Uh oh! You feel some flu-like symptoms creeping up, and you’re pregnant. What is a natural mama to do?

Ugh. We feel for you!

While catching the flu during pregnancy is not ideal, the good news is that there are many natural ways to avoid and treat the flu that are safe.

Is it dangerous to catch the flu during pregnancy?

Though pregnant women are not more likely to catch the flu virus, they are more likely to have complications from having the flu.

When you’re pregnant, your immune system works at a slightly lower level, therefore you are less equipped to fight the virus. However, recently one study found the flu virus to be an exception. It found that a pregnant woman’s immune cells may actually overreact to the flu virus (hyper inflammation), which can still lead to complications from the flu.

Having the flu during pregnancy may also simply make you feel worse. It’s hard to cough productively when your lungs are pushed up by a growing baby! As a result, you may be more prone to pneumonia and dehydration.

Can having the flu during pregnancy harm my baby?

The good news is the flu virus does not cross the placenta and infect the baby! Having said that, the baby can experience complications due to the mother having the flu. Some research indicates that a high temperature (over 101 degrees F, or 38 degrees C), especially in the first trimester, has been linked to neural tube defects, oral clefts, and congenital heart defects. That’s why if we get the flu during pregnancy, it’s very important to nip it in the bud or even better, practice the below flu prevention tips from the get go.

Is it safe to take medications?

Most government health organizations recommend Tylenol to reduce a fever, and Tamiflu or Relenza (antivirals) to treat influenza in pregnant women. A new study, however, shows that pregnant moms who consume Tylenol (Acetaminophen) while pregnant are more likely to have children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Furthermore, Tamiflu and Relenza are “Pregnancy Category C” medications, meaning that we have no evidence that they are harmful, but no evidence that they are safe either.

In keeping with the code of the father of Natural Medicine, Hippocrates, we want to first “do no harm,” and instead fight the flu with substances that aren’t harmful or risky for baby or mama.

What are natural flu remedies for when you’re pregnant?

Oh no! You feel flu-like symptoms creeping on, and you’re pregnant. What's a natural mama to do? Here are natural remedies to treat (and avoid!) the flu.There are many effective, safe, and natural remedies for the flu during pregnancy. Here is a list of things you can keep on hand in case you become sick:

  • Apple Cider Vinegar – Preferably raw, like this brand. ACV alkalinizes the body, and most illnesses can’t thrive in alkaline environments.
    • Mix 1-2 tablespoons of ACV into water or tea and drink 3 times a day.
    • Gargle ACV to soothe a sore throat.
    • Used topically or in a bath, ACV can reduce fever.
  • Honey – Raw, local honey is antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiseptic.
  • Onion – Raw onion has phytochemicals that help keep the respiratory tract open.
  • Lemon – Antibacterial. Also helps alkalinize the body. Rich in vitamin C.
  • Asian Mushrooms (maitake, shitake, reishi) – Antibacterial and antiviral.
  • Coconut oil – Antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal.
  • Blueberries – High in natural aspirin, can help lower fevers and relieve aches and pains.
  • Vitamins and minerals – Especially vitamin D, vitamin A from cod liver oil or liver only, vitamin C, zinc, and selenium.
  • Clear, unsweetened liquids – Dehydration is more of a concern in pregnant women than in non-pregnant women, so being diligent about staying hydrated is important. Coconut water is the perfect hydrator. This natural pedialyte alternative will also boost your electrolytes.
  • Homemade chicken soup – Or simply bone broth from healthy chickens.
  • Warm salt water – Use as a gargle for a sore throat or with a neti pot for congestion.
  • Tea – Hot liquids help relieve sore throats and congestion and help prevent dehydration.
  • High quality probiotic – Supports general health.

The following herbs can be helpful for flu symptoms, but should not be used in therapeutic amounts during pregnancy. The amount normally found in food is safe and beneficial.

  • Cayenne powder – Antimicrobial, analgesic, and expectorant.
  • Garlic – Antiviral, antibiotic, and antiseptic.
  • Ginger – Antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. Good for upset tummy.
  • Thyme – Antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral, expectorant, and astringent. Great for respiratory infections, coughs, and upset tummy.
  • Cinnamon – Antiviral, and antibiotic.

Elderberry syrup – I am including this well known natural cold and flu fighter. I know many pregnant mamas who have used with great success. However, it is a major immune booster, which means, if the newest information on pregnancy and influenza is correct (that pregnant women’s immune systems actually overreact to the flu), Elderberry might not be the best first choice.

What should I do if I feel a flu coming on?

Keep in mind that your symptoms may be related to pregnancy related issues like PUPPS rather than an illness.

  • Get lots of rest and water. You need more of both when you’re pregnant as well as when you’re fighting the flu.
  • Eat nutrient dense foods such as bone broth, clean proteins, healthy fats, fresh fruits and leafy greens. It’s imperative to reduce or eliminate nutrient poor foods such as white sugar and flour.
  • Take Supplements:
    • Vitamin D – 10,000 IU a day or more. (where to buy)
    • Vitamin A – 10,000 IU a day, only in the food forms of cod liver oil or beef liver. Synthetic Vitamin A has been linked with birth defects.
    • Food-based Vitamin C – About 2,000 mg spread over the course of the day. Use a lower dosage if you experience bowel distress. (where to buy)
    • Zinc – 50mg daily for the first two days.
    • Selenium – The amount in a multivitamin.
    • Probiotics – Double your normal daily amount.
  • Drink lots of coconut water, herbal tea and hot liquids, at least one cup every 3 hours.
  • Add lemon to hot water in the morning.
  • Add equal parts coconut oil and raw honey plus cinnamon to taste to a cup of hot water or tea.
  • Eat Asian mushroom and/or chicken soup flavored with garlic, onion, thyme, or cayenne.

Natural ways to boost your immune system to prevent flu during pregnancy

Many of the natural ways to fight the flu are also great ways to prevent it. These suggestions are also good everyday health habits for pregnancy and beyond.

Hygiene. Wash your hands before each meal and don’t touch your face often. You can use a witch hazel hand sanitizer when a sink isn’t available.

Get enough sleep. Studies have shown people who don’t get enough sleep get sick more often.

Eat a healthy diet. Focus on getting lots of vegetables, fruits, protein, and healthy fats. Avoid white sugar and limit grains. Your body needs lots of nutrients to grow a baby and stay healthy.

Reduce stress. It’s a good idea to reduce stress while pregnant anyway but lowering your stress can also help support your immune system.

Get plenty of exercise. Great for your pregnancy and immune health. Studies show it can also boost your baby’s brain power!

Take a food-based prenatal vitamin. I like Baby & Me, Vitamin Code, and Rainbow Light.

Here’s a whole post with more detail on what prenatal vitamins may be best for you.

Consider taking additional vitamin D, probiotics and vitamin C, especially if you’re in the flu season. Many of us are vitamin D deficient, especially those of us who lives in places with cold winters. You can be tested for vitamin D deficiency. Probiotics are wonderful for mama and baby during the entire pregnancy and vitamin C is a great natural immune booster and strengthens the placenta. This can help prevent the premature rupture of membranes.

What if my husband/partner/family member gets the flu?

First, don’t panic. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get it. But it is wise to take some precautions!

  • Follow the suggestions for preventing the flu to lower your risk of catching the virus.
  • Assign another adult to care for the sick individual if possible.
  • Wash hands often. Avoid contact with the sick person’s tissues, toothbrush, etc.
  • Keep surfaces and linens clean.
  • Allow fresh air into your home.
  • Remind the sick person to cover their mouth when coughing and to wash hands frequently.

Here’s what other natural mamas have to say about fighting the flu during pregnancy…

  • Hands down, I’ve had the most success treating, as well as preventing the flu during pregnancy, with homemade elderberry extract. (As well as hm eb syrup, when on hand.) – Lisa Green McIntyre
  • Lots of garlic and ginger every day, flu symptoms were gone after 3 days (was a pretty heavy one)… – Nathalia Sastoque Rueda
  • Just had it two weeks ago, at 16 weeks pregnant. The best remedy was sleep! I also drank a lot of water and diffused oils by my bedside, as well as putting them on my feet. I had a fever, aches and chills for a day, then after that it was mostly rebuilding my energy from not eating enough. – Jane Mc
  • Sleep and water, water, water. I drank a gallon and a half the last time I was sick during pregnancy. I didn’t force it, just drank when thirsty and the next day I had a productive cough. Also apple cider vinegar for fever. – Katie Harshman
  • Sleep, humidifier, and I took raw garlic, apple cider vinegar, juiced carrots, tea, elderberry syrup and all kinds of healthy things like that. – Sarah Booher

How about you?

Ever have the flu during pregnancy? What natural remedies did you use to fight it? Let me know in the comments below.

 

References

“Study: Pregnancy Causes Surprising Changes in How the Immune System Responds to the Flu.” Scope Blog RSS. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2014/09/22/study-pregnancy-causes-surprising-changes-in-how-the-immune-system-responds-to-the-flu/>.

“Acetaminophen use during pregnancy, behavioral problems, and hyperkinetic disorders.” console.aws.amazon.com/s3/home?region=us-west-2

“Fever During Pregnancy Linked to Birth Defects.” Medscape. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/821038>.

“The H1N1 Primer for Pregnant Women by Maryl Smith.” Midwifery Today. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/preg_h1n1primer.asp>.

“Mushroom and Health: Edible, Medicinal, and Psychedelic Types.” WebMD. WebMD. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/types-of-mushrooms>.

“Herbs and Pregnancy – American Pregnancy Association.” American Pregnancy Association. 26 Apr. 2012. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-health/herbs-and-pregnancy/>.

“Caring for Someone with the Flu.” Flu.gov. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.flu.gov/symptoms-treatment/caring-for-someone/>.

“12 Strategies to Strengthen Your Immune System.” Mother Earth News. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <http://www.motherearthnews.com/natural-health/strengthen-your-immune-system-zmaz10aszraw.aspx?PageId=1>.