Are you pregnant and feeling like every virus in town is coming after you? Do you feel like a walking target for germs, bacteria, and all things nasty?
Well, there's actually some science behind why you might be more susceptible to illness during pregnancy. In this article, we'll explore why that is (hold onto your tissues).
The Immune System
(or lack thereof)
Your body has a natural defense system against pathogens called the immune system. It's made up of cells and molecules that work together to protect your body from invaders. During pregnancy, however, your immune system undergoes some pretty significant changes.
(biology lesson time)
When you're pregnant, your body recognizes the fetus as "not-self." This means that it doesn't recognize certain fetal cells as part of its own tissue – which makes sense because the baby has half of its DNA from another person!
To prevent your immune system from attacking these "foreign" cells and potentially harming the fetus, certain components of the immune system dial back their activity.
(let's get technical)
One key component that becomes suppressed during pregnancy is T-cell activity. T-cells are a type of white blood cell that help identify and destroy infected or abnormal cells in our bodies. But when they become less active during pregnancy, our ability to fight off infections decreases.
Additionally (wow! so much scientific terminology!), production of certain antibodies also diminishes while others increase (how does anyone keep track!?).
Hormones play an important role in many aspects of pregnancy... including our susceptibility to illness. Two hormones in particular have been implicated:
Where They come Into Play
Estrogen has some immunostimulatory effects – meaning that it can boost the immune system in certain situations. However, during pregnancy, estrogen levels increase so much that they actually begin to suppress the immune system overall (typical).
Progesterone is known for its immunosuppressive effects. During pregnancy, progesterone levels are off the charts (seriously though) – and this can contribute to a weakened immune response.
To top it off (don't let me burst your bubble), labor itself causes a surge of stress hormones like cortisol which also dampen immune function (just great).
(and pains... and everything else)
Between morning sickness, back pain, fatigue, cravings (the list goes on) – getting sick on top of all that doesn't sound very appealing!
A few reasons:
1) Your body is already under a lot of stress due to so many changes happening at once
2) Pregnancy takes up a lot of energy
3) Hormones are doing their thing (not always helpful)
So if you're experiencing any or all these symptoms... make sure not to forget about giving your body an extra dose of TLC.
(because why not?)
There are other factors at play when it comes to our susceptibility to infection during pregnancy as well:
As we get older (yes even in dog years) our immunity naturally declines. This means pregnant women over 35 may be more susceptible than their younger counterparts.
Your diet affects every single aspect of your health (yep!) including your immune function.
Conditions like diabetes or autoimmune diseases can weaken the body's ability fight infections.
Living or working with people who have infectious illnesses exposes us more frequently and puts us at greater risk for illness.
But What Can You Do About It?
(finally some answers!)
The good news (about time!) is that there are things you can do to help reduce your chances of getting sick during pregnancy. Here are a few tips:
Boost Your Immune System
Eating well, drinking plenty of water, and getting enough sleep all contribute to maintaining a healthy immune system (pretty basic stuff).
Many vaccines are safe to get during pregnancy and can protect against serious illnesses like the flu and whooping cough.
Wash Your Hands
It's simple but true: clean hands protect against infection.
Crowded spaces increase our risk for being exposed to communicable diseases – think about skipping large events or public transportation if possible (sorry not sorry).
While it may seem unfair (why me!?), know that susceptibility to illness during pregnancy is simply another part of this hormonal rollercoaster we call growing a human. With some self-care measures in place, however, you can (and will!) weather any germ-filled storm that comes your way.
So fck germs - with these tips in hand they don't stand one bit of chance!