You want to be in good shape to enjoy your pregnancy as it’s one of life’s most thrilling adventures. Yet, many of us end up feeling the opposite. If you’re succumbing to coughs and colds, it’s because your immune system’s intentionally become more vulnerable to protect your baby.
GP Dr Catti Moss explains, “Your natural immunity is suppressed, so that your spouse’s sperm and your growing baby are accepted by your body, rather than being attacked by your immune cells. These cells lose some of their ability to fight your body’s enemies, making you susceptible to bugs.”
But there’s lots you can do to stay fit through pregnancy and beyond.
1) Get your eight a day
You may think five daily portions of fruit and veg is enough. But to truly stay in top form, experts suggest eating eight to pack in your fibre and vitamins. This lowers your risk of dying from heart disease by 22 per cent, compared to those who eat only three portions a day. Go for variety, too.
“Chop a banana into your oats, eat an apple after lunch, and add a selection of veggies to your dinner,” Dr Moss says. “The more colourful the plate, the better.” If eight seems unrealistic, make a fruit-and-veg smoothie.
Garlic is the one super-veg you might not want to add to your drink, though you could pop it into your dishes. Nutritional therapist Ali Lawrence points out, “Garlic has antiviral and antibacterial properties that can prevent colds and flu.”
“Add a selection of veggies to your dinner. The more colourful the plate, the better.”
2) Pack in protein
While too much meat will challenge your digestive system, you do need protein to boost the production of antibodies that will help you fight off disease. Opt for a high-protein diet, including one palm-sized portion of red or white meat, like chicken or beef, at least once a day. “If you’re vegetarian, eggs and cottage cheese can also boost levels,” Lawrence says.
3) Vitamins are vital
Vitamins that pack a punch for your immune system include zinc, B vitamins — particularly B6, which helps form blood cells and antibodies — and vitamin D. These should all be provided by your pregnancy supplement, but don’t forget that sunshine is the most efficient way to absorb vitamin D — you’ll only need about 15 minutes of morning sunlight (before 9am) every day.
Keep reading for more ways to stay fighting fit in pregnancy…
4) Do gentle exercise
When you’re carrying a mini-human in your tummy, it can feel like exercise will just exhaust you, but working out actually improves your body’s ability to fight off disease.
“Scientists now know that exercise improves your immune system by providing a boost to the cells that attack bacteria,” says pregnancy-fitness expert Laura Williams. “Bug-fighting cells are less effective in people who don’t exercise than in those who do.”
This doesn’t mean that you should embark on a vigorous gym workout. Williams adds, “The general rule is to do something gentle, such as swimming, as often as possible. Try walking for part of your commute or take up a pregnancy yoga class.”
“Bug-fighting cells are less effective in people who don’t exercise than in those who do.”
5) Take it easy
The more you can avoid a high-stress environment, the better it is for your body. Research shows that anxiety triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol chemicals ― these, in turn, stop the body from producing immune-fighting white blood cells to zap viruses. So, you are more likely to get ill.
To counteract it, reduce stress by indulging in simple pleasures like meeting with friends and listening to music, which help your body release the relaxation hormone serotonin. So, catch up with a girlfriend, stream your favourite album and b-r-e-a-t-h-e.