Pregnant? Here's to a flu-free winter

Batten down the hatches: winter is here, which means you need to be extra careful to avoid catching the flu. Just by being pregnant you are at a higher risk of catching the winter bug.

That’s because your immunity (which fights infection) is under greater pressure when pregnant, according to Dr Peter Vincent, a GP based at the Medicross Tokai Family Medical and Dental Centre in Cape Town. And what’s the big deal with flu?

Dr Vincent says it is possible for very severe cases of flu to harm your unborn baby. “It can cause intrauterine growth retardation, depending on the stage of pregnancy. This can occur if it’s early on in the pregnancy. Later in the pregnancy, it’s less likely to cause a problem.”

However Dr Vincent says not to panic. It’s rare for ordinary flu to cause any serious problems. But, as the old saying goes, prevention is always better than cure. Follow these five tips and you’re likely to have a flu-free winter:

1. Be an OCD handwasher

You can get infected with a flu virus through touch, so be careful what you touch and wash your hands more frequently than usual. Cold and flu germs are fairly tenacious and can survive on surfaces for up to eight hours. If your spouse or colleague is sneezy, use antibacterial wipes to clean surfaces that they might have touched or coughed into.

“Good hand hygiene – especially frequent hand washing – is very important,” says Dr Vincent. “In public places, be careful what you touch and try not to touch things like elevator handles,” suggests Dr Vincent. Also use the hygiene wipes that are offered at supermarkets. After washing your hands, you can also use a waterless alcohol gel to decrease your chances of picking up a bug.

2. Avoid the carriers

Avoid those with flu like the plague, as well as those who are likely to carry the bugs, advises Heather Wood, a Cape Town registered nurse, midwife and lactation consultant. While you aren’t able to avoid doctor’s rooms during your pregnancy (and there’s a high chance of picking up a bug there), be aware of what you touch when you are there.

Heather also suggests staying away from toddler parties: “I’m partly joking, but actually those are the best places to pick up all these infections.”

3. Stay healthy

Following a good, balanced diet and exercising regularly to keep healthy may seem like a no brainer, but it’s what will put your immune system (which is already under extra pressure during pregnancy) in a better position to protect you from the flu, says Dr Vincent.

Exercise is one of the most powerful ways to boost your immune system by improving the circulation of the white blood cells, which fight off infection. Cape Town dietician Catherine Day suggests a healthy eating plan to ward off colds and flu.

“Eat a healthy and balanced diet, with a variety of foods from all the food groups, and plenty of water to stay hydrated,” she suggests.

“And be sure to eat more than five servings of fruit and vegetables per day as they contain powerful antioxidants to help you ward off the flu.”

Dr Marion Weston, a homeopath at Advanced Holistic Health in Cape Town believes pregnant women should also avoid genetically modified foods because “genetically modi ed foods destroy the [healthy] gut bacteria”.

“Also avoid too much sugar, to keep the gut flora stable,” she adds. Sugar can have negative effects on the immune system. Not only does sugar increase the production of hormones that suppress the immune system, refi ned sugar needs micronutrients to be metabolised.

This requires your body to use stored vitamins and minerals, further harming your defences.

4. Take it easy

If you’re pushing yourself too hard, you’re far more likely to get sick, so exercise in moderation and get enough rest, suggests Heather. Marion also advocates a lot of R&R (rest and relaxation), as well as a third “R”: rays (unless you have chloasma).

“Pregnant women should go out in the sun a little bit each day because Vitamin D is very important for immunity and your whole metabolic rate. But be careful in the sun: go before 10am or after 3pm, spending five to 10 minutes in the sun.” For the rest of the day, make sure to wear a good sunblock.

5. Supplement yourself

Dr Vincent says taking the recommended pregnancy supplements builds your overall health and, with that, your immunity against the flu.

Marion believes it’s important to take a good product, or you may as well not take supplements at all: “You can consult any registered practitioner to recommend a good multivitamin or prenatal supplement.”

On the shelf, look for products that have at least: 600mcg folic acid, 250mg calcium, 15mg iron, 15mg zinc, 50mg vitamin C, 2mg copper, 2mg vitamin B6 and 400IU vitamin D.

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