Your immune system gets complicated when you are pregnant. Similar to an organ transplant patient your body is trying to figure out how to both grow a baby and not attack it as a foreign body. Yes, your relationship status with your immune system is complicated.
Hi, I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse 👩⚕️. I have been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of OB nursing experience, I am also the curly head behind Pulling Curls and The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. 🩺 I’m always in awe of how our bodies have babies and are adjusted to both grow it and not kill it. Today we’re going to dive into what that means for YOU.
I’d love to join you during your pregnancy, giving you information for just where you are:
First off, let’s get some definitions for you:
What Does Immunocompromised Mean?
Miriam Webster defines it as: having the immune system impaired or weakened (as by drugs or illness).
So, basically it’s just a weakened immune system, or a weakened immune response.
What Causes Someone to be Immunocompromised?
Most often it’s from an illness, or a disease process.
Sometimes it can be due to drugs like when you’re on cancer treatments or after an organ transplant (they suppress your immune system, so you don’t reject the organ).
So, are Pregnant Women Immunocompromised?
I believe the general consensus is that they are not. In fact, most often pregnant people are in their own category.
This is because not only is your immune system a bit weakened, it is also enhanced.
Also, this is only a temporary condition (thank goodness) — so they definitely wouldn’t fall into the same category as someone who has to take organ transplant medications for their entire lives.
How is a Pregnant Woman’s Immune System Enhanced?
During pregnancy there are specific times that the immune system is enhanced. I read a pretty fascinating article about how it’s on a timetable.
Also, your immune system is acting in coordination with other hormones, your metabolism, and more to keep the pregnancy healthy. It’s super interesting. But, remember your body is most likely going to work to that timetable rather than what your immune system would normally be.
Sort of like how that baby will take all your calcium if it needs it. 🙂
How is a Pregnant Woman’s Immune System Weakened?
Your body is preventing inflammation at times, so that you don’t stop the fetus from implanting, and at times growing. You have to remember that the baby will have DNA markers from the father. Normally, your immune system is set to attack anything that is not yours. And normally, that works well.
However, the immune system is not depressed ALL the time, only at specific times.
Because of the suppression, they tell pregnant women not to to eat Sushi, Deli Meats or soft cheeses (or Beef Jerky). Since your immune system might not be able to fight bacteria as easily, you’re more likely to get sick, and in some cases sicken their fetus.
Pregnant Women’s Covid-19 Response
I’m not sure that we can have this article without a response to Covid-19 within pregnant women.
Pregnant women struggled with Covid-19 much more than those within the general population in their same age range.
In fact, we also find this to be true of the flu. The maternal immune system, when pregnant, has a hard time fighting these diseases when they progress to serious illness.
Studies have also shown that Covid-19 infection increases the rates in pregnant women of:
- Preterm birth or premature birth
- Gestational diabetes
- Low birth weight
With a severe Covid-19 infection being more strongly associated with some of them (meaning if the infection was harder, you were more likely to have some of those issues. Source. A pregnant person was also more likely to end up in the intensive care unit (ICU) than non-pregnant persons of their same age who also had a Sars-Cov-2 infection in the general public.
We are finding that throughout the US rates of Preeclampsia are climbing among pregnant patients.
This study also showed that there was an increase in placental calcifications with Covid-19 infection (which could be reason for the issues above).
This is why Covid-19 vaccination, as well as your flu shot is important for pregnant women. Both have proven effective in pregnant women, especially with preventing severe disease in clinical trials. They also recommend that pregnant people get additional doses (or boosters) are recommended by the CDC, American College of Obstetricians (ACOG) and their provider. There has been absolutely no association with the Covid-19 immunization (neither the Pfizer or the Modern Covid-19 vaccine) during pregnancy and occurance of birth defects.
It is also important that those around them including their support persons and family members also get their immunizations (and possibly their covid-19 booster shot if it is due) to help protect the pregnant person.
These are viral infections, meaning antibiotics don’t help this type of infection.
What About the Rest of the Pregnant Woman?
While the immune system plays a role in all of this, you have to remember the pregnant patients have a LOT of changes going on in their body beyond their immune system change.
Pregnant People Need Lots of Water
Turns out growing a human is very water-heavy. If/when you get sick you need lots of fluids for both you and the baby. When you lose fluids — like in the case of food poisoning it can be really problematic — putting you at an increased risk for dehydration.
Pregnant People Have Less Lung Space
Even early in pregnancy, your body is compensating for the changes in your abdomen and moving things up to where your lungs normally are.
As you progress in your pregnancy, your ribs will expand a bit, but you still won’t be getting breaths as full of air like you normally do. This can obviously be problematic in cases like the flu or Covid.
Interested in all the changes in your body during pregnancy and labor, check this out.
Pregnant People Have Blood Clotting Issues
Like your immune system, your blood clotting is different during pregnancy. When combined with severe illness this can be a problem (especially with Covid). It can also be a problem for a few weeks after baby is born. This plays an important role in the baby growing, but can be an issue otherwise.
So, as you can see — Pregnant women are really in their own “zone” for the immune system and their bodies.
And, the good news is that after pregnancy your body will likely go back to mostly “normal” — unlike transplant or lupus patients.
BUT, during pregnancy it is important that you stay on top of your health and any other issues that crop up — like high blood pressure, diabetes, or preeclampisa.
It is important that you strongly consider all the vaccines your provider recommends (including DPT, flu, Covid, etc). You are at higher risk. And in coordination, your baby is also at risk.
Please make sure to keep your prenatal appointments. Even though prenatal care can seem useless (that’s great, that means everything is progressing normally), they are really made to get the important information and make sure your pregnancy and health are OK. It’s important to talk with your health care provider about you and the specific risks to you in your pregnancy.
Of course, not all information will be given at those appointments, so I recommend pregnant couples take a prenatal class. This one can be done in just 3 hours and can be done when your schedule allows it (most videos are just 10-20 minutes).
If you’re not sure you’re quite ready for that. Check out my free birth prep pack — it will give you a good start towards getting prepared for your delivery:
- About the Author
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A nurse since 1997, she has worked in various fields including pediatrics, geriatrics & hospice. She has 20 years of labor and delivery experience in the San Jose, CA and Phoenix, AZ areas.
As an evidence-based prenatal educator Hilary has delivered thousands of babies and has educated hundreds of thousands of parents from a diverse patient population to help them have a confident birth.