The immune system serves an important function in keeping people healthy. The role of the immune system is to ward off foreign invaders that can make you sick, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi.
However, there are times when the immune system isn’t at its best. Individuals who have conditions that leave them compromised are more susceptible to getting sick.
Pregnant women also face challenges to their immunity. This is because pregnancy weakens the immune system. There has long been confusion about why this is the case. There are certain facts you should know to better understand why pregnancy causes a weakened immune system.
How Does Pregnancy Change the Immune System?
At one time, it was believed that women’s immune systems weakened to prevent the body from attacking the fetus as it was thought that the body would recognize it as being foreign. Researchers believed that the immune response to pregnancy was similar to that of individuals who have undergone organ transplants.
However, it was later found that a woman’s body would experience an aggressive response from her immune system to promote the implantation of a fertilized egg so that pregnancy could occur.
This was determined by Dr. Brice Gadilliere through a research study exploring why the immune system weakens during pregnancy.
He found that inflammation occurs in the lining of the uterus to make for a most hospitable environment for an embryo and that the woman’s immune system would remain in that state for the initial 12 to 15 weeks of pregnancy. This characterizes a stronger immune response so that the body is able to sustain a pregnancy.
The strong immune response relates to how a woman is able to retain the pregnancy throughout the nine months. Additionally, although the immune system weakens, there is a remarkably stronger immune response during pregnancy and that, without it, an embryo would not be able to implant itself in the lining of the uterus.
How Does the Immune System Change and Lead to Illness During Pregnancy?
Because the immune system goes through changes during pregnancy, women are at a much higher risk of getting sick and experiencing heightened immune responses. There is a greater chance of a pregnant woman catching colds and even the flu. Urinary tract infections and even food poisoning are more common during pregnancy as well.
Pregnant women who have allergies may also find themselves suffering more than usual even when taking their regular allergy medication. However, regular visits to the allergist might be able to help them find more relief.
While there might be some worry about illnesses being transmitted to the baby when the mother gets sick, in most cases, the fetus is safely protected in the womb. However, some illnesses can travel through the placenta and infect the baby. Others can be passed on during childbirth. In either scenario, this can be serious.
Pregnancy brings on a variety of T-cells during pregnancy. T-cells are white blood cells that can protect the body through immunity. Some are regulatory while the others are killers of foreign invaders and there are typically more of them present in pregnant women.
This is because the body is working extra hard to protect both mother and baby during pregnancy. At the same time, T-cells aren’t always foolproof, which means that it’s possible for pregnant women to become more susceptible to colds or flu compared with women who are not pregnant.
When pregnant women become sick, their illness can become amplified due to the stronger immune response their bodies produce.
How Can Women Stay Healthier During Pregnancy?
Even while the immune system is working that much harder during pregnancy, it’s important for women to do their part to stay healthier. It can help to better protect them and their unborn babies. Doing the following can keep pregnant women healthier:
- Get Plenty of Quality Sleep: Pregnant women need plenty of quality sleep each night. On average, it’s important to aim for eight or more hours. Going to bed early is a good idea as it can improve a woman’s chances of getting enough sleep and can boost the immune system.
- Consume a Healthy Diet: During pregnancy, getting the right amount and combination of vitamins and minerals is crucial. Women should consume a healthy diet that includes proteins, dairy, whole grains, fruits and veggies. Speaking with a doctor about what to eat is good practice for anyone who’s confused about what she should or should not eat during pregnancy.
- Take Prenatal Vitamins: Pregnant women should always take prenatal vitamins throughout their pregnancies. Either those that are prescribed or over-the-counter are good and can help promote the immune system and provide the baby with essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
- Drink Plenty of Water: Pregnant women need to stay regularly hydrated and need more water than the average woman. Water can flush out all the bad stuff from the body and keep everything functioning better. It’s also better for the baby.
- Get Daily Exercise: Although many pregnant women feel tired and sluggish, it’s important that they get regular daily exercise. Nothing too strenuous is recommended. Low-impact activities like walking might be all that’s needed to stay healthier.
- Get Vaccinated: Pregnant women need to get all their vaccinations and stay on top of them. Vaccinations against the flu and Covid-19 are crucial. The Tdap vaccine should also be administered during the third trimester to protect the baby.
- See the Doctor: During pregnancy, it’s important for women to regularly visit their doctors. In addition to prenatal appointments, visits to their primary care doctor are also recommended.
In addition to these tips, women should always be smart and practice all the proper precautions during pregnancy. Regular hand-washing and avoiding contact with sick people can help them lower their risk of becoming sick themselves.
What Pregnant Women Should Do if They Get Sick
Pregnant women who do find themselves sick should contact their doctors. Asking questions and describing their symptoms is essential. Any pregnant woman experiencing symptoms that concern them should schedule a visit to see the doctor for an evaluation and treatment.
What About the Immune System After Giving Birth?
Women’s immune systems gradually return to normal after they have given birth. However, that takes time due to various factors, including breastfeeding. Having to wake up during the night with sleep interruptions to care for the baby can also take a toll on a new mom’s immune system.
As a result of those risks, it’s important for new mothers to continue with the tips they used during pregnancy. It can help keep them healthier and boost the immune system while they bond with their babies.
The human body and its immune response can often be complex. Pregnant women should do everything they can to stay as healthy as possible for themselves and their unborn babies. Using the above tips and even keeping a journal if they find it necessary to describe anything to their doctors or ask questions can help.
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