Your Immune System in Pregnancy

By Madhavi Gupta, MD

Pregnancy and your immune system

Your pregnancy and your immune system have an important relationship (1). In fact, changes in your immune system play an essential role from conception through delivery, strengthening and recessing at key points to support your developing baby. 

Because of this critical balance and the changes your body and your immune system are going through, you’ll want to take care to keep your immune system strong and functioning optimally so it can do its amazing job.

 

Perfect timing

Pregnancy alters the immune system in very specific ways at various stages. Formerly, it was thought that the immune system weakens to avoid attacking the fetus.  A recent study at Stanford University found that an aggressive immune system response is essential for implantation, which is when the embryo burrows into the lining of the uterus, where it will remain until birth. What they found was that the exact timing of the immune system response is aligned for the ideal outcome for mother and baby. In a normal pregnancy, the precise timing follows a predictable pattern (2). According to Dr. Gaudilliere, “Pregnancy is a unique immunological state.” 

 

A holistic, complex system

Research shows that the immune system does not act in isolation. Multiple factors including the mother’s biology, genetics, metabolism, and the body’s microbial communities all interact to create the ideal clock (2).

During pregnancy, the immune system is hard at work for both you and baby. The immune system helps protect mother against the environment and helps prevent damage to the developing fetus. The maternal immune system is characterized by a reinforced network of recognition, communication, trafficking, and repair. Like an alarm, your immune system can go to work to maintain the well-being of both mother and baby.

 

A unique immune condition

At the same time, the developing active immune system of the fetus has an effect on how the mother responds to the environment. This symbiotic relationship is another example of how uniquely the immune system works during pregnancy. Pregnancy does not imply more susceptibility to infectious diseases. Rather than the original thinking that the immune system was suppressed, it is now considered modulated, acting the right way at the right time. This is why researchers now refer to pregnancy as a unique immune condition (4).

 

Baby’s developing immune system

Until recently, experts thought that the baby received its first dose of microbes during birth. Recent studies have found microorganisms in the baby’s first stool. This means that some transfer of microbial species from mother to fetus occurred before the baby was born. When it comes to microbes and fetal development, fragments of microbes and the products of microbial digestion can be transferred through the placenta (5). This shows that it is not only living microbes that can play a role. Recent work at the University Hospital of Bern in Switzerland shows that this process might be crucial for the immune system of the newborn (6). 

 

Healthy microbiota

Maternal microbiota can have an effect on the baby’s immunity. Many environmental factors have an influence on maternal intestinal microbiota, including maternal nutrition. What mama eats can be passed to the developing baby in the womb or through breastfeeding. For instance, maternal microbiota can metabolize dietary components, pharmaceuticals, and toxins. There is a complex interplay between nutrition, the maternal microbiota, and ingested chemicals. 

 

Immune health and preterm labor

There is a relationship between your immune health and your risk of preterm labor. In the United States, one in every ten births is preterm (7) and 40 percent of preterm deliveries are linked with having had an infection while pregnant (8). You can’t completely control whether you get sick while you’re expecting. But you can take some simple actions to make sure your immune system is as strong as possible.

 

Strengthen your immunity

Follow these basic steps to help avoid getting sick, prevent infection, and keep your immune system healthy.
    1. Practice Common Sense.Your best bet to help your immune system function well throughout your pregnancy is to take common-sense steps, like washing your hands frequently, staying away from sick people, and keeping hydrated. 

    2. Take Care. Nutrition plays a big part in maintaining a strong immune response. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “A balanced diet consisting of a range of vitamins and minerals, combined with healthy lifestyle factors like adequate sleep and exercise and low stress, most effectively primes the body to fight infection and disease (9).”

    3. Get Plenty of Rest and Reduce Stress.It may be easier said than done, but one of the most effective ways to boost your immune system naturally is to make sure you get a good night’s sleep. Your body is working overtime to keep you going and nurture a growing baby at the same time, and plenty of sleep is integral to staying healthy. When it comes to your immune system, sleep is one of the drivers of your immune cells (10, 11). With sleep, your body’s melatonin levels rise. With your melatonin, your growth peptides are released. And these put your immune cells to work. Good sleep leads to empowered immune cells. 

    4. Stay Hydrated. Staying hydrated is also important in order to prevent illness and manage the symptoms if you do get sick. Our bodies are mostly water, so we need water for our immune systems to run effectively. Other sources can also help with hydration, but avoid caffeinated beverages and drinks high in sugar. 

    5. Exercise Regularly: This is highly beneficial for both mama and baby. It can help keep a tab on your body temperature, regulate blood flow, and help with hormonal balance as well.

    6. Get Your Nutrients. You can naturally boost your immune system by eating a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables and protein, and low in sugar and other refined carbohydrates. Eating a balanced diet (particularly fruits and vegetables) can also speed up your recovery should you get sick by supporting your immune system with essential vitamins and minerals. 

      The following nutrients are important in keeping your immune system in good working order:  
Vitamin C: Many vegetables and most fruits — especially cantaloupe, citrus, guava, kiwi, papaya, and strawberries — are high in this antioxidant vitamin. Vitamin C contributes to immune defense by supporting cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system and protects immune cells from free radical damage (12).
Vitamin D: Vitamin D plays a role in maintaining immune homeostasis and is necessary for immune cells (T cells) to fight viruses and bacteria (13). Vitamin D can come from the sun, but most people need to supplement, as well. Along with building healthy bones, it also boosts mood and immunity.
Vitamin E: Research indicates that vitamin E plays a critical role in immunity by protecting immune cell membranes from oxidative damage, and preserving the integrity of the immune system (14). Seeds, whole grains, and dark leafy greens are good sources of this vitamin, another antioxidant.
Vitamin A: Deficiency in vitamin A impairs innate immunity. Vitamin A is also required for adaptive immunity and plays a role in the development of T both-helper (Th) cells and B-cells. In particular, vitamin A deficiency diminishes antibody-mediated responses directed by Th2 cells, although some aspects of Th1-mediated immunity are also diminished (15). Vitamin A-rich foods include liver, carrots, spinach, broccoli, and fish. 
Carotenoids: Carotenoids are antioxidant pigments that give many fruits and vegetables like apricots, citrus, carrots, and squash their golden hues (16). Studies have shown carotenoids enhance immune response (17).
Bioflavonoids: These antioxidant phytonutrients help activate the immune system and are found in broccoli, cherries, citrus, grapes, green peppers, and onions (18,19).
Selenium: Beef, brazil nuts, brown rice, eggs, mushrooms, oatmeal, pork, poultry, spinach, and sunflower seeds all provide selenium, which is necessary for immune cell function (20,21).
Zinc: Zinc is essential for the function of the immune system. Zinc ions are involved in regulating intracellular signaling pathways in innate and adaptive immune cells (22). You can get zinc from beef, crabs, oysters, pecans, seeds, and wheat germ (23). A deficiency in zinc can decrease your natural resistance (24).
Omega-3 fatty acids: Studies have shown that the omega-3s EPA and DHA are important for proper fetal development, including neuronal, retinal, and immune function (25). Fatty fish like salmon and tuna are the best sources, but you can also get omega-3s from flax seeds, seaweed, and walnuts. It’s important to note that flaxseed, chia, hemp, and a few other foods offer alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). Most of the cellular health benefits linked to omega-3 fats are linked to the animal-based EPA and DHA, not the plant-based ALA. It can be challenging to get enough through diet alone, so DHA supplements offer a way to get what you need. Healthy immune cells stockpile omega-3s (26).
Probiotics: 80% of your immune system resides in the gut wall which makes probiotics and gut health something to take seriously. In addition to a healthy diet during pregnancy, probiotic supplementation helps to ensure that mom has a healthy gut and that baby develops needed immunity through good bacteria passed from mother to baby (27).
Allicin: This sulfur-containing, immune-boosting compound is found in garlic (28).

  • Take a High-Quality Prenatal Vitamin: Pregnant women have special dietary needs to support a growing baby. These needs can be hard to meet, especially since you have to be extra careful with your diet. One solution to boost your immune system, as well as your overall health, is to take prenatal vitamins.

     

    Getting sick during pregnancy

    Your unique immune state can determine your risk for colds, flus, food poisoning, and urinary infections during pregnancy. Experts in high-risk maternal-fetal medicine caution that there is increased susceptibility to certain viral, bacterial and parasitic infections during pregnancy. But don’t stress if you end up with a common cold. Most babies aren’t harmed from mom being sick (3). Healthy habits will help prevent sickness and help you recover faster. 

     

    Prenatal Supplementation

    When you are looking for supplementation to get the nutrients you need during pregnancy, consider the source carefully. At Best Nest Wellness, the reliability and safety of our products are always our top priority. Every choice we make is based on extensive research and ingredient effectiveness. We believe the best ingredients make the best vitamins–and this impacts all that we do. We handpick each ingredient for its optimal nutrient level and its bioavailability, choosing the form that is best for absorption. 


    A prenatal multivitamin like Mama Bird® Prenatal Multi+ will include many of the critical nutrients mentioned in this article. And consider supplementation like Sunny Skies Vitamin D Drops or One Fish, Two Fish Prenatal DHA, and Best Nest Immunity Gummies to target specific nutrients and needs.

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