Pregnancy suppresses the immune system's infection-fighting white blood cells to keep the body from rejecting a fetus as foreign cells. "Changes to your natural immunity start as early as the first trimester and last as long as six weeks postpartum," explains Brenna Anderson, M.D., director of the Reproductive Infectious Diseases Consultative Service at Women & Infants Hospital and the Alpert Medical School of Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island. Post-pregnancy sleep deprivation only makes moms more vulnerable. Strengthen your defenses against colds, flu, and other bodily invaders with these tricks for feeling your best.
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Moms-to-be are three times more likely to be hospitalized for flu than other women are. "Plus, flu shots protect babies for the first six months," says pediatrician Jon Abramson, M.D., medical advisor to the advocacy group Families Fighting Flu. Infants of vaccinated moms have up to a 48 percent lower risk for hospitalization due to flu than other babies have, research indicates. Recently, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices began recommending that women also get the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) vaccination in late pregnancy to protect infants.
Laugh It Up
A good giggle may boost activity of your body's natural killer cells, which fight off infections such as colds and flu, research from Indiana State University School of Nursing, in Terre Haute, shows. So DVR those Scrubs reruns or whatever makes you chuckle. Doctor's orders!
Why? Cooling your feet constricts the blood vessels in your upper airway, which can reduce your defenses against respiratory viruses, research from Cardiff University, in the United Kingdom, reveals.
Clean Up Your Act
Good hygiene is hyper-important during and post pregnancy. So do scrub often with soap and hot water (for 15 to 20 seconds), especially after diapering your little one. Can't get to a sink? Use hand sanitizer. It will help you avoid common illnesses as well as viruses like parovirus and cytomegalovirus, which can be transmitted from Mom to Baby and can have serious effects.
Cue Up Some Ear Candy
In an Australian study, students who completed a stressful task while listening to soothing music had a surge of immunoglobulin A, an important antibody. So play calm tunes while assembling the crib -- it might mean fewer sniffles.
Break A Sweat
Squeezing in at least 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five days a week could spell fewer colds. The British Journal of Sports Medicine reports that adults who worked out five days a week had 43 percent fewer days with upper respiratory tract infection symptoms than those who exercised once a week or less.
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Eat For Immunity
Following a healthy diet is one of the best ways to keep your body armed against illness during pregnancy and postpartum, says American Baby advisor Tara Gidus, R.D., author of Pregnancy Cooking & Nutrition for Dummies. But some nutritious foods may stave off sick days better than others. Eating yogurt daily stimulates immune cells in healthy people, research from the University of Vienna, in Austria, finds. (Gidus recommends yogurt containing probiotics; look for "live" or "active" cultures on the label.) There's also strong evidence for the immune-boosting power of garlic and both green and black tea. (Limit your daily caffeine intake to 200 milligrams, or about 3 cups of tea, when you're pregnant.) Vitamin C-rich foods, such as peppers and strawberries, and good sources of zinc, like wheat germ and nuts, can also keep you feeling fine.
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Be A Schmooze
A vibrant social life can shore up your health, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests. Researchers exposed adults to the cold virus and found that those least apt to get sick had a variety of social networks. "People with lots of social ties experience a greater sense of control and self-esteem, which may influence their immune response," says study author Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. So join a new-mom's or pregnancy group!
Hit The Sack
Skimping on shut-eye really does make you vulnerable to colds, says research in the Archives of Internal Medicine. People who slept less than seven hours a night in the study were nearly three times likelier to catch a bug than those who put in eight hours of pillow time. The months before and after Baby arrives aren't exactly ripe with opportunities for R&R, but making your zzz's a priority is critical. So claim a spot on the couch Sunday afternoon instead of blitzing through your to-do list. After the baby comes, say "Yes!" when friends offer help, then head upstairs for a nap. Putting your sleep needs first will help keep you healthy enough to care for your (nightlife-loving) little one.
Originally published in the January 2012 issue of American Baby magazine.
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