4 ways to boost immunity in pregnancy, new mums and children
Certain healthy lifestyle choices can help boost your immunity and strengthen your defences so your body may be better able to deal with Covid-19 and other infections and diseases, especially during the winter months.
The four foundations of Well N.E.S.S (nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress management) outlined below will help to keep your immune system strong and in good shape, as well as being good general wellbeing tips for pregnancy, breastfeeding mums and children.
- Nutrition – Eat well by including plenty of nutritious foods in your diet, paying particular attention to the following:
*Increase immune boosting antioxidants, such as vitamin C, in your diet by including a rainbow of fruit and veggies each day. If you have small children involve them by asking them to find the colours – it might even encourage those fussy eaters to select a wider variety!
*An incredible 70% of your immune function is in your gut and helps to keep harmful pathogens from entering your body via your digestive tract. Optimise gut health by eating a variety of foods rich in fibre, as well as probiotics from organic fermented and cultured products such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, apple cider vinegar, miso and tamari along with prebiotics like onion, garlic and leek, which provide a food source for healthy bacteria.
*The mineral zinc is important for immunity and the integrity of the gut lining. This mineral is most in demand during pregnancy and when breastfeeding and is also important for wound healing, so you may have an increased need after birth, especially if you’ve had a C section or episiotomy. Include foods high in this mineral such as meat, seafood, beans, wholegrains, pulses and seeds, depending on your dietary preferences.
*Vitamin D is super important for immune health – ensure adequate sun exposure and include vitamin D rich foods such as oily fish, egg yolks, fortified foods or a supplement of vitamin D3.
*Recent research has highlighted the potential importance of Vitamin K in preventing complications from Covid-19. This vitamin helps to regulate clotting mechanisms and protect the lungs and can be found in green leafy vegetables – kale is an especially rich source, as well as fruits such as prunes, kiwi and avocado and in the K2 form in some meats and dairy. As it is a fat soluble vitamin including a little oil with these foods improves absorption. It is also produced by healthy bacteria in the intestines, another reason to take good care of your digestive health. Vitamin K’s key role in blood clotting and wound healing makes it important for women during labour and for recovery after.
*Many complications of the Covid-19 virus are caused by excessive inflammatory reactions, known as a cytokine storm. Include anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids – oily fish, chia, walnuts and flaxseeds and spice up your food with immune boosting garlic and anti-inflammatory turmeric and ginger.
- Exercise – Our options for exercise are more limited at the moment, with gyms and pools closed, but walking at a brisk (or comfortable pace if you are pregnant) is sufficient to gain the benefits. Aim for 25 minutes of moderate exercise, six days a week.
- Sleep – Poor quality and quantity of sleep is linked to reduced immunity and a higher susceptibility to infections. If you’re mum to a new baby or a sleep resistant toddler, this is not such an easy one to fix and you may need to focus on quality over quantity. Nap when you can and pay extra attention to the other measures. If you’re struggling with sleep in pregnancy, try the helpful tips in my pregnancy insomnia post.
4. Stress management – Acute stress triggers the fight or flight mode while long term stress promotes inflammation, weakening our immune system. Find a way to mediate this that suits you and your lifestyle – whether it is yoga, exercising, spending time in nature, relaxing with a book/hobby/in a bath with an aromatherapy blend or talking through your worries – making time for yourself is key. Again, this step is not always easy with small children, so do what you can and don’t turn this into another stress if you can’t manage regular time for self-care.
Obviously in conjunction with these four foundations to boost immunity in pregnancy and beyond, it is good practice to wash your hands regularly and avoiding touching your face while out, as these remain the most important and effective measures in preventing the spread of bugs.
Jayne Russell has over twenty years of experience as a pre’ and postnatal massage and nutritional therapist and is the founder of Nom Nom – award winning, certified organic pregnancy and baby skincare. Sign up for your free skincare guide “10 Steps to Super Healthy Baby Skin” at nomnomskincare.com