If you’re pregnant—or trying to get pregnant—take extra steps to baby yourself.
When it comes to your health, you’ve probably never considered yourself a high risk. But if you’re pregnant during the cold and flu season, welcome to the list. Young children and the elderly are at high risk for serious flu complications—and pregnant women are, too.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year from November to April, millions of people are impacted by the flu, which usually enters the body through the mouth or nose. One of the most effective ways to stop at least 75 percent of those infections is through a flu shot, which decreases the chance of hospitalization by 60 percent. The flu virus can become airborne if an infected individual coughs or sneezes, which tends to spread the flu rapidly to people in close proximity. Flu symptoms can be mistaken for a cold, but that the onset is typically more sudden and includes symptoms such as severe muscle aches, chills and fever, extreme fatigue, sore throat, headache and cough—that classic “I’ve-been-hit-by-a-truck” feeling.
Get the flu vaccine, which helps protect against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Everyone six months and older should get an annual flu vaccination—immunity sets in about two week after vaccination. The good news: it’s perfectly safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
If you start to have symptoms such as fever, aches and cough, contact your healthcare provider immediately for treatment to limit duration and severity.
As a Certified Nurse-Midwife, I encourage my patients to get the flu vaccine, which is the best prevention against the illness (unless there is a severe egg allergy or Guillian-Barre Syndrome) But I also urge them to be especially proactive and vigilant during this time of year with a regiment of sleep and exercise, eating a healthy diet and common sense. And if you’re pregnant—or trying to get pregnant—achieving optimum health is essential.
Here are six seasonal strategies to keep you in the pink of health and avoid the flu and the sniffles.
Sleep On It
Most adults need 7 to 9 hours a night for the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as 6 hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day. Women in the first 3 months of pregnancy often need several more hours of sleep than usual. Deprivation of sleep risks activating the body’s stress response, depresses immune function and elevates inflammatory chemicals that can cause you to feel ill or be more susceptible to things like flu and colds. Consider plenty of sleep as a reliable defense against infection.
Regular exercise—even simple movements and stretching—helps relieve stress and tension that often lead to illness and increase circulation, which boosts immunity by nourishing cells with more oxygen and blood.
Practice good hand hygiene. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds (or the time it takes to hum “Happy Birthday” twice). An alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol can be utilized when soap and water are not available.
Mom’s advice was sound when she told you to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Preferably do that with a tissue and then promptly discard it. If a tissue isn’t available, use your elbow or upper arm, not your hands. Aside from being polite, this can help prevent others around you from getting sick.
Build a healthy defense system by feeding white blood cells, essential for fighting off foreign organisms that enter the body—plenty of fresh fruit, veggies and nuts. Research shows that diets too low in protein can deplete the immune system—so add foods like fish, eggs and yogurt to your diet, too. Also, eat Vitamin C-rich foods such as oranges, kale and red and green bell peppers. Skip processed and fast foods.
This should be an everyday habit, whether or not you’re pregnant and regardless of the season: Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated can boost your immune system and help fend off germs, colds and the flu virus. Cut out the caffeine and sugary drinks though, if you’re pregnant and stick to good old H2O.