Pregnancy in the COVID Era
We are living in scary times during this COVID pandemic, and it can be even scarier when you are pregnant. As I enter my third trimester and get closer to giving birth to my son, I can’t help but worry. Even though time feels as if it has stopped during this pandemic, my biological clock keeps ticking and I have been forced to make choices that will impact myself and my family’s future. These choices have not been easy, especially with such a novel virus and so many unknowns. There are no right or wrong decisions, and each one comes with definite pluses and minuses.
Now that the virus has been around long enough, we have been able to learn more about the connection between COVID and pregnancy and can make more informed decisions. Here are a few facts we know according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Pregnant women are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant people and if contracted, might be at increased risk for other adverse outcomes such as preterm birth.
- Most newborns who tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19 had mild or no symptoms and recovered, but there have been a few reports of newborns with severe COVID-19 illness.
- We do not know for sure if mothers with COVID-19 can spread the virus to babies in breast milk, but the current evidence suggests that this is not likely.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Child
With the information I was learning, I came up with a growing list of potential ways to protect myself and my unborn child.
- In addition to following the guidelines for hand washing, wearing masks, and social distancing, getting the COVID vaccination is now becoming available and something many people are considering, if not eager to obtain. One caveat is that many studies cannot be done on pregnant women for ethical reasons. For this reason, it is unknown how the COVID vaccine will affect pregnant women and their unborn babies. At this time, physicians are leaving it up to women to make that decision for themselves.
- Another area with limited research is dietary supplementation during pregnancy. Many people have turned to supplements to support their immune system and prevent potentially severe complications if they do contract the virus, but pregnant women are stuck with limited options. What can we take that is safe, where benefits outweigh the risks? A balanced prenatal multivitamin/mineral supplement is typically recommended and will often contain higher levels of nutrients important for baby and mom’s immune system including vitamin D, zinc, and vitamin C. If you can find a prenatal supplement that offers DHA omega-3 fatty acids, that may be beneficial. If that is not part of the prenatal, it may be worthwhile to add a balanced EPA/DHA omega-3 supplement.
- A broad-based probiotic may be helpful. Remember that 60% of our immune system is in our gut, so probiotics are a key component for a strong immune system.
Given our limited options regarding supplementation, what else can we do to strengthen our immune system? We can turn to food! Nutrition has always been key in supporting optimal growth and development of the baby during pregnancy. However, while we are in the midst of a pandemic, nutrition is critical. Pregnant women are up against many obstacles that can sabotage healthy eating habits such as nausea, food aversions, cravings etc. Finding healthy alternatives can help provide us and our babies with the nutrition we need to stay healthy and support our immune systems during this pandemic.
Maximize Your Nutrition
- Focus on plant-based starchy and non-starchy carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, broccoli, and tomatoes, along with fresh herbs and spices. Get as much variety of colorful plant-based foods as possible, as these provide us with so many benefits. Instead of eating for two, think of eating the rainbow! These colorful foods contain vitamin C, beta-carotene, antioxidants and even phytochemicals, which can have anti-viral properties. They also provide fiber, which are prebiotics for the good bacteria in our gut.
- Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and yogurt are food sources to increase these good bugs and boost immune health as well. And in addition to fiber, prebiotic-rich foods will help feed the good bacteria you get from fermented foods and/or probiotics! Some of the best prebiotic-rich foods include asparagus, onions, garlic, dandelion greens, chicory root, and artichoke.
- Make sure to consume high protein foods that contain zinc for immune health, such as grass-fed meats and low-mercury fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines, herring, Atlantic haddock, North Atlantic mackerel, pollock, and anchovies. Some non-animal sources of protein include beans, nuts, and seeds. Another benefit of consuming low mercury fish along with nuts and seeds like ground flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts is that they will provide us with anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids as well. These are key for fetal brain development.
Many women experience sugar cravings at some point throughout their pregnancy, but sugar and processed foods can raise blood sugar and increase inflammation. Try to avoid added sugars and processed foods by opting for healthier alternatives that can help combat cravings:
- Dark chocolate and berries
- Baked sweet potato or pumpkin purée topped with ghee, chopped walnuts, and cinnamon
- Chocolate avocado pudding
- Berries with yogurt (dairy or dairy-free versions with live cultures)
- Paleo wrap with nut/seed butter and sliced apples or bananas, sprinkled with cinnamon or cocoa powder
- Chia seed pudding
- Dates with nut butter (some studies suggest dates may help with preparing the cervix for labor)
- Baked sweet potato fries
- Baked plantain chips
- Olives with sliced vegetables
- Baked kale chips
- Guacamole or hummus with Paleo crackers
Also, make sure to stay well hydrated, even if it does make you visit the bathroom more than you would like! Not only is it important to form amniotic fluid and provide your baby with nutrients, it helps to remove toxins from your body. Fluid intake will also help with keeping your throat and airways moist to prevent bacteria build up. An easy way to know if you are getting enough is to make sure your urine is light in color. Dark urine is a sign you need to consume more fluids.
Everyone is always saying how you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others, but pregnancy is a unique and sacred time to do both!