How Can a Virus Affect My Pregnancy?

Few things are as stressful as discovering you’re unexpectedly pregnant. It’s understandable to be overwhelmed with many decisions about your pregnancy because it impacts your education, career, relationships, and life. The entire process of finding the trustworthy support you need to make an informed choice can take its toll.

Just when you feel like you’re on solid footing, doubt sets in as you wonder how getting a virus will affect your pregnancy. No one enjoys getting sick. But when the thought of a viral illness is added to an unexpected pregnancy, it can really spark uncertainty and anxiety. The information we provide here may help set your mind at ease.

What is a Viral Illness?

Viruses are microscopic germs that sometimes cause you to get sick. Unlike bacterial infections, viral illnesses can’t be cured by antibiotics. There are medications to help with the symptoms of viral infections, but your body’s immune system needs to fight it off.

Viruses can cause illnesses including the common cold, influenza (the “flu”), cytomegalovirus (CMV), chickenpox, fifth disease, rubella (German measles), and others.

One way to prevent catching a virus is to keep your immune system healthy.

Your Immune System During Pregnancy

Some think that your immune system wouldn’t be available to fight off viruses throughout your pregnancy. However, current research reveals it might be stronger during the beginning and end of pregnancy.

Researcher, Dr. Brice Gaudilliere, discovered that your body adjusts your immune system’s strength and weakness, so it’s perfectly timed to reach the best pregnancy outcome.

Your immune system kicks in strongly during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy to help it survive the critical early weeks of development. For the next fifteen weeks, your immune system slows down to give your fetus a chance to grow without your immune system attacking it. Then your immune system ramps up again in preparation for a successful delivery.

These essential actions can help keep your immune system healthy:

  • Get good quality and quantity of sleep (minimum 8 hours).
  • Take adequate rest breaks during the day.
  • Minimize stress.
  • Eat more whole plant foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes).
  • Eat healthy fats to reduce inflammation.
  • Take your prenatal vitamins.
  • Stay up-to-date on vaccines your doctor recommends.
  • Keep your gut bacteria balanced (with probiotics or fermented foods like yogurt).
  • Get adequate exercise (approved by your doctor).
  • Get fresh air, and don’t smoke.
  • Maintain good hygiene (handwashing, etc.).

How Can A Virus Affect My Pregnancy?

Most fetuses’ aren’t harmed when a pregnant mother gets a viral illness; however, a high fever from the flu in early pregnancy can cause complications. Before you feel panicked, call your doctor about taking a medication to lower your temperature if you have one.

According to March of Dimes, if you get the flu while you’re pregnant, you could be at a higher risk of preterm labor (labor before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and premature birth (birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy).

Benjamin Franklin’s words make sense when it comes to preventing a viral illness during your pregnancy, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Your best defense is prevention!

How to Prevent Getting a Virus While You’re Pregnant

Cold and flu are spread through microscopic droplets from the respiratory system of another person. If they cough or sneeze and you come in contact with their virus, you can also become infected. Sexually transmitted viruses are from an infected partner.

You might be more susceptible to viruses while you’re pregnant, so take extra precautions to care for yourself. Pregnancy isn’t the time to “tough it out.”

In addition to the suggestions on keeping your immune system more robust throughout your pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following tips to prevent you from becoming infected with a virus while you’re pregnant:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water frequently and always after you use the bathroom and before you eat. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers if soap and water aren’t available.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Avoid people who you know have an infection.
  • Wash your dishes with hot, soapy water (or a dishwasher).
  • Don’t share your dishes, glasses, utensils, or toothbrush.
  • Stay away from wild or pet rodents and their droppings.
  • Protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV and hepatitis B.

What About COVID-19 (Coronavirus)?

Pregnancy, in the best of circumstances, raises many questions for a pregnant woman. It’s normal to be particularly concerned when you’re pregnant amid a pandemic.

There is much we still don’t know about COVID-19 because it’s a brand new virus, but trends are being reported as more women give birth. If you’re under the care of a physician, make a list of questions to discuss regarding your specific situation. If not, we hope these answers to the most commonly asked questions are helpful.

  1. It appears that you are not more susceptible to COVID-19 when you’re pregnant than not pregnant.
  • If you catch a cold or flu virus while you’re pregnant, you are at higher risk for respiratory complications. You would have a similar higher risk if you contracted COVID-19 while you’re pregnant.
  • The coronavirus hasn’t been found in amniotic fluid or breastmilk, so it can’t be passed on directly through them.  
  • You can still breastfeed if you desire. If you are infected with COVID-19, hospitals are still encouraging breastfeeding with greater infection precautions (handwashing and masks).
  • In the beginning, a few hospitals didn’t allow a support person to be present during birth, but now hospitals are advised to let one support person be present with you when you give birth so that you won’t be alone.
  • Pregnancy and birth classes are still available online so that you will feel prepared.
  • There are cases of newborns testing positive to mothers who are positive for COVID-19, but they have been symptomless or mild.
  • You can reduce your risks from COVID-19: follow shelter-in-place orders, practice social distancing, wear a mask if you must be out, and heed the tips we’ve discussed to boost your immune system and prevent the spread of viruses.

Improving your immune system and taking preventive steps can reduce your risk of viruses while you’re pregnant. Willowbrook Women’s Center has licensed medical professionals available to confidentially answer your questions and help guide you through an unepected pregnancy. Contact us today. You can also call or text our 24-hour hotline at  816-244-7824.