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Pregnant lady sat on the sofa eating a salad

Immunity: 8 ways to support your immune system during pregnancy

24 Jan 2024 • 4 min read

When you’re expecting a baby, your body undergoes some serious changes, particularly when it comes to your immune system, which needs to work hard to keep both you and your unborn child healthy and well.

Here, we outline eight practical ways to support your immune system during this exciting journey. We dive into the details of diet, sleep, stress, and supplements in supporting the immune system.

8 ways to support your immune system during pregnancy

Supporting the immune system during pregnancy is crucial for the wellbeing of both the mother and the developing baby. Here are some general tips for maintaining a healthy immune system during pregnancy:

1. Eat a balanced diet

Eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet that includes a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats means you’ll be providing your body with all the essential vitamins and minerals you need to stay fit and well throughout your pregnancy.

Replacing highly processed foods with healthy whole foods is a great way to ensure you’re getting a high-quality balance of nutrients in your diet. ‘Superfood’ ingredients like kalequinoalegumes and berries are nutrient-dense and particularly renowned for supporting your immunity during pregnancy. And you can add sweetness to your day with natural Manuka honey, which just tastes delicious.

Try not to restrict any particular food group from your meal plans, so include carbs, dairy (if you eat it), and healthy fats where possible.

You can learn more about immune system-supporting foods here.

2. Stay well hydrated

Hydration is so important for overall health. However, it’s even more important to keep on top of water intake throughout pregnancy, with studies showing that increased water consumption was able to decrease the odds of some birth defects, and one study in Indonesia involving 38 pregnant women showed that dehydration could result in decreased birth weight.2,3

While everyone is encouraged to drink around 1,450ml to 2,800ml of water every day, most pregnant women are advised to increase this by around 300ml.4  This will vary on an individual basis depending on your weight and other factors, check with your doctor if you are unsure how much water you should be consuming.

3. Consider taking supplements

While a well-balanced diet should be your main source of nutrients during pregnancy, supplements are a safe and cost-effective way to help support immunity during pregnancy, especially if you avoid certain food groups due to dietary requirements.

Some key supplements you should consider taking during pregnancy include: iron, calcium, magnesium, omega 3 for supporting the baby’s development, and vitamins D and C for overall immune functions. You can either supplement each of these vitamins individually, or take prenatal-specific supplements to cover all of the above (and more).5

It is important to check with your GP before incorporating any supplements into your routine whilst pregnant.

Check out our detailed guide to the vitamins you need during pregnancy (and why) to learn more.

4. Exercise regularly

If you’re pregnant without complications and unless you’ve been told otherwise by your doctor, then regular, moderate aerobic and strength exercises are an excellent way to stay fit and healthy.

Exercise can help to boost circulation, lower stress, reduce systemic inflammation and improve overall immunity, all of which can be beneficial to the health and wellbeing of both baby and mother.6

5. Get plenty of quality sleep

Sleep plays a crucial role in regulating our immune system. Sleep, especially the deep phase known as slow wave sleep, can boost the body's immune response, helping in the redistribution of important immune cells and boosting the production of certain immune-signalling substances.7

Not only that, but, for pregnant people in particular, low sleep quality has been linked with a lower health-related quality of life and can even lead to longer labours and higher chances of needing a caesarean delivery, showing that there are many benefits to getting a solid eight hours sleep a night.8,9

If you’re feeling uncomfortable or are struggling to sleep well, the NHS has some good tips for bump-friendly sleep positions and insomnia remedies you can try.10

6. Try to manage stress levels

Studies have shown that stress, particularly prolonged stress over an extended period, can lead to immune dysregulation, which can increase disease risk and worsen existing conditions.11

During pregnancy, stress could even have a negative effect on the developing baby.12 This is why it’s worth keeping your stress levels in check with calming techniques like deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or other relaxation methods.13

While this is particularly important during pregnancy, it’s a good life practice to maintain for ongoing wellbeing – learn more about dealing with anxiety in this guide.

7. Keep germs at bay

While your immune system is working hard to keep you and your baby healthy throughout the course of your pregnancy, you can do your bit to help it along by washing your hands regularly and avoiding close contact with anyone who seems sick, whenever possible.14

8. Stay up to date with vaccinations

As your immune system changes during pregnancy, you’re likely to be more susceptible to infections. Making sure you get all the recommended vaccinations throughout each trimester means you’re less likely to get sick by keeping your immune system boosted in the right way.

The NHS currently recommends getting your flu, whooping cough, and COVID-19 vaccinations for maximum protection for both mother and baby.15  Speak to your doctor for a full schedule of vaccinations you’ll need.

What is immunity?

Immunity refers to the body’s ability to resist or defend against harmful microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites, as well as other foreign substances.

Your immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs, all of which are working together to keep you healthy and well. If your body is a fortress, immunity is a team of superheroes keeping it safe from germs.

There are two types of immunity16 :
  1. Innate immunity – this is the defence system you’re born with and is your body’s first line of defence against germs entering the body. This includes external parts of your body like your skin and mucus membranes, which stop infections from settling in. It also includes more internal immune systems, like defence cells that may help you to develop a fever or swelling which is important for fighting off an infection.17
  2. Adaptive Immunity – this type of immunity develops throughout life as the body is exposed to various pathogens. Incredibly, it learns and ‘remembers’ previous encounters with pathogens and will tackle them with increasingly efficient responses should you be exposed again. This includes antibodies, T-lymphocytes (T cells) and B-lymphocytes (B cells).18

You can learn more over on our guide to the most Googled questions on immunity.

How does pregnancy impact your immune system?

As anyone who has been through pregnancy will know, the body undergoes a huge range of complex changes over the course of the nine months (and beyond!). This also applies to the immune system, which changes to support the growing foetus and to protect the pregnant parent from infections.

The main impact pregnancy can have on the immune system includes: 
  • Immunity Suppression: During pregnancy, the immune system is somewhat suppressed to prevent it from attacking the developing foetus, which carries foreign antigens from the father. This isn’t a total shutdown, but more of a slowing down and rebalancing to help keep the baby safe and let the pregnancy run smoothly.19
  • Changes in Immune Cells: Pregnancy leads to a shift in the number and functions of a range of immune cells. For example, there’s an increase in regulatory T cells, which help maintain immune tolerance and prevent the immune system from attacking the foetus.20
  • Hormonal Influence: Hormones, particularly progesterone and oestrogen, play a significant role in keeping the immune system in check during pregnancy, helping to create the best environment for the baby to grow.21
  • Increased Susceptibility to Infections: While the immune system is changing to keep your baby safe and well, it could mean you’re more likely to catch bugs. For example, respiratory infections like the flu can be more common and severe in pregnant people, and there can be an increased risk of complications.22
  • Protection Against Certain Infections: On the flip side, the immune system also works to protect both the mother and the developing foetus from certain infections. The immune system may be more responsive to certain pathogens to ensure the wellbeing of the pregnant individual and the unborn child.23

The Final Say

Remember, during pregnancy your body is undergoing a transformative experience, constantly adapting, protecting, and ensuring the best possible environment for your baby’s growth. You can help your immunity in pregnancy along with a healthy diet, plenty of water, and prioritising your own wellbeing throughout each trimester, whether that’s stress management or sleep.

It's important to note that individual health needs can vary, and recommendations may differ based on specific health conditions or circumstances. Therefore, pregnant individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers for personalised advice and guidance tailored to their unique situation.

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Disclaimer

 

Sources

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9182711/
 
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