information on other types of programs.
5. Get Plenty of Sleep
Studies have shown that sleep and circadian rhythms can have a strong effect on the immune system. While we don’t know exactly how this works, the effects appear to be related to the relationship between the immune system cells and how they peak in relation to sleep. When you’re pregnant, sleep is even more important because the hormonal changes can make you feel more run-down [*].
What About Vitamins and Supplements?
Are vitamins and supplements safe during pregnancy? What supplements will help with immune support during pregnancy?
- Prenatal vitamins are important during pregnancy for your health and the health of your baby. Prenatal vitamins help lower the risk of certain pregnancy complications. They promote the development of your baby’s teeth and bones. The folic acid in prenatal vitamins helps with the development of the spinal cord and nervous system. Prenatal vitamins are packed with vitamins and minerals that can help support a healthy immune system as well.
- Vitamin C has long been promoted as an immune system booster. Various studies have had mixed results about colds and vitamin C, but in general, they show that it may reduce how severe the cold is. In some cases, it may also help prevent you from getting a cold. This supplement is safe for pregnancy [*].
- Zinc is another supplement that is frequently promoted as helping with immune function. Studies show that zinc is effective in shortening the duration of a cold if it is taken within the first 24 hours of symptoms. Some of the studies show less benefit, but the majority of studies do show that zinc can be helpful with immunity [*].
- Vitamin D is important in calcium metabolism and also in immune function. Vitamin D levels may be lower during certain times of the year and also in certain geographical areas. It is possible to get too much vitamin D, so talk with your OB provider about how much of this vital vitamin is right for you [*].
Other supplements such as N-acetyl cysteine, coenzyme Q10, or resveratrol may have a role in promoting immune function as well. Talk to your OB provider about whether these supplements are safe for you [*].
Get Your Recommended Immunizations
Ultimately, immunization is a personal decision, like most of the recommendations in this article. Getting your recommended immunizations is one of the things that you can do to improve your immune system. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends several immunizations during pregnancy [*].
- The flu shot is recommended for all women who are going to be pregnant during flu season (usually October to March in most areas). The flu shot should be given after the first trimester.
- TDaP (the tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine) is recommended after 20 weeks.
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) also recommends that all eligible persons six months and older, including pregnant and lactating individuals receive a COVID-19 vaccine series.
What Happens if You Get Sick While Pregnant?
So you’ve done everything to boost your immune system while pregnant, but you still caught the bug going around your community. While pregnancy increases the risk of more severe cases of things like influenza and COVID-19, most pregnant women do well and recover without complications. The usual illness remedies such as rest, hydration, and a healthy diet apply during pregnancy. However, some over-the-counter medication isn’t safe for pregnancy, so it’s important to talk with your doctor about treatment options that are safe for pregnancy.
If you have severe body aches, fever, loss of taste or smell, or other symptoms of influenza or COVID-19, seek medical care and testing as soon as possible to discuss treatment options to prevent some of the more serious complications associated with these illnesses.
When Does the Immune System Return to Normal After Pregnancy?
After your baby is born, it takes some time for your body to return to its normal pre-pregnancy state. Bleeding may take 4-6 weeks or longer to resolve. Losing the baby weight may take months or years. The hormones and immune system changes associated with pregnancy usually take 3-4 months to return to normal. Certain hormone changes, like elevated prolactin levels, will last longer in women who are breastfeeding [*].
The Bottom Line
Pregnancy is an exciting time in your life, and there’s a lot to think about. Many of the things that are good for your overall health and the health of your pregnancy, such as vitamins, good nutrition, and exercise, are good for your immune system as well. Talk to your healthcare provider today about how you can have the healthiest pregnancy possible.
Another way to protect your baby’s future health is cord blood banking. Cord blood is the blood that is left in the umbilical cord after your baby is born. There are special hematopoietic stem cells in cord blood that can be used to treat many diseases and conditions [*]. For more information, request a free information kit, or call 888.743.2673 to speak with a professional.