During pregnancy, a woman’s immune system becomes suppressed, making it more difficult to fight off infection. Risks for the mother include: Urinary tract infections, coughs, colds, flu, vaginitis, and postpartum infections.
Pregnant women’s risks of developing infections are due to certain changes taking place in their bodies during pregnancy.
Changes in a woman's immune system during pregnancy include:
- Decreased activity of NK cells ("natural killer" white blood cells), which kill cells that have been infected with a virus or that are part of a tumor)
- Decreased activity of T cells, which help to control infections caused by viruses
- Decreased production of cytokines, which are released from immune cells to recruit other cells to help fight infection.
In addition to the immunologic changes that occur during pregnancy, hormonal changes can predispose you to infection.
- Increased progesterone levels relax the ureter and bladder muscles and so urine may stay in the bladder too long to cause urinary tract infections (UTIs).
- Increased estrogen levels predispose you to frequent yeast infections (candidiasis).
- Because your lungs contain more fluid during pregnancy and pressure on the lungs from the abdomen makes it harder to clear this fluid, you are also more likely to develop pneumonia.
- As a result of pressure of the growing uterus on the ureters and bladder, there is retention of urine and susceptibility toUTIs (urinary tract infections)
Risks for the mother and baby include: Infections like syphilis, listeriosis, hepatitis, and HIV present grave risks for both the mother and the baby.
Diet: Consume vitamins (prenatal vitamins), eat nutritious food (whole foods, namely, lots of fresh garlic, green leafy vegetables, and fresh citrus for holistic health), exercise regularly, and drink lots of water. You must stay away from caffeinated products (coffee, Coke), alcohol, and shellfish as a rule.
Exercise & Massage: A regular exercise program benefits the cardiovascular system, improves blood flow, flushes toxins, keeps endocrine system working well, circulates antibodies, and reduces stress and pain. Massage has been shown to increase immune system function. Be sure your exercise program is done under the guidance of your doctor.
De-stress: Find time to unwind. The best way to nurture your immune system is mental, not physical. Keeping a positive attitude and preventing stress are crucial to maintaining a healthy immune system.
Vaccinations: Get vaccinated for both the seasonal influenza and the H1N1 (swine flu).