Pregnancy, with all of its excitements and challenges, is an extraordinary journey that calls for profound care and attention to your overall health. Not only is your body going through an immense amount of change, but the way you care for your body impacts the health of your growing little one. As a medical professional and an expectant mother myself, I understand the deep desire to provide the best possible care for yourself and your child, especially given my experience with chronic Lyme disease. I'm uniquely aware of the distinctive considerations and complexities that can come with pregnancy and chronic illness. In this blog, we'll explore the various ways you can support and nurture your immune system throughout pregnancy, with a special focus on immune health and chronic infections.
Prioritize a Balanced Diet:
One of the fundamental pillars in bolstering your immune system during pregnancy is maintaining a nutritious diet. The food you consume plays a pivotal role in shaping the health of both you and your growing baby. A well-balanced diet, rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, will supply the essential vitamins and minerals that your immune system requires to function optimally. These nutrients act as potent reinforcements, helping your body ward off infections and illnesses. Nutrients such as vitamin D, zinc, and vitamin C are all essential to a healthy immune system. Additionally, during pregnancy, your body requires increased amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, such as folate and iron, both of which are also crucial for a robust immune response. By nourishing your body with the right foods, you not only support your immune system but also ensure that your baby gets the best possible start in life. Check out how I'm fueling my body throughout my pregnancy here.
Quality sleep is one of the unsung heroes in nurturing your immune system. Pregnancy can be physically and emotionally demanding, making it even more critical to prioritize rest. Consistent, restful sleep of 7-9 hours per night is essential to maintain your immune system's resilience and overall well-being. Specifically, high-quality sleep enhances the effectiveness of T helper cells, which play a pivotal role in combating invading bacteria, viruses, and foreign antigens as integral components of the body's defense system. Getting adequate sleep while pregnant can be easier said than done, but there are a few ways you can make it easier on yourself. For one, develop a good sleep routine. Try to go to bed at the same time each night, and keep your room cool and quiet. Consider a humidifier to make breathing easier, particularly as nasal congestion can increase during pregnancy. And of course, if you’re going to enjoy your caffeine during pregnancy (as I do), make sure you’re not doing it before bedtime!
Pregnancy is exciting but can also be nerve-wracking, especially if you have a chronic infection like Lyme disease to consider. This physical and emotional stress can negatively impact your immune system. When you experience stress, your body's natural "fight or flight" response is activated, which is helpful in situations requiring a quick physical response to a threat. However, when stress becomes chronic or prolonged, it can lead to a weakened immune response, slow healing, and chronic inflammation. Managing stress is essential, and during pregnancy, it's even more critical.
Engaging in relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or prenatal yoga can effectively reduce stress levels, giving your immune system the space it needs to function optimally. Each case is unique, and it's crucial to consult with your healthcare provider to ensure the best approach for your specific situation.
When you Have a Chronic Infection
For those who are living with a chronic condition (be it active or not), pregnancy can be especially nerve-wracking. However, interestingly enough, chronic conditions and autoimmune diseases often go into remission throughout pregnancy. This is something I have noticed personally. Food intolerances and symptoms I noticed prior, decrease in severity. For example, while I’m pregnant, my body’s ability to tolerate dairy increases. While we don’t know exactly why this happens, scientists theorize that the immune system may need to take a step back during pregnancy. If it didn’t, it might identify the baby as an intruder.
Despite this, all of my chronic Lyme patients who are expecting are on some sort of prophylactic treatment, be it prescription or herbal supplementation. Taking supplements and other treatments for chronic infections is a common practice among mothers in remission or those with chronic conditions, and there are plenty of options that are safe for both you and your baby. This varies from patient to patient, and sometimes I’ll even refer my patients out to an herbalist. Many expectant mothers worry that they may transmit their tick-borne infection to their unborn baby. While most research done on the topic only studies mothers who contract Lyme during pregnancy, we know it is possible to transmit infections during pregnancy (though we don’t know the full extent). For this reason, it’s even more important that you meet with your doctor regularly (ideally one with extensive experience treating chronic infections) to do everything you can to mitigate that risk.
Pregnancy Safe Supplements
It’s best to consult with your doctor anytime you’re adding in a new medication- particularly while pregnant. However, here are a few that are generally safe to take while pregnant, that can give your immune system that extra boost!
Vitamin C: You can take 250mg every 2 hours if you’re sick. During the first trimester, don’t take more than 2,000mg/ day, and no more than 4,000mg/ day in the second and third trimesters. Additionally, I’d only recommend doing the higher doses for a maximum of five days.
Vitamin D: You can take up to 4,000iu daily.
NAC: You can take up to 600mg daily.
Zinc: You can take up to 15mg daily.
Echinacea: Echinacea is another safe one. You can have 1 drop of the tincture for every 4lbs of body weight. For example, if you weigh 120 lbs, you would take 30 drops. You can do this every 2-4 hours for a cold.
Nurturing your immune system during pregnancy is a journey that requires careful attention and a personalized approach, especially when dealing with chronic infections. By focusing on a balanced diet, hydration, rest, and effective stress management, you can support your immune health and provide the best possible environment for your growing baby. Every pregnancy is unique, and working closely with your healthcare provider is essential to tailor your immune support to your unique health needs.