It’s no secret that pregnant women should be putting in a lot of effort to maintain a healthy diet. There are foods to eat while pregnant, foods and drinks to avoid, not to mention prenatal vitamins and recommended supplements to add. It’s hard to keep track of it all.
Well, 2021 is throwing us another curveball. This year especially, we need to keep an eye on our immune system. I am currently pregnant with my 3rd child and while I’m so excited, it’s a little nerve-wracking. I have to keep track of all of the typical pregnancy “dos” and “don’ts,” as well as keep in mind that we’re in a full-blown pandemic.
With Covid-19 on our brains 24/7, there’s a lot to be especially cautious about. While there is not that much data at this particular time, the CDC states that pregnant women are at a higher risk for severe illness than those who are not pregnant. This isn’t shocking, but it should be concerning. We must keep up with the facts and maintain a healthy lifestyle to stay safe during this trying time.
Pregnancy and the immune system
Being pregnant puts a different kind of pressure on a woman’s immune system. Our pregnant bodies are working in overdrive to not only grow a human being, but keep them safe and continue to keep the mom safe. The immune system is one of the most significant parts of that process. Instead of looking at pregnancy as something that makes your immune system “suppressed” and you becoming more susceptible to getting sick, let’s look at it differently.
While you’re pregnant, the focus should be on protecting and increasing the immune system’s function, which is working extraordinarily hard. This means that a virus or illness may affect a pregnant woman much differently. The immune system might have a different response depending on its functional abilities.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) study, a virus may affect a pregnant woman differently at different pregnancy stages. Some viruses may affect the fetus while others won’t. Regardless, it’s known that those pregnant women infected with viral or bacterial infection may be at risk for preterm birth or severe illness.
How to build your immune system when pregnant
There are a lot of commonly known ways that a non-pregnant woman can maintain a healthy immune system. But not all methods are safe for pregnant women. Your diet should be the primary source of nutrition. This includes being the main source of vitamins and minerals that help keep a strong immune system.
Don’t rely on a prenatal vitamin to do all of the work for you. It would be best if you put in the effort to eat healthy during this time for a safe pregnancy and childbirth. Don’t stock up on anything you might have considered before you got pregnant as an immune booster during pregnancy.
For example, turmeric is a great way to boost your immune system. However, in high amounts, turmeric and curcumin (its main component) may mimic estrogen in the body and cause preterm contractions. Using small quantities while cooking is entirely OK and suggested. However, taking a turmeric supplement is not.
Always talk to your doctor before trying a supplement, protein powder/shake mix, or drinking powder. There are plenty of options out there (like Emergen-C, which is not safe for pregnant women!). They may all seem like great, easy ways to boost your immune system, but they are not.
Believe it or not, it may be possible for a pregnant woman to consume too many of one particular vitamin and mineral. This could be harmful to you and the baby. You must do your research and consult with your doctor to find your safe pregnancy meal plan and supplements.
Foods to boost immune system during pregnancy
Here are some foods suggested to boost your immune system and are safe to consume when pregnant. Below, you’ll find a handful of health boosting recipes that feature some of these ingredients. Try to buy organic when you can.
- Almonds: Buy almonds in their natural form, not blanched or skinless. The skin is what you want here. The skin has properties that help your body detect viruses and fight them off faster. They are a great, fast snack option when you’re on the go.
- Turmeric: We just talked about not taking turmeric supplements, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add it to your food. It adds an earthy flavor and may help lower cortisol levels. High cortisol levels might weaken your immune system. Adding a sprinkle to warm milk with a bit of honey is a great warm beverage during the winter months—and you get the added calcium.
- Lemon: Lemons are a great source of vitamin C and zinc, both essential to a strong immune system. It may be a little acidic towards the end of pregnancy but try in small doses if you can. Warm lemon water can be very soothing and delicious when you can’t have your regular cup of coffee. I try to keep a bag of lemons handy at all times. I like to add a squeeze of juice to a lot of meals to enhance the flavor.
- Honey: Pregnant women should try to keep their sugar consumption low. But that doesn’t mean you can’t sweeten things naturally with a little bit of honey. Honey has antioxidants and antibacterial properties. Try to buy raw honey if you can. Local is even better.
- Seeds: Seeds like pumpkin seeds and chia seeds are a great way to add fiber to your diet and keep your digestive system healthy. Additionally, these factors help build your immune system and keep it functioning correctly. Adding seeds to your diet is easy. You can eat them plain as a quick snack or add them to cereal, smoothies, and salads.
- Other citrus fruits like orange and grapefruit: Citrus fruits are a great source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is known to help build your white blood cell count. These white blood cells are the ones that are fighting off all of the harmful viruses and bacteria. Be careful with juices labeled “fresh squeezed.” They are often not pasteurized, therefore, not safe for pregnant women. It’s much better to do the juicing yourself and consume right away.
- Ginger: Ginger can help with inflammation and nausea. Adding a small slice of ginger to your lemon water may not only help your morning sickness but improve your immune system, too. You can also find fresh ginger in handy tubes or cubes in the freezer. It’s much easier than peeling a fresh root when you’re crunched for time.
Immune boosting recipes for pregnant women
Here is a selection of easy pregnancy recipes to incorporate into your meal plan. You can enjoy these immune boosting meals with your family too. They are healthy and beneficial for everyone.
As always, should you have any specific questions about an ingredient, consult with your doctor.