It’s simple to keep your immune system strong when you’re pregnant during winter
While being pregnant during the colder months might mean hot chocolate and Girls box-sets on the sofa, on the not-so-great side there’s also chapped skin and colds.
‘A winter pregnancy can sometimes feel like hard work – women are often surprised at just how many bugs they pick up,’ says midwife Amanda Gwynne. ‘This is because your immune system is dampened, especially during the early months, so your body doesn’t reject your unborn baby.’
Stay feeling your best until spring with our advice...
Step 1: Keep active
Exercising for around 20 minutes a day, five days a week, almost halves your chances of catching a cold, plus it’ll help you get better faster.
Finding time: ‘Be realistic – a 20-minute walk at lunch may be more achievable than going to the gym after work,’ says postnatal exercise specialist Joanna Helcke. A few sessions with an antenatal instructor can motivate you, too – see postnatalexercise.co.uk.
Work out at home: ‘Rest your back flat against a wall and lower your knees to right angles, as if you’re sitting on a chair,’ says pre- and postnatal personal trainer Lisa Wright. ‘Hold for as long as you feel comfortable to work your legs and bottom.’
Step 2: Go to bed early
You’re more likely to catch a cold if you regularly sleep for less than seven hours, says a US study. Quality slumber helps boost your immunity, so try our tips:
Help your nose: ‘The mucous membranes in your nose are the body’s first line of defence against bugs and they can’t do their job properly if they dry out,’ says Dr Mike Smith, a GP with a special interest in colds and flu. ‘A bowl of boiling water placed in a safe spot near your bed while you sleep can help prevent this.’
Drink cherry juice: A study by Northumbria University has found drinking cherry juice, such as Cherrygood, could help you snooze an average of 25 minutes longer at night. It’s thought to improve sleep quality by increasing the production of the hormone melatonin.
Step 3: Fight bugs
It’s impossible to avoid cold and flu viruses completely, but you can take steps to protect yourself from other people’s coughs and sneezes.
Move seats: One cough can spread 10,000 infectious viruses over 20ft so, if the commuter next to you is coughing and sneezing, get up and sit somewhere else. If you work near someone with a cold, use your diplomacy skills to politely ask them to cough and sneeze into a tissue.
Sing while you wash your hands: Most cold and flu viruses can be picked up from contaminated surfaces, such as door handles and hand rails, according to experts at the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University. ‘You only need to pick up one viral cell to catch norovirus, the winter vomiting bug,’ says environmental health practitioner Lisa Ackerley. When you wash your hands, lather up with soap and water for the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.
Wipe clean: Always keep a pack of antibacterial wipes handy for a quick disinfect. ‘It’s important to regularly clean surfaces with a lot of hand contact, such as telephones, light switches, stair banisters and keyboards,’ advises Lisa.
Step 4: Make time to relax
It’s no coincidence that you always seem to get ill when your life is busy – research shows that stress lowers our number of disease-fighting antibodies.
Conserve energy: According to Chinese medicine, we’ve evolved to hibernate in winter. ‘Cosying up in the colder months preserves energy, which protects you from illness,’ says Emma Cannon, author of You And Your Bump. So, if a DVD has more appeal than a night out, go with it.
Savour your shower: Meditation may help your body fight illness. According to a study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, people who meditated for 45 minutes a day took a quarter of the days off work due to colds than non-meditators. Haven’t got time to spend chilling out? Meditation expert Sharon Salzburg suggests being ‘in the moment’ when you have a shower by focusing on the sounds and sensations.
Step 5: Rev up your diet
A balanced, nutritious diet is crucial for a healthy immune system, and a lack of vitamins has a direct effect on its efficiency.
Swap morning coffee for orange juice and follow with a bowl of porridge for energy, topped with a handful of berries. ‘The phytonutrients in berries are particularly good at fighting viruses,’ says nutrition and natural health expert Philip Weeks.
Stir-fry soup: ‘A cup of homemade vegetable soup whenever you feel hungry will keep you hydrated and boost your energy levels,’ says Philip. ‘To maximise disease-fighting antioxidants, thinly slice some veg – try carrots, red peppers, mushrooms or broccoli – and lightly stir fry with crushed garlic and ginger until softened. Then blend with a litre of hot, low-salt stock.’
Snack on seeds: Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc, which can help stave off colds, according to research by Oxford scientists, and also have an unexpected pregnancy bonus. ‘Zinc helps your body absorb essential fatty acids and prevent stretchmarks,’ says Philip. Visit munchyseeds.co.uk for snack-sized bags.
Have a cuppa: Mild anaemia is common in pregnancy, and it can make you more prone to picking up bugs. Beat it by drinking nettle tea. ‘Nettle is a naturally absorbable form of iron,’ says Philip. ‘Aim for two or three cups a day.’ Try Clipper Organic Nettle tea.